LOS ANGELES - Many of the best Oscars moments aren't captured on the telecast. Behind the curtain at the Dolby Theatre, Hollywood's finest fretted before taking the stage, exalted in triumph and even shed some tears. USA TODAY's Bryan Alexander shares the unscripted action witnessed in the wings.
• Oscar winners head backstage: Best-actress winner Jennifer Lawrence arrives backstage flushed after tripping up the stairs on her way to the podium, but doesn't say anything about her misstep.
Best-actor winner Daniel Day-Lewis runs right into Meryl Streep, whom he referenced in his acceptance speech, and the two break into peals of laughter. "I'm so happy for you," she tells Day-Lewis, the first actor to win three best-actor trophies. They cut their celebration short to watch best picture. Clutching his Oscar in his right hand, Day-Lewis nods silently when the award goes to Argo (as opposed to Lincoln), with a noncommittal look on his face.
The cast of Argo bursts backstage, director Ben Affleck charging through with George Clooney following shortly behind. Holding on to Alan Arkin, Clooney announces, "Look what I picked up, a veteran (actor)." Then the group sweeps away.
• It'll go with those Grammys: As Adele walks off after accepting best song for Skyfall, she receives a backstage round of applause led by the cast of Chicago, which presented the award. After she gets a hug from Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones takes her hand and says, "You've taken over the world." To which Adele can only say, "I know."
She leans in to kiss Renee Zellweger on the cheek and says, "Thanks so much for giving me this, oh, my God." She walks away, repeating, "Oh, my God, oh, my God," then adds, "This is so heavy," referencing the statue's heft.
• Fancy footwork: Daniel Radcliffe's fanciest footwork might be how he avoids stepping on Twilight star's Kristen Stewart's long gown, which trails behind her as they exit the stage together. Radcliffe literally tap-dances away from her train as they walk off. Limping into the wings, Stewart grabs crutches and departs backstage.
• Kicking off her heels: Adele swaps the comfortable flats she wore at rehearsals for 4-inch sparkly numbers, walking very tentatively backstage. She takes a seat in a director's chair and has a beverage as she awaits her turn to go onstage, looking a little nervous. When Anne Hathaway tenderly mentions her husband during her supporting-actress acceptance speech, Adele fans her face with her hand.
Meeting Mark Wahlberg for the first time, she greets him with "Hi, Mark, I'm Adele, lovely to meet you," and he gives a "Good luck!"
Walking offstage after her performance of Skyfall, Adele breathes a sigh of relief and asks her attendant, "Can I take my heels off?" Five steps later, she kicks them off, generating a wave of laughter backstage, and keeps walking.
• A Harry Potter reunion: In the hallway backstage, Helena Bonham Carter chats with Daniel Radcliffe and kisses him goodbye, as she's on a mission to find a bottle of water.
When told to hang tight, she says, "I'm like a child, I'm not going to go anywhere." She looking at her iPhone, which has a cover with bunny ears projecting from it. "It helps me to hear better," she explains.
She hangs tight even as a stage manager tries to get her back to her seat in time for a Les Mis moment in the program. Finally, her water arrives and she follows her escort back to the auditorium.
• The wonders of Ted-nology: As the Ted bear riffs onscreen, Keith Urban stares at the backstage monitor, his jaw slack. "How did they do that?" he mutters to himself, not noticing that the person next to him is Sacha Baron Cohen. The two exchange greetings and Urban congratulates him on the performance. "Oh, well, you know, I've always wanted to perform at the Oscars," Baron Cohen says jokingly.
Urban excuses himself to grab a bite to eat in the green room. "Let me know if you see my wife in there," says Baron Cohen.
• They're gonna love her: Jennifer Hudson has several new big fans. As she performs And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going (from Dreamgirls), John Travolta watches the monitor next to Hugh Jackman with awe. Travolta nudges Jackman and raises his hand in the air to signify how high Hudson is going with the notes. When she walks offstage after the performance, her first hug is for Travolta. "Was I good?" she asks. "You were great," he tells her, giving her thumbs up.
She runs into Kerry Washington, who repeats again and again, "So good, so good, so good ..." Jamie Foxx, standing next to Washington, says, "It was incredible, incredible, angelic."
As Hudson walks away, she says, "That's what I like to hear."
Meanwhile, the Les Miserables cast's exit was far quicker, but just as enthusiastic. As Jackman saunters offstage, he hugs Baron Cohen around the neck and proclaims, "Well done, man!"
• Occupational hazard: Shirley Bassey shows up in the producers' office with injuries from her Bond performance: Her many rings are cutting into her fingers. "Look, it's bleeding," Bassey says. She dabs the blood up, asks for Mentos and goes back to her seat.
• 'Avengers, disassemble!': As The Avengers cast walked offstage from presenting a pair of awards, Robert Downey Jr. yelled, "Avengers, disassemble!" They had no choice because backstage was so crowded. Jeremy Renner and Samuel L. Jackson stopped to talk to Jennifer Aniston and Channing Tatum, who were huddled together reading the script for their upcoming presentation. "You killed it out there," Jackson told Tatum, referring to his earlier dance number.
• Supportive dancing partners: Racing off stage during a break in their number, Daniel Radcliffe is so excited that he literally jumps into Joseph Gordon-Levitt's arms before they go back out. After they finish, an ecstatic Radcliffe asks, "How did I do - better or worse that time?"
"You did great," Gordon-Levitt tells him. They hug as they spill out into the hallway, but Radcliffe remembers to thank the dancers, shaking hands and patting shoulders. "Well done, everyone, we're all alive," he says.
• Nerves all around: Channing Tatum, who will perform in the show, hurries past, pointing to his unbuttoned collar and hustles downstairs to wardrobe. He emerges five minutes later with a nattily knotted white bow tie as a wardrobe person calls after him, "Break a leg, Channing!"
The one guy definitely not nervous: Robert Downey Jr., who emerges from the green room and walks straight up to a backstage media photographer and poses for several shots with a big smile. He then puts his glasses on, saunters past yelling, "Heads up, people." As he passes the nervous producers (Craig Zadan and Neil Meron), he pats them on the back and yells, "Good job, guys, it's already working," and heads down the hallway to take his seat in the auditorium.
• Green room goings-on: The stars continue to trickle in to the overflowing green room as a gray cart filled with two levels of Oscar statues passes by. John Travolta, wife Kelly Preston and daughter Ella Bleu enter, and moments later, Samuel L. Jackson, flamboyant in a red velvet suit jacket, bounds up. "Do you want a program?" asks the hostess who's checking in celebrities at the door, clipboard in hand. "Sure, I'll have a program, am I in it?" he asks.
Catherine Zeta-Jones walks through with determination, still wearing her long gold dress from the carpet, with husband Michael Douglas two steps behind her. "Is this the green room?" she asks. "Michael, why don't you wait in here for me for a bit?"
"OK, sweetie, I'll see you later," he replies and she continues walking through to prepare for her Chicago number.
• 'Just wandering': All of The Avengers have assembled in the green room as Jeremy Renner enters at the same time as Mark Ruffalo. The two hug each other and Renner says, "How are you, brother?" while Ruffalo's wife, Sunrise, spins in a circle to show off her dress to an admirer.
Daniel Radcliffe hustles through carrying a glass of water, but at this point, it's so crowded that nobody seems to notice that Jack Nicholson, wearing his sunglasses, of course, is hanging out next to the producers' office. As production managers offer assistance, he flashes his trademark smile, and says, "I'm just wandering." He proceeds to poke his head in the office and checks out the stage.
Kelly Ripa strides by on her way to the green room, throws him a big smile and says, "Hi, Jack."
"Hi!" he replies with a grin. As soon as she walks away, he turns and asks, "Who was that?"
• A host's work is never done: Less than two hours before he'll open the show, first-time host Seth MacFarlane walks through the nearly empty backstage and wordlessly enters his dressing room, clad in a tan jacket and a Boston Red Sox cap. He emerges nine minutes later, wearing a gray T-shirt, jeans and glasses, and beelines for the producers' office to talk about last-minute adjustments, laughing and talking enthusiastically. "The current draft is in the prompter," he tells one of the production managers. "You just have to be ready to change it."
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Meanwhile, downstairs, Daniel Radcliffe is checking into a wardrobe room for his role inthe show.
• Crossing paths: Forty-five minutes later, William Shatner walks through backstage, hobbling on a cane and accompanied by wife Elizabeth. "I need my makeup," he says, and heads down the corridor to the elevator, passing two PriceWaterhouseCoopers accountants carrying ballots in their briefcases, flanked by two large security guards. Moments later, presenter Octavia Spencer, holding up the train of her gold dress in her hand, walks past exhausted by the red carpet ordeal. "Whew, I need to sit down," she says.
• 'Tickety-tock' to showtime: Two and a half hours before the telecast, producer Neil Meron seems calm as he stands outside his office, wearing a black suit and a long tie. How does he think the night will go? "We'll see, we'll see," he says, giving a brave smile. "But the clock is going tickety-tock, tickety-tock to showtime."
Meron pulls out his iPhone to check how many Twitter followers he has (@neilmeron). He's gone from 65 to 3,900 since he took on the job of producing the show, but he's still not satisfied. "I thought I would be at 5,000 Twitter followers right now," he says. "I guess I'm just an overachiever in everything."
• Let's 'Argo' to rehearsal: Looking out from the Oscar stage onto the star-filled audience is exciting for anyone. Even when it's rehearsal.
Argo director Ben Affleck takes a long, savoring look into the sea of empty chairs, many lined with place cards featuring the names and faces of Hollywood's biggest stars.
"I need to know where I'm sitting, over there? And there are the Argo people. And there's Naomi Watts. This is the most memorable aspect of the Oscars," he says as a stage manager leads him around Saturday. "You see all these place cards and then you come back and they're all here."
Wearing jeans and a jacket, Affleck places his cup of coffee down to rehearse his portion of the show.
"I can do that," he says confidently after hearing his instructions. Affleck nails the delivery and gives a flourish when announcing the only-in-rehearsal winner. Then he walks off. Just like the real Oscars.
Except that as Affleck calmly exits, he realizes he's forgotten something. He scurries back to the stage and grabs the Starbucks that he left behind.
• Steady as she goes: Moments later, Affleck's wife, Jennifer Garner, enters the stage to practice her Oscar presentation with Zero Dark Thirty nominee Jessica Chastain. On the 2006 Oscar stage, Garner had a near fall when her heel got caught on her gown. In 2013, she's clearly not taking chances: She's wearing jeans but also 3-inch heels to approximate her Oscar attire.
The incident is very much on her mind.
"Oh, and the way I almost fell all the way down, do you remember that?" Garner asks Chastain, laughing with her eyes wide as they stride onto the stage.
The two check out the place cards. Chastain is thrilled to be sitting next to her The Help co-star Octavia Spencer. "Did you see my photograph?" she says later, giggling. "Everyone else out there is like (smiling). Mine is so dramatic."
They're instructed to make sure nobody exits to the left.
"They might try to go off stage left, but we'll stop them," says Garner, as the two throw their hands up like football linemen.
"We'll block them," adds Chastain, laughing.
Joining them in the wings, Affleck is impressed by their vibe. "You guys are set," he says. "You're a tandem. Boom."
• Now presenting ...: Most of the presenters show up Saturday to work on their routines, among them Reese Witherspoon, Jack Nicholson, Kristen Stewart and Nicole Kidman. New to this year's stage: a microphone that rises up right next to the audience.
Even a veteran like Meryl Streep is impressed and a little daunted. "It's all the way here," she says, walking to the edge of the stage. "Oh, my God. OK."
• Not so Miserable: It took the Oscars to bring together the cast of the hit musical Les Miserables, giving members the chance to sing onstage as a group for the first time.
At Friday's rehearsals, best-actor nominee Hugh Jackman, best-supporting-actress nominee Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter all share the stage.
And there's no lip-syncing: Just like in the best-picture-nominated movie, the cast is singing live.
It seems like a stage production at times, with Hathaway wandering the stage singing seemingly nonsensical voice exercises and Jackman keeping an ever-present cup of tea in his hand for his throat.
But there's time for laughter. Crowe is particularly playful, posing for a goofy picture with Hathaway and pulling aside Jackman for conspiratorial whispers and snickers.
And when called to test out his microphone, Baron Cohen begins to sing Barbra Streisand's Woman in Love. (The real Streisand is performing at the telecast.)
During one break, the Les Miserables cast sits in the wings and watches Jennifer Hudson practice her Oscar routine. After Hudson hits a series of high notes, Jackman can only watch the backstage monitor in disbelief, his jaw slack.
"Wow," he says to his co-stars as Hudson finishes. "This is going to be a very good show."
• Skyfall on high: On Friday, British songstress Adele works out every aspect of her Oscar routine. She goes so far as to show off the three dresses she's considering for input from the producers. And she makes clear that she will not be wearing the comfortable flats she's donned for rehearsals. "I'm going to have very high heels on for the night, guys," she says into the microphone.
She also performs the theme from Skyfall five times. While each version brings rapturous applause from the stage workers, one onlooker applauds with particular enthusiasm - boyfriend Simon Konecki, sitting in the third row.
During a break, Konecki mugs with the photo place card of Chris Pine, putting his arm around the poster as if posing for a picture. Adele breaks into laughter from the stage. During the final run-through of the song, producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan invite Konecki to join them at the sound board to listen. She receives her biggest ovation.
"Goose bumps," Meron says of the performance.
Later, he says that watching Adele sing the song live is Oscar history.
"This is the first and possibly last time she sings that song," he says. "This is an only-at-the-Oscars moment."
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)