Naked Maneuvering, Whip Smart Stars: Inside The Times’s Oscar Coverage


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A worker carried an Oscar statue in February.

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Ralf Hirschberger/DPA, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

It’s Oscar season again. The race is on and the Times reporter Cara Buckley, who once covered hurricanes, is back on the Carpetbagger beat, poised to cover the hoopla that surrounds this year’s Hollywood film awards season.

Q. Do agents or anyone else in Hollywood ever tell you the truth?

A. Only off the record — and everything I hear from someone with an iron in the fire has to be taken with a grain of salt. (To mix metaphors — and deploy clichés!)

Q. How do you tell the difference between spin and not spin?

A. If someone has an iron in the fire, it’s spin.

Q. What makes you qualified for this job?

A. Covering hurricanes taught me how to withstand the blowing of much hot air.

Q. Did you need a new wardrobe for this job?

A. Yep.

Q. What’s easier to cover: hurricanes or Hollywood?

A. Hollywood, hands down.

Q. What’s the best thing about the beat? The worst? Most surprising?

A. I’ll take the most surprising: The question people most often ask me, with a glimmer of hope in their eye, is what is so-and-so really like?

People almost hope that it’s all a whirlwind of nonsense, that the celebrities are totally empty underneath it all — it would make the rest of us feel better, I think, about not leading as seemingly charmed lives.

The truth is, there’s a reason a lot of these actors are where they are — they’re talented, they’re gorgeous, they have charisma — and they’re often (though, alas, not always) whip smart.

They also know how to turn all this on at a moment’s notice. I’ve found myself in what for me were deeply interesting, and way off topic, chats. That said, I’ve noticed an understandably direct correlation between a person’s level of fame and their level of guardedness.

Q. Do people give you gifts or otherwise try to buy your favor?

A. No, and, happily, I can’t accept anything, beyond lunches or dinners at industry events. Per Times policy, we can’t accept any gift valued at more than $20. I remember covering the George Zimmerman trial in the summer of 2013, a city councilwoman in Sanford, Fla., told me how our ace reporter Serge Kovaleski once regretfully refused her gift of homemade banana bread. A standard we all can aspire to.

Q. Who in the biz makes the best lunch conversation?

A. Can’t reveal my sources!

Q. Did you move West for the job?

A. Stayed in New York City, praise be.

Q. How many movies do you see a week?

A. It varies. If I’m at a film festival — mind you I only really go to two a year — four a day. Otherwise, maybe three or four a week.

Q. Any sleepers you would like to call attention to?

A. I loved “Tangerine,” though that’s gotten a lot of indie love and isn’t exactly a sleeper. Definitely the tragically underwatched “Diary of a Teenage Girl.”

Q. Any questions you regret not asking Jennifer Aniston, Anne Hathaway — or anyone else you’ve interviewed?

A. I wish I had asked Steven Spielberg about the hiring of Colin Trevorrow to direct “Jurassic Park,” which many saw as yet another example of the Hollywood boys club perpetuating itself.

Q. What’s the best way to get past the handlers?

A. At parties, you can sidle up to actors and chat, especially the ones you’ve sat down with before, though I always feel slightly strange about it because it’s not like we’re friends — the whole enterprise is exceedingly transactional.

Love ’em or hate ’em, handlers are the ones who set up all the interviews with the celebs and directors, etc. I haven’t done one in-person interview with a handler present — they always, always leave us alone (“Stars: They can handle themselves!”); ditto for phone interviews — the publicists have only jumped in when the allotted time is up.

Q. How do you decide which events to go to and which to skip?

A. If there’s big buzz around a movie or if I know that a bunch of Academy voters will be there, and I need to get an in-person update of what people are thinking and feeling about various contenders, I’ll go. Last year in the days preceding the Oscars, I oversubscribed, and found myself at very random parties — one involved a push to make Los Angeles greener and attendees included, bless their hearts, Daphne Zuniga and Cheryl Tiegs. I needed to be there not one bit.

Q. Had you been to the Oscars before you took over the Carpetbagger post last year?

A. Nope — and to say I’m “at the Oscars” is somewhat misleading. I was on the red carpet — the highlight of which was the caving in of the tent covering us because of rain — and then in the press room afterward, watching the event on-screen like anyone else tuning in.

Q. What is the most naked political maneuvering on behalf of an Oscar candidate you’ve experienced?

A. I’m just starting my second year covering “the campaigns,” and while I’m sure there’s been naked maneuverings, I alas have only been privy to clothed — i.e. obvious — ones. Nor have I picked up yet on any so-called whisper campaigns — which might be a sign that my ear isn’t close enough to the right ground. That said, last year the Weinstein Company put enormous resources into promoting the “The Imitation Game,” about the British mathematician Alan Turing, who was persecuted for being gay and posthumously pardoned in 2013 by the Queen.

All well and good, but when the company began running ads calling for the pardoning of 49,000 other men and women persecuted under that now-defunct British law — the ad read “Honor this movie. Honor this man” — some saw it as shameless currying of votes, an impression only heightened after the company announced, on the day Oscar voting closed, that a petition demanding pardoning had been delivered to 10 Downing Street.

I asked Harvey Weinstein about this last year on the Oscars red carpet and he was characteristically unapologetic, saying, “If those 49,000 people get a pardon I don’t care what people think.”

Q. Harvey Weinstein is known as the master Oscar campaigner. Can you describe what it is like to be on the receiving end of his campaign efforts?

A. Everyone in the race business tends to rub their hands with glee when a Weinstein picture comes out, wondering what trick Harvey might pull. I hate to disappoint, but so far in my admittedly limited experience there’s been more bark than bite to the supposed skulduggery in Harvey’s campaigns — beyond the huge “Imitation Game” push last year, which was viewed by critics as baldly exploitative.

Q. Two words that describe what it feels like as the events hurl toward the Oscar nomination?

A. Bloody exhausting.



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