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Tuesday, March 23, 1999 Published at 02:42 GMT

Sweating it out with the stars

Roberto Benigni made a point of speaking to our man at the Oscars

By Clive Myrie in Los Angeles

There's one word that springs to mind when I think of the Oscars. It's not glitz or glamour, but sweat.

It's the kind of thing the nominees do when they're wondering whether they'll be taking a little gold man home.

Oscars '99
And it's the kind of thing I do in tuxedo and black dickey-bow in blazing sunshine and under spotlights for 18 hours.

The BBC's mushrooming list of outlets means Oscar coverage now starts around 11 o'clock in the morning and finishes close to 11 o'clock the following day.

In my case, I spent all of those 24 hours in the same white shirt.

The wide, red carpet

This year, I was stationed for the first part of Oscar night on the so-called arrivals line.

It's that stretch of red carpet which the cream of Hollywood waft down after leaving their limousines on their way to their seats inside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Now, normally journalists have a devil of a time trying to talk to the likes of Kevin Costner, Gwyneth Paltrow or Sir Anthony.

A hack usually has to run the gauntlet of a plethora of publicists and press agents, and nine times out of 10, the answer is big fat "NO".

But Oscar night is different. It is the one time of the year the stars really want to shine and be seen. They willingly come over to us, the horrible press for whom most of the time they show only contempt.

This year I chatted to Brenda Blethyn, Kevin Costner, Sir Ian McKellen, Lynn Redgrave, Catherine Zeta Jones, Kathy Bates, Emily Watson, Helen Hunt, Cate Blanchett, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Steven Spielberg, Liam Neeson and Tom Hanks - to name but a few.

Roberto is beautiful

But the most coveted interview of the Oscars - the hyperactive Italian filmmaker Roberto Benigni - provided me with a hilarious memory.

As scores of journalists thrust their microphones into his face, he saw the BBC name tag of mine and began to speak.

"Ah ha, BBC, BBC, BBC, BBC. Ah ha. BBC," he said. It is important as you read this to feign a high-pitched Italian singy-songy voice.

"Yes, that's right; it's the BBC," I said in reply.

"Ah ha, BBC, what is your name?" he asked.


"Heyyyyyyyyyyyyy Cliveeeeeeeeeeeee," he said. As you read this, continue to feign a singy-songy Italian voice, but it's important to stretch out both of your arms as if to greet a long-lost cousin.

And with that, one of the most acclaimed filmmakers of the last year - winner of scores of international awards, including the Palm D'Or at Cannes and now three Oscars - proceeded to kiss me on both cheeks. Twice!

He deserves all of his success. His film, "Life is Beautiful," is a wonderful achievement.

So, I hob-nobbed with a few stars on the red carpet, going live every hour or so to tell the public who I'd seen, what the atmosphere was like and who was wearing what.

Strike a pose

The actual awards ceremony is simply the beginning of a night at the Oscars. As with the scores of stars and other attendees, I went one of the after-awards parties.

In my case, it was the Vanity Fair party, which was a very strange event indeed.

It is the trendy place to be if you're a wannabe young actor or actress hoping to catch the eye of someone powerful.

And as I stood in the middle of a scrum of TV cameramen, expertly coifed reporters and boorish press photographers, never had I seen so much posing done by so many.

Every famous arrival was greeted with camera flashes and inevitable comments such as: "Come on, love. Just one more picture."

It is all very bizarre, so divorced from the lives of the majority of those who live on this planet.

Political theatre

To add a novel twist, Monica Lewinsky was even in attendance.

I covered the trial of Bill Clinton for its duration, and I thought I had escaped Ms Lewinsky. But lo and behold, she turns up on the film industry's biggest night.

The Oscars are glorified industry awards. The awards are voted for by filmmakers, for filmmakers.

But over the last 50 years, they have taken on a significance that is immense. Whether or not that's a good thing, I don't know, but it sure makes for one interesting evening.

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