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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 10:45 GMT
Backstage with the Oscars winners
By Keily Oakes
BBC News Online correspondent in Los Angeles

Barry Osbourne, Peter Jackson and Fran walsh
Peter Jackson (centre) toasted his 11 wins
For a night dedicated to the movies, the 76th Academy Awards turned out to be a night of few surprises and even less drama as The Lord of the Rings took award after award.

The hundreds of assembled press packed into the backstage media room were desperate for a twist, with the announcement of Sean Penn as best actor drawing the only gasps of surprise as many had tipped Bill Murray to pick up the award.

But - from a press point of view - perhaps it was a good thing he did not win. He is a notoriously difficult man to interview, seeming to take particular pleasure in not answering questions.

But the media can be assured that it's nothing personal, as director Sofia Coppola had to first track him down and then beg for him to work on Lost in Translation.

Speaking backstage, she said: "He seems really happy to be recognised for his performance which I really think he put his heart into and roughed it on the shoot. He's been very happy to celebrate with us."

Pretty much all the stars looked suitably shell-shocked - not only by their wins but by the amount of press people they then had to face.

Voting plea

Charlize Theron was mortified to be asked about her lesbian kissing scenes in her movie Monster while she was holding her first Academy Award.

She also looked perplexed when asked what she had done with her two pet dogs that morning.

Tim Robbins is one of Hollywood's most outspoken celebrities, having vigorously opposed the war in Iraq and spoken out about the Bush administration.

I think Renee is incredible - she's like pizza, you know, in that she's always good
Charlize Theron
He used his Oscar-winning platform to urge Americans to get voting in order to keep George Bush from securing a second term in office.

Although his acceptance speech was tame compared to what was expected of him, he said it was nothing to do with the well-publicised five-second delay placed on the broadcast.

"I'm not scared of a delays, spontaneity is part of what the deal is.

"I did not know what I was going to say up there, if you're going to live in a free society and you are going to have freedom of speech then sometimes what other people say will be uncomfortable."

When Sean Penn's turn came, it was obvious he was uncomfortable talking about himself and his win, preferring to talk up his peers instead.

Actress' praise

Despite this being his fourth Oscar nomination, it was the first time he had shown up to a ceremony.

As he struggled to answer questions about himself - except to say how lucky he was to be married to Robin Wright Penn - he looked genuinely embarrassed to be the centre of attention, and extremely relieved when his grilling time was up.

The two female acting winners of the night, Charlize Theron and supporting actress Renee Zellweger, used their time in the spotlight to shower each other with praise.

Zellweger said she was "mesmerised" by Theron's transformation into the character of a serial killer in Monster.

In return, Charlize said: "I think Renee is incredible. She's like pizza, you know, in that she's always good.

Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola celebrated with Lost in Translation star Bill Murray

"She's completely emotionally invested and you can see that there's a complete concentration and commitment to the characters."

Of course, the night belonged to Lord of the Rings following its massive haul of 11 awards.

It was also a successful night for one New Zealand journalist as Kiwi after Kiwi filed into the press room from either The Return of the King or Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World to answer questions.

Jackson applause

While most journalists largely ignored the winners of the sound and film editing and sound mixing winners, for this lady every one was a win for her country. She was not going to pass up the chance to give them their moment in the spotlight.

But Jackson's presence was recognised with rapturous applause as even the most cynical hacks recognised the achievement of completing the trilogy, topped off with the Academy Award which had proved so elusive in the past two years.

And then it was all over for another year.

Even as the stars began filing out to their limos to be transported to any number of parties, the red carpet was being pulled up and the army of security guards stood down until next year's movie roadshow rolls into town.

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