The Oscars celebrate May, Jackson, Ullmann and Glover
Elaine May was the last to arrive and the first to leave at the Governors Awards on Friday in Los Angeles.
His honored colleagues, samuel L. Jackson, Liv Ullmann and Dany Glover, all arrived hours earlier, each holding the ground at the Ray Dolby Ballroom, posing for photos and enjoying their moment amid the build-up to the 94th Academy Awards.
It was a party, after all. They were about to get something for the first time in their long Hollywood career: an Oscar statuette.
Jackson, whose right foot was in a molded boot and left in a black velvet slipper, sat at the base of an oversized Oscar statuette as everyone from Quentin Tarantino for Magic Johnson came to congratulate him.
But May, the 89-year-old writer, filmmaker and comedy legend, walked into the Ray Dolby Ballroom arm in arm with Bill Murray long after the attendees had finished their chicken pot pies, accepted his honorary Oscar with grace and wit, and then left soon after – still bonding with Murray.
Yes, that’s the kind of move that could rock a live stream. But at the Governors Awards, there are no television cameras. Everyone is just thrilled to celebrate living legends who have been waiting for their moment at the Oscars for a long time. With beautiful music video montages and moving tributes – from Denzel Washington for Jackson, John Lithgow for Ullmann, and Alfred Woodard for Glover – it’s the kind of show that reminds you why you love movies and the people who make them.
The Governors Awards are often a stopover for Oscar candidates on the campaign trail, but this year’s ceremony was delayed due to the pandemic. Though less starry than usual, there was also a silver lining to hosting the event after Oscar voting ended: The focus remained squarely on the winners and their legacies.
Murray, of course, was there to celebrate May, a two-time Oscar nominee for writing “Heaven Can Wait” and “Primary Colors.” He ignored the teleprompter speech and praised, “The most attractive, smartest woman I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”
A notable part of her work has been acting, including her comedy number with Mike Nichols and the movies she directed, starred in, wrote and ghost-written (like “Tootsie”).
Lily Tomlin, Kenneth Lonergan, Billy Crystal and Nathan Lane praised his confidence in his tone and how his movies, from “A New Leaf” to “Mikey and Nicky,” were all so important and so different from each other.
May – whom Lonergan teased, saying she “gives the best tribute speeches ever” – kept her stage moment brief.
“They told me Zelenskyy would introduce me tonight, but thank God they got Bill instead,” May said, referring to the Ukrainian president. She also joked about the event being held in person, saying, “I’m scared of COVID but I think that’s fine.”
It was Jackson’s turn next, and Washington, the only Oscar nominee in the room, was there to brag about his friend’s 152 film titles, his $27 billion at the box office, his “11 times Nick Fury and once the ‘Django’,” and his and his wife’s charitable efforts.
“This thing is going to be treasured,” said Jackson, 73, proudly holding his Oscar and marveling that a stuttering little kid from Chattanooga, Tennessee, made it this far.
“I went out to entertain the public like Hollywood entertained me,” he said. “It was truly an honor and a privilege to entertain you.”
Lithgow, in toasting the great Norwegian actor Ullmann, said people often say she had Swedish director Ingmar Bergman to thank for his career. But, he said, “Bergman would never have been called one of our greatest filmmakers without Liv Ullmann.”
The two worked together on Broadway in a production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Anna Christie.”
“I’ve seen a lot of great actors in my day, but I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lithgow said.
On stage, Ullmann, twice nominated for Best Actress, for by Jan Troell “The Emigrants” from 1971 and Bergman’s “Face to Face” from 1976 recalled her disastrous first audition for a Norwegian drama school during which she was cut off in the middle of a scene from “Romeo and Juliette” – and the comfort she then received from her grandmother, who nurtured her creative spirit.
In Norway, she says, people aren’t supposed to brag or show off.
“That’s why I brought 20 people here from Norway so they could say, ‘It’s true she got an Oscar,'” Ullmann said.
Glover has also kept family and heritage front and center while embracing the John Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The 75-year-old, known for his roles in ‘Lethal Weapon’ and ‘The Color Purple’, has been a progressive activist for many years, advocating for civil rights, working as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador and Ambassador for the United Nations children’s agency.
His mother grew up in Jim Crow-era Georgia, and his father served in World War II before coming to San Francisco, where they both worked for the Postal Service and instilled civic responsibility in their young son.
“I’m incredibly grateful for this moment,” Glover said, speaking at length about her grandparents’ decision to send their children to school instead of work.
“I didn’t mention the teleprompter at all. Sometimes as actors we get a bit lost without a script,” he said. “But I’m proud to be part of this space and this place.”
Republished with permission from The Associated Press.