If Jimmy Kimmel is nervous about presiding over Sunday’s 90th Oscarcast, he hides it well. In between rehearsals at the Loews Hollywood Hotel adjacent to the Dolby Theatre, Kimmel took a few moments to speak to Deadline about the show he and producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd have cooked up. You can be sure nobody will screw up the delivery of winner envelopes this year, but it turns out that Kimmel would actually be a little disappointed if everything goes exactly according to plan.
DEADLINE: Those Oscar commercials sure turned an embarrassing moment into a funny promotional tool. Explain the thought process that led to owning a screw-up of historic proportions.
KIMMEL: We wrote that promo, one of our writers came up with the idea, and I liked it. To be honest with you, I also was excited about the idea of acting with Warren Beatty. I’m not an actor, so it’s something I don’t take for granted. It also seemed like it was the only thing anyone was talking about. So it made perfect sense for us to use that, to get some good out of that bad situation.
DEADLINE: Warren Beatty initially looked like the culprit when the wrong Best Picture was announced. Though he was vindicated later, he is a guy who carefully considers everything, which is why he hasn’t made more movies. How long did it take to convince him he wasn’t putting himself up for ridicule here?
KIMMEL: He agreed immediately to it. He and I had a nice chat before the last Oscars, at rehearsal, and we had a chat afterwards. I tried to convince him to come do my show, right after the envelope controversy. He decided that he would sit that one out, but I think he just read the script and liked it.
DEADLINE: No Faye Dunaway in the commercial. Should we read something into that?
KIMMEL: The truth? We were parroting a psychiatrist’s office. Psychiatrists don’t generally work in teams. There’s no more to that story than that.
DEADLINE: The makers and cast of Moonlight never really got their due after they accepted their Best Picture prize amidst the chaos onstage. Is there time to own that mistake and give them a moment at the start of Oscar before new business is conducted?
KIMMEL: We offered them a moment. And they said, it’s okay. We’re fine. We gave our speech when we won the Oscar and we’re okay leaving it at that.
DEADLINE: Down to the yards of black fabric that went into the #MeToo and #TimesUp social fashion statement, the Golden Globes felt funereal. It seemed unavoidable at the time, given the heat of the moment. When you watched it, how much relief did you feel that since the Globes got that done, it would be possible for the 90th Oscars to be entertaining?
KIMMEL: I think the Golden Globes were entertaining, and that Seth Meyers did a great job with the show. Which just shows, it almost doesn’t matter what the situation is. I mean, I’m sure there have been people in a foxhole with bullets flying over them, who cracked a joke and made the rest of the guys in the hole laugh. I’m not comparing this in any way to war. But in my family, when we’re sad, when there’s a lot of pressure, even when we were in the hospital waiting for my son to have surgery? My cousins were telling funny stories and we were all laughing. It’s the sort of thing that helps you get through difficult times.
DEADLINE: How do you meter the humor in light not only of the seriousness of that issue, but the recent mass shooting at that high school in Parkland, Florida, chemical gas in Syria, the Russians meddling in American politics, and President Trump? Is there a sense of how much of that people want to hear during the Oscars, and how much of the provocative political stuff you can inject before polarizing viewers and losing some of them?
KIMMEL: Everybody’s going to have a different opinion as to whether you did too much on one subject, and not enough on another subject. Even when I run jokes by my comedy writer and comedian friends, everyone has their own opinion on what should be highlighted. Personal bias is a big part of comedy and a big part of being an audience. So I’m never going to please everybody. I feel like I just have to be funny, and appropriate when necessary, and do my best to give the monologue and the rest of the show some balance. And also afford that to other people, because I’m not the only one on the show. Everyone who wins or presents has an opportunity to speak, and no one is dissuaded from that. We are not in the business of censoring other people’s thoughts no matter what they are.
DEADLINE: Get Out director Jordan Peele and his star Daniel Kaluuya said that on basically every single plot twist of that Best Picture nominated film, they would stop and ask themselves if a black audience would buy the logic. They used that as the compass for the film, doing things only if they felt they would not lose that segment of the audience. It’s his first movie as director, but Peele said that came from his background in comedy, and the ability to anticipate how an audience feels in the moment, and be changeable when something falls flat. The Oscar broadcast seems tightly calibrated. How much room is there for an audible if you feel you’re losing the audience?
KIMMEL: In the award shows I’ve done in the past, I try to keep it pretty loose. We script the monologue, but I also want to make sure there is room for off-the-cuff commentary and for talking about what’s happening in the moment. The worst trap you can fall into as the host of any award show is being locked to your script. That’s when tone deafness occurs. You have a joke planned and then you’re following some moving performance or something sad that just happened, and yet you march ahead with the plan and don’t pay attention to what preceded it. I’m very conscious of that. I do a show every night, and very little of my show is scripted. I was on the radio for 12 years. I’m used to being in the moment and that’s my goal going in.
DEADLINE: Before the envelope snafu it felt like you and your producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd were headed toward that checkered flag. And then you hit the wall, 10 feet from the finish line. As a guy who makes a living turning the foibles of others into humor, describe the feeling of being the figure head of a collective effort that ended up the butt of a joke.
KIMMEL: I mean…I was confused and then really bemused because I’m on the stage and people are freaking out. I think if you have seen any picture of me, it was hard for me not to laugh through the whole thing. Of course, I felt bad for the people who had the Oscar taken away from them, but it just was funny seeing all these adults in tuxedos, so panicked over the fact that somebody read the wrong name. I couldn’t help but think of Steve Harvey in that moment.
DEADLINE: How do you think he felt, after pioneering that screw up when he crowned the wrong Miss Universe winner?
KIMMEL: I’m sure he enjoyed the hell out of this.
DEADLINE: How long did it take to lick your wounds and for you, De Luca and Todd to decide you wanted another shot?
KIMMEL: You mean to do it again? They asked me to host the show the very next day. But Mike and Jen didn’t know for sure that they were going to be able to do it, just because of their work schedule, and I wasn’t necessarily sure I wanted to do it without them. It took us a few months to decide that we were going to do it. If anything, what happened at the end of the show made me more inclined to do the show this year. Because I don’t want the narrative for my career to be that. I mean, it had nothing to do with me, but what I would like people to say is, he was a good Oscar host. Not he was there when the envelope thing happened.
DEADLINE: Is there a special Oscar memory for you, maybe where your parents let you stay up, or you rooted the first time for a movie, that stamped your desire to do this?
KIMMEL: I think the first most impressive thing that I recall from the Oscars is when Roberto Benigni walked on top of the seats. I was like, who is this man? Who would do something like that? You watch that and you’re like, that’s a special person, someone who should be in front of the camera. When I think back on Oscar memories that’s the one that sticks with me.
DEADLINE: We’ve seen things go awry in certain years like when Marlon Brando won Best Actor, and sent up Sacheen Littlefeather to protest the treatment of Native Americans. You clearly recognize that last year’s unexpected ending made for TV high drama. Isn’t it better when things go according to plan?
KIMMEL: No. Worst case scenario is that everything goes according to plan. Because that equals boring. The best case scenario? I was at the NBA All Star Game a couple weeks ago and had Fergie not sung the National Anthem in that way she did, it was just a basketball game.
DEADLINE: And had the cameras not caught your reaction, nobody would have known you were there. Last time, Mike and Jen were named producers much later than normal. And you…
KIMMEL: Late. After them.
DEADLINE: This year, we knew you were reprising in March. What’s the been biggest benefit of that extra time?
KIMMEL: There has been no benefit. Really, there hasn’t. In a weird way, I feel like I was more prepared last year at this time than I am this year, at this time. I think the panic fueled that. So the combination of having more time and also knowing that I’ve done it before increases my inclination to procrastinate.
DEADLINE: When does the panic set in?
KIMMEL: Oh, it has already set in. It set in last Thursday night.
DEADLINE: This is the 90th anniversary, an opportunity to celebrate movie history. But Hollywood is being turned upside down by disruptive streaming services like Netflix. While we remember where we saw certain touchstone films in a theater, our kids don’t hold movie going in that kind of regard. They seem content watching a movie like Dunkirk on an iPhone. It’s a strange dichotomy.
KIMMEL: To me, watching Dunkirk on an iPhone or even on your TV at home is like eating truffle pasta with a plastic fork. You’re still enjoying it, but not as much as you would if you were in a theater having that communal experience that I think is underrated. It would be a shame if future generations don’t have that. If you think of a movie like Get Out, how much more fun is that movie to watch in a movie theater with other people who are scared as a group? A movie like Dunkirk? Just from an audio standpoint, forget everything else. I’ve never been to war but that movie made me feel like I was in one because I could hear the sound of bullets whizzing by my head. I hope that we never move away from that. I don’t think we will ever move away from that because we do tend to stick with things we enjoy. I don’t know that you’re getting the full entertainment experience from watching a movie in your house. Even if the technology is amazing, even if we equaled the picture and the sound. Unless you invite 100 neighbors over, you’re not going to get that same excitement.
DEADLINE: Should we expect more Matt Damon abuse? That running joke last year never got old. That Tweet happy pricecooperswaterhouse accountant who mixed up the envelopes called himself a Matt Damon look alike…
KIMMEL: He was a Matt Damon look alike. And that’s one of two bad things that happened to him. I believe Matt is visiting his potatoes on Mars right now. I don’t think Matt is around.
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