I’m never going to win an Oscar. It’s just not going to happen, I have accepted it. But years of watching them have left me with a large and highly developed set of opinions about how one ought to behave in the wake of winning an Oscar. Not that anyone’s asking me, but I think there are a considerable number of publicists and stars out there in search of guidance, guidance on how to win the next-morning debate about whether you Did The Oscar Speech Right. The first and by far the most important guideline boils down to this:
To open, tell a very brief, ideally four-sentence, story.
Here’s the thing: the best speeches of any kind, Oscar or anywhere else, begin with a small anecdote. Tell me about the way you got involved with the project, some tidbit you held back through all the press junkets and slobbering profiles. Tell me about the person who told you you’d never make it. Tell me about what your mom said when you told her, “I’m gonna become a movie director!” Tell me about going to visit Jane Austen’s grave, like Emma Thompson did:
See how sweet that was? To achieve this effect, boil the thing down into a handful of gem-like sentences. Let the recitation of those sentences be the way you warm up to the mike, to the giant audience of slobbering masala-popcorn eaters sitting at home and the amphitheatre of envy and jealousy staring you down. Let memorization be your Xanax. It will, among other things, save you from beginning with the dreaded blurting and sputtering that generally attend, “Oh, I so wasn’t expecting this!” Which reminds me:
Swallow your surprise.
I am fully aware that there are certain stars for whom the ultimate win is, actually, a stunner. I am also fully aware that there are a far greater number of celebrities who have internalized the notion that the only legitimate way to react to having actually won a bizarre naked-man statue is to feign extreme surprise. Because the latter are so obnoxious, they have tarnished the former, more sincere displays. Trust me: your natural nervousness will do the work of showing your humility, if you have it. You don’t need to give it any conscious screen time. Again, have a look at Emma Thompson’s first Oscar speech, where she is shaking but gracious:
So listen up: in the days leading up to an awards show you should be saying to yourself, daily: “I have been nominated for a fucking Oscar. My life is the definition of insane and unexpected. I need to own this.” Calm poise will come across better, I promise. Find and commune with your inner Cate Blanchett. In fact, any of the Brits or Commonwealthers will do. Learn from their reserve; learn that it is not so much about not feeling something as it is about not letting the feeling overwhelm the moment.
Drop the cursory, by-obligation thank-you lists.
This one is slightly more controversial, though not to Oscar viewers, per se, I think. Nearly all audience members could probably agree that it would be better if Oscar speeches were not simply full credits lists of the winner’s “team,” friends, family, and everyone else they manage to scramble through in the moments before the orchestra starts playing.
For the star who is slightly more nervous, consider that gratitude, when reduced to the list of people you “must” thank on these occasions of your life, is something of a Pandora’s Box. There are always more people you could have mentioned, always someone you forgot totally, particularly in the context of the heavily collaborative industry that Hollywood always has been.
Consider also that mere mentions aren’t quite the ideal embodiment of gratitude, either. Your “team” should undoubtedly be thanked more fully than appearing as one item on the hurried, breathless list of names can possibly be accomplish. As executed, most speeches end up sounding like cursory thanks at best, really.
If you are worried that people in your professional life will be angry with you because you did not list them in this cursory manner, I put to you that you are obviously a cruel collaborator. The only sort of employee/agent/friend who could be truly upset by your failing to toss off their name on national television is the kind of person who feels this is their one opportunity to obtain some token of gratitude from you. Who has spent the entire evening downing increasingly bitter gin and tonics at a third-rate bar nearby because you did not finagle them an invitation to a better venue. Just send them to a better party, pay them more, be more generous with them. Don’t think that this is the way you manage to thank friends every year.
If you must thank people, do so with a pithy remark.
I can see that most people, even paring down their thanks to bare necessities, will not avoid thanking spouses. Or, in certain instances, directors and co-stars. In which case the only thing to do is to add a short flourish: “For all the times I forgot to mop the floor/forgot my lines/completely missed my mark, [name].” Again: short, elegant, cut to the quick.
And then, as we say on the internet, GTFO. I guarantee that following these easy steps, Hollywood, will get you favorable coverage and excellent YouTube sharing the next morning, and very few late-night jokes. And of course, if you fuck it up anyway, who cares? Remember: you just won a goddamn Oscar.