And other answers to unsolicited questions
“I someday want to receive an award at a broadcast award show. What are the keys to giving a good acceptance speech?” — Thankful Tom
Award shows are not about the winners of the awards given. 100% of the people watching at home will not be winning awards this year. People watch for the glam and fashion. They watch for the bigness of the occasion. And they watch so that someday they may be ready to spend a minute or two behind a microphone, thanking people for their own award victory.
Given this year’s batch of nominees, or literally any year’s batch of nominees, we all could be behind that microphone sooner than we think. Best adapted screenplay seems definitely up for grabs. Everyone loves unreliable narrators? So where is the big screen adaptation of James Frey’s Million Little Pieces? I’d cast Michael B. Jordan for the role of James, to make him more likable. Oprah could play herself, yelling at poor James for not remembering if they used novocaine when he went to the dentist or whatever. It could be a compelling look at the nature of what’s true v. what’s real in a post-Truth currently-Trump America. Mr. Frey, your Oscar awaits. Can you fake it until you take it?
Best original screenplay seems like a lay-up, too. If all you have to do is have stage directions that say “[Then Ryan Gosling dances in the sky]” well how hard could that be? Just write a movie about writing a movie, you will win. “Do you know what the best thing about writing a movie is, Dolores? You can give yourself all the best lines.” And then you will need a great speech.
I think the most important speech isn’t pretending to be humble (which you don’t need to do, but if it comes naturally, OK.) The most important thing is just not pissing off any of the people you will need down the road. Definitely thank your husband, wife and kids. Significant others of any kind. It is cold on the couch with just you and your Oscar. It will not keep you warm, that cold, cold gold. These are really the only people you need to thank. Your parents. You shouldn’t thank God, but you can definitely thank the Devil for whatever arrangement you made to win the award in the first place. Managers, hair stylists, directors, brilliant writers, these people are a dime a dozen. If you thank them and call them geniuses, you will probably have to do something with them that’s less geniusy in the future.
If there is a role you want, your Oscar speech would be a great time to publicly ask for it. If Denzel wins an Oscar and then says “This is great, but I really still think I’m young enough to play Batman” the dude would get cast as Batman. Ben Affleck doesn’t even want it anymore. The movie he should make next is “North Shore Fish” by Israel Horowitz.
If you can cry, cry. You only have 30 seconds. If you spend 20 of it blubbering, no one will remember what you said. They will simply love you for being a real person. For making them cry. For making it OK to cry. As I age I enjoy crying more and more. I watch Mets’ games sometimes when I feel like crying. I watch the end of Armageddon when I feel like crying. Or the Oscars, which make me feel like crying almost constantly. So cry, winners, cry. I want to cry. I really, really want to cry.
It’s OK to have something written down. The crappier the piece of paper looks, the better. If it’s a napkin from a bar, you’re the winner of everything for all time forever. There’s a delicate balance between acting prepared-to-win and being disorganized and unprepared entirely. Both can be pulled off with wit and charm. But it’s better to at least have notes, not the Gettysburg address written down. Don’t act surprised unless you actually are surprised. No one cares too much about you winning until you give a great speech. Then they’re like, I don’t mind that that person won.
All I really want from your Oscar acceptance speech is ideas for my Oscar acceptance speech. Everyone has a list of old teachers and lovers. I think I am going to thank Michelle Obama in my speech. Just because I want to be friends with Michelle Obama. I bet she is an awesome friend who always has your back. I might ask Taraji P. Henson if she wants to go to a hockey game with me sometime during my speech. Make your speech work for you. It’s your moment. Be yourself. Especially if your true self is seriously crazy. They give out Oscars every year. But crazy is forever. Everyone remembers it. It never goes away.
If they read the wrong name and in the middle of your speech ask you to give the award back, run for it. Don’t stand around waiting for them to take it away from you. If someone hands you an Oscar, that’s your Oscar. If they try to take it away from you, hit them over the head with it and run like Hell. No one will blame you.
Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ and works at a bookstore.