At Saturday night’s third annual Governors Awards, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) was seated next to me and before the show unexpectedly said of being in the room with Oprah: “This is extreme for me. I am an Oprah worshipper.” After this year’s recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award earned a trio of standing ovations and ended her emotional acceptance speech to bring the big night to a close, Cody concluded, “I feel like I have just freebased Oprah”. Indeed it was Oprah’s night in this room. But it also belonged to the other honorary Oscar winners, too – makeup legend Dick Smith and actor James Earl Jones, who accepted his award from London’s Wyndham stage in a segment taped earlier in the day after a matinee performance of Driving Miss Daisy in which he is appearing alongside Vanessa Redgrave.
So far I have been to all three Governors Awards ceremonies and I would say this seemed the most emotional of them all with both Winfrey and Jones referencing their long journey from Mississippi to this Hollywood moment. One attendee told me afterwards, “I was really moved by this more than any other year”. If only the speeches could be this good on the Oscar show itself. Then the Academy wouldn’t have to worry about who hosts or produces the show.
Academy President Tom Sherak made his entrance in a Darth Vader uniform (in tribute to Jones) and opened with the same line he used to introduce a screening of the Jones film, The Great White Hope on Friday night: “How was your week?” It was an obvious reference to the tumultuous events surrounding this year’s Oscar show. But that was the only time the week’s events came up all evening. This was a night for the honorees and they all made the most of it. Before dinner a stirring reel was shown highlighting the entire 84-year history of honorary Oscar winners, followed by a touching tribute to past Oscar show producers Laura Ziskin and Gil Cates who both died this year.
Alec Baldwin got the show rolling after dinner by honoring his The Hunt For Red October co-star Jones saying, “Unlike many actors, James Earl Jones never had to get his career back because he never lost it. He is one of the greatest actors in history”. Glenn Close came out to praise him by referencing his Broadway triumph Fences. “He is the only actor who has broken me apart and transformed me until I was a screaming slobbering mess. James Earl Jones is indeed a world treasure.” Redgrave via tape surprised her co-star by bringing on Sir Ben Kingsley with an Oscar to present to Jones. ”You achieve what every actor is striving for. You are always so damn good,” Kingsley praised.
Jones was genuinely taken aback. “If an actor’s nightmare is being onstage butt-naked and not knowing his lines, then what the hell is this?” he laughed. ”This is an actor’s wet dream. I am gobsmacked at this improbable moment in my life. You cannot be an actor like I am and not have been in some of the worst movies like I have. But I stand before you deeply honored, mighty grateful, and just plain godsmacked.”