HitFix Interview: Bruce Cohen and Bruce Vilanch tease the Oscars
By Daniel Fienberg
Tuesday, Feb 15, 2011
If you watch any ABC programming at all, you probably know that James Franco and Anne Hathaway are in the midst of extensive training for their gig hosting the 2011 Academy Awards on Sunday, February 27.
The youthful hosts may be doing Oscar curls and preparing for speedy bathroom breaks and potential wardrobe malfunctions, but they’re hardly the only ones preparing for the ceremony.
On Tuesday (Feb. 15), I grabbed a few minutes of phone time with the Oscar telecast’s extremely busy head writer Bruce Vilanch and with Bruce Cohen, who will be producing along with Don Mischer.
The conversation should mostly whet your appetite for the February 27 telecast on ABC, providing a hint of what to expect from the two hosts, as well as how the tone of the Oscars will differ from last month’s Ricky Gervais-hosted Golden Globes.
HitFix: So how are you approaching the show differently with your dual hosts and your dual young hosts? How are you looking at this year’s telecast?
Bruce Cohen: We’re looking at this year’s telecast as a celebration of everything that’s new and fresh about having James and Anne hosting and Anne being the youngest Oscar host in history, James and Anne being the first male and female host, combined with taking a good look back at some of the great moments in film history and some of the great performances and some of the great moments in Oscar history. So we’re really trying to blend yesterday and today together.
Bruce Vilanch: So romantic.
Bruce Cohen: The present and the past in one extravaganza on the 27th of February.
HitFix: For Bruce Vilanch, how are you approaching writing for these two?
BV: Well, it’s in an unconventional way, because they’re not stand-up comics, so they don’t have to come out and go, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!” They have characters that they can play. They have big personalities and we write for them, but they don’t have that stand-up comic routine that other people do. So it’s going to feel different. It’s going to feel fresh and different.
BC: But they’re incredibly talented.
BV: They’re really funny people.
BC: The characters that they’ll be playing will be the two of them as Oscar hosts. So it’s not that they’re not themselves, but it’s a heightened version of themselves, because they’re both so excited about doing the show. So it’s been fun watching them create, you know, who is the James Franco that James wants to present to the world in his role as co-host of the Oscars?
HitFix: And what is the answer to that question?
BC: Suave, debonair, classic movie star with an irreverent sense of humor. Not that I would presume to speak for Mr. Franco, but being with him preparing, that’s what I would say.
BV: And he’s gotten rid of the one-arm shtick. He’s working with two arms again. Everybody he hugs will be happy to hear that.
HitFix: And what is it that Anne will be trying for?
BC: Well, Anne is a budding comic genius. Her mind works like a sketch comedy writer. You give her a line and while she’s selling that line funnier than you ever thought possible, she’s already coming up with the six other things she wants to try. So I think with Anne, she’s sort of the consummate, polished performer, but she brings this incredible energy and enthusiasm with that. So I think you’re going to see a really funny, high energy performance, but also bringing the glamor back. She’s the first full-on glamorous female movie star to host the Oscars in many, many years and the costume changes and the different designers working with her and the makeup and the hair, you’re going to see all of that too. Part of why people watch the Oscars is the dresses on the red carpet, so the fact that we have that not just with our presenters and nominees arriving in advance, but with our hostess on the show, is a whole new cool element as well.
HitFix: Bruce V. could you talk a bit about what the in-show process is going to be like? Obviously if you have a trained comedian as a host, they can adapt, to some degree, to what’s happening within the show. But these two, without that background, is that going to make more work for you during telecast itself?
BV: Yeah, well, we won’t be jumping on the opportunities to have them come out and ad-lib, unless there’s a perfect moment that allows for it, whereas a comic is always looking for a reason to comment on stuff. They don’t make that pact with the audience, either. The audience isn’t expecting that from them. So if they do, it’s because something absolutely right happened and we want to capitalize on it and we’ve had enough time during the commercial to actually come up with the something.
HitFix: Still, that has to make for a different process?
BV: Yeah. Yeah, it’s different. Certainly somebody like Billy Crystal or Whoopi is ready to say something about whatever just went before, whether it’s appropriate or not. In fact, most of the time we have to kind of stifle ourselves, because we want to say something that we said backstage and that we laughed at, but that we know once you said it on-stage, you’d probably regret having said it.
HitFix: As a last question, I’d love for you guys to talk a bit about tone and what you want the tone in the room to be, perhaps in comparison with what happened at the Golden Globes last month, but perhaps not even that. How do you want the room to feel?
BC: It’s funny, because we sort of had our dream tone set before the Globes and there certainly wasn’t anything that happened on the Globes that made us want to change our tone. That’s for sure. The Oscars is the chance every year to celebrate the movie business and remind the world what they love about movies and what they love about the Oscars. Pretty much everyone in the world, at the his point, they have their connection points to a movie they love, a song from a film that really meant something to them, these emotional or funny moments that they love and remember. Our tone is that we want to try to connect the audience. Don Mischer and I, we’re producing the show, and we have to write a letter and program that everyone reads in the theater, because they make you sit in your seats early, and you’ve got time to read it, so it’s actually something that everybody looks at. So that’s one of the things that we say in the letter, that if we can remind everyone who’s watching that one or two moments during the show when you connect with your favorite movie moment or Oscar moment and you remember why you loved these things in the first place, then we’ll be very happy campers.
HitFix: And Bruce V? Tone?
BV: The audience is different. The Golden Globes, they’re a bunch of drunks who are there having a good time for an award that doesn’t mean a whole lot and that only takes 12 people to actually win one, if they vote for you. There are only like 83 of them anyway. So there’s a whole casual atmosphere, like “We’re here for the personal appearance of it all.” So they can bring somebody on like Ricky, who basically just insults all of them and finds himself hilarious and that’s a different tone right there. This is the Oscars. This is 83 years of real tradition that mean something, as opposed to the Golden Globes, which is just a pie-throw.
The 83rd Annual Academy Awards will air on ABC on Sunday, February 27. We’ll remind you of that plenty during the next week-and-a-half, as HitFix’s pre-Oscars coverage continues to ramp up.