Former winners reflect at Oscar party

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by Associated Press

Associated Press

Posted on March 3, 2014 at 7:04 AM

Updated Monday, Mar 3 at 10:05 AM

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Actors Jon Voight, Martin Landau and George Chakiris all have one shiny, golden thing in common.

They're all former Oscar winners, and they all attended the annual Night of 100 Stars Oscar viewing party Sunday at the Beverly Hills Hotel, watching on enormous screens as younger talents such as best actor winner Matthew McConaughey and best supporting actor Jared Leto lived out emotional moments reminiscent of their own wins.

Voight, who snagged a best actor Oscar trophy back in 1978 for his heartbreaking, dramatic role as a paralyzed Vietnam War veteran in "Coming Home," was especially moved by "Dallas Buyers Club" duo McConaughey and Leto. The 75-year-old actor intently and quietly watched McConaughey on-screen as he delivered his energetic acceptance speech mentioning God, family, his future self and making a sly reference to his breakout role in 1993's "Dazed and Confused."

"Matthew has a wonderful, explosive way about him. He's passionate, and he goes for it. He doesn't edit. It makes his work very pure and beautiful too. I admired his speech," Voight said afterward. "Matthew mentioned God, which is a no-no at the Oscars, but he did it with great dignity. Jared is a likeminded soul, for me. He's a great actor. I'm so glad he won. I'm impressed with these guys. God bless them. This is a wonderful evening because of it."

Celebrating Hollywood's big night made Voight reflect back to his own win in 1978. Back then his idol Laurence Olivier was also nominated alongside him for the best actor Oscar, for "The Boys From Brazil." It was Olivier's longtime influence, and a speech that same night for a lifetime achievement award, that moved Voight most.

A few days before the awards ceremony, Voight had sat on a plane two rows behind Olivier - frail and hardly able to move after multiple illnesses - and was too shy to go up to him, Voight said. Yet the night before the Oscars, Olivier somehow found his number and called Voight at his house. Voight was bowled over by the Shakespearean great.

"He was a true icon in the mythology of my life. He said, 'Hello, Jon, this is Larry Olivier here. Oh dear boy, what a wonderful performance you gave," said Voight. "Then I go to the awards, and Cary Grant introduces him for his lifetime achievement, and Laurence Olivier walks out as if he was one of the great kings of one of his performances, and proceeded to give an astounding, poetic speech. I wanted to stand up and tell everyone, 'You're watching something astounding!' When I won, I got up and said something about Laurence Olivier to start it off."

Lithe at age 79, Chakiris landed his own best supporting actor Oscar in 1961 playing the street gang member Bernardo in the hit musical film "West Side Story."

Eating pomegranate and citrus salad at Sunday's Beverly Hills viewing party, he reminisced just after watching Lupita Nyong'o shed tears when she won a best supporting actress trophy for her role as a brutally victimized slave in "12 Years A Slave."

"I think it's the same for everybody. Everybody is astonished, and don't know quite what to say," said Chakiris. "I felt the anticipation watching tonight. It's wonderful to see the Academy honor these people, because they deserve the recognition."

As for his own win more than a half century ago, he joyfully shared the reins of celebration that Oscar night with another "West Side Story" star, Rita Moreno, who won a best supporting actress trophy for her role as Bernardo's girlfriend Anita.

"We attended the ceremony together, and my category came up first. I was lucky. Then her category came up, and she was lucky," he said. "We're still great great friends today. The fact that we came together, we were both fortunate together, we spent the evening together. It was fantastic."

There's a striking similarity to McConaughey and Leto being both winners and friends at Sunday's Academy Awards. Chakiris noted that working and winning together immediately creates, as with Moreno, a "special kind of bond."

Landau, whose more than 50-year career included Oscar nominations in 1988 and 1989, and who won a best supporting actor Oscar in 1994 playing actor Bela Legosi in Tim Burton's quirky "Ed Wood," had a much more cynical take on the current crop of Oscar winners and nominees.

The white-haired 85-year-old actor, surrounded by friends and fans at his table, spoke softly but definitively.

"I've got a lot of friends who are nominated. The problem is - and I don't like to mention names because they're friends of mine - but a good actor, it's how he hides his feelings, not how he shows his feelings, and very few actors do that," said Landau. "When I'm watching the Oscars, I have a lot of mixed feelings. There should be people who are nominated that shouldn't be nominated."

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