WORKING ON STAGE AT THE OSCARS - BY JORUNN HAUGEN
Today's blog post is from the time I lived in Los Angeles. This post is from the late 90s, a few years down the line from my previous story when I was starting out in Paris. And a few years after my dangerously unhealthy time in Tokyo. Here I am past 30 and work has never been better. As a fact, the other models would call me if they didn't work to see if I was. If I wasn't working either they calmed down because then it meant that work, in general, was slow. I lived in a beautiful apartment in Venice Beach and was married to a fellow model and my best friend, Scott.
MORE COMFORTABLE IN MY OWN SKIN
I finally felt comfortable in my own skin, but still thought it was weird when some stunning younger models told me it was an honour to work with me. It was nice though! Ever since the Tokyo incident, I’ve changed my lifestyle to a very healthy one. LA was the perfect place for that. The rest of the western world had not yet gotten into the hole health food craze, but in the City of Angels, they sure had! You could have your wheatgrass shot most places and whole grocery stores were dedicated to organic food. I loved it. Luckily by now, these sort of things has also arrived in Europe!
I ate the healthiest food, drank tons of water and got my nine hours of sleep every night. I glowed, and that meant happy clients and less polaroid time (still no digital photography at this point either). One day I had a strange casting. I simply had to walk over the floor and deliver a water bottle to a man... 'Perfect' he said, 'see you soon'. That was too strange, I called my agency and they were ecstatic. I was going to work for The Oscars. The Academy Awards! I was embarrassed as I did not know what that was, so I called my sister. Maybe she knew? She said, 'What???'. I repeated, 'I am doing The Oscars, what is it?’ It was completely quiet at the other end. Then she screamed!! And then Sara’s brother screamed behind her (he was still not in school yet).
For my sister, The Oscars was a big deal. Her husband was the proud owner of more TV channels than most people, and every year my sister sat up at night to watch both The Oscars and The Emmys. Now her little sister was going to be a part of it. Her enthusiasm got me excited about it too. Mostly because of her pure joy of the fact that I had gotten this job. To be honest, I just was not that into movie stars. I appreciated that they made such great entertainment for us, but I had never had a crush on an actor (except maybe Mel Gibson). The British royal family, on the other hand, is a different story. Just ask Sara, about a year ago when visiting her in London, she had to take me when I visited her in London.
THE HOME VISIT
The year was 1997, and Norway was nominated for Best Foreign Film with the movie 'The other side of Sunday'. And when the Norwegian media heard there was going to be a Norwegian girl on stage throughout the show, they went mad. I was so busy at the time, I didn't have time to answer my phone calls, so my sister got them all. She answered excitedly and gave them my address. One day driving home from work, my husband called me, and yes, by this time I had the great gift of a cell phone. God, I loved that phone, I think I kissed it more than my husband. Anyway, he told me that TV2, Se og Hør and VG was sitting in our living room waiting for me. That was a TV channel, a big national newspaper and a magazine from Norway. They were all in LA to cover the nomination of the Norwegian film, and now they wanted to talk to me too. Thoughts ran through my head. Was it clean at home? When did I polish the silver, clean the toilet, was dirty laundry laying around? Oh my. I was all makeup ready from work, so that was no problem. As I arrived home, I saw to my relief that my wonderful husband had somehow made the place decent looking, and was chatting away with them over coffee and fruit. I just loved that man.
This photo was taken of us during our marriage, by German photographer Dagmar Bressel, almost 20 years ago.
But I made a promise to myself to answer the phone more often, no matter what. To avoid getting surprise visits like this again. We had a great afternoon and it was good to talk to so many Norwegians as I barely ever got to use my mother tongue anymore. It was also fun to get this exposure in my home country, since I only ever went there on vacation, not for work. There were American media too, but the Norwegians were special to me.
Five days before the big Oscar night I started working in the Shrine Auditorium. I had to rehearse with all the actors who were going to present the different awards. It was a fun experience. These famous actors were just like us mere mortals after all. Actually, many of them were quite nervous. This was the biggest night in Hollywood for them. It was long days in the Auditorium, early morning to late night.
Here I am on stage with Jack Nicholson when Gwyneth Paltrow won her very first Oscar, for Best Actress (Shakespare in Love).
Over the years I worked for the academy awards I, of course, experienced many of the big stars up close. I had the funniest run-in with Jack Nicholson. I was standing outside the backstage area smoking when a limousine pulled up and out came Mr Nicholson. He ran up to me at great speed and asked: “where's the shitter!?” I pointed him in the right direction, and off he went. I was left standing in my same spot laughing to myself. Actually, my smoking habit led me to some other meetings with the stars who had trailers out back, like the band Aerosmith. They were a group of nice polite men who mainly talked about their children and girlfriends. So nice! I massaged Madonna once before her performance and I talked about music with Celine Dion, Sara had started singing by then and Celine was giving some advice for her. A slightly unfortunate incident happened with Catherine Zeta-Jones. She was still fairly new as an actress back then, and the makeup artist did not recognize her and started working on my makeup instead of hers. I had to tell him that he had gotten the wrong person. I could have told you many little behind the scenes stories such as these, but the strangest one was probably when I was asked one morning if I had my period. I was like, What? The thing is that they were going to have a bear on stage, and it could get dangerous if it smelled blood. Help!! The team working backstage were all so used to stars that they did not blink as they came and went. But one day I noticed the shift in behaviour from most of them. Even I could feel the presence of somebody with seriously strong charisma. I turned around, and in came an older Italian Actress, her name is Sofia Loren. She definitely had the IT factor. What a woman! Another actress that caught my attention was Jodie Foster. Another great woman.
I got some great proposals there too, but as I was happily married I refused politely. Just took a compliment for a compliment. When the big night finally arrived I was quite calm. Everybody ran around like crazy backstage, and the Oscar statuette was brought in with armed guards (at least I think they were armed). The man holding the envelopes with the name of the winners had white gloves on and looked extremely important. It was all quiet strict and formal.
My job was to get the statutes out to the winners and get them safely back off stage again after their speech once the music started. Many wanted to run down to their husbands or wife's, but the green room was waiting for them. Not to mention the most wonderful gift baskets. I really loved those. Of course, on the very first award of the evening, Cuba Gooding Jr won, and he did something that later was called a Cuba. We simply couldn't get the happy guy to get off the stage. But it was great fun, and it made for great tv.
SOME GREAT OSCARS MOMENTS I GOT TO EXPERIENCE FROM THE STAGE
I guess I have to tell this a bit from my sister's eyes in front of the tv screen back home in Norway. In my mind this was a job, in her eyes, it was so much more. My whole family had camped out at my sister's house that night, where Sara also lived at the time only 6 years old. The only one missing there was my brother who was watching from a bar in Oslo. They first saw all the actors on the red carpet before the show, they couldn't believe I was to be a part of this. My sister apparently almost fainted when she saw me out on stage in a long black dress together with some of the worlds biggest movie stars, acting as if I was doing this on a regular base. My brother had engaged the hole bar, screaming 'that's my sister, that's my baby sister!!'. He could be quite loud.
I did get to meet Mel Gibson in the end. First, at rehearsals where he was a real gentleman and fun to talk to. But I was a little bit put off when he cheekily during the show whispered to me that he thought I was prettier without makeup. Oh well.
I ended up doing several Academy Awards shows in the following years, and worked both for The Oscars and The Emmys. I am grateful to have experienced this, it was great to be part of such an enormous production. Potentially the most fun experience was when I got a tour around all the trailers out back where the real action was. Have a look at this backstage clip from the 'Cuba' moment, you can't really see me there but if you look closely you will see a women on stage in a black dress and with a head of curls. Well, that's me :) But notice the energy in this trailer, the concentration and speed they had to have to make sure to capture all the right moments.
I admire the people who manage to put such a spectacular show together. Everything has to be just right. The show is live and there is no room for mistakes. I take my hat off for those men and women behind the scenes.
After the show ended, I did what I often did in LA. I left the glamour of the Hollywood super star- life and went down to my local soup kitchen on Venice beach. I spent many hours giving food to the homeless who lived there and met some incredible people in the process. Going from one extreme to the other is an understatement.