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Oscars: Behind the scenes at rehearsals

February 26, 2011 |  6:58 pm

Swank bigelowJeff Bridges gave a lead actress Oscar to Natalie Portman on Saturday afternoon at the Kodak Theatre. "Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!" Bridges shouted, signaling that Portman's acceptance speech was running long. Two minutes later, Bridges gave the same Oscar to Nicole Kidman. "Oh, you're Nicole Kidman? Hi, Nicole," Bridges said.

Neither actress was offended by Bridges' informal manner, since  neither was actually there. Bridges, who is nominated for lead actor this year for his performance in "True Grit," was one of dozens of stars who arrived to rehearse their roles in Sunday's Academy Awards, with the help of a small army of stand-ins. Celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, Robert Downey Jr., Halle Berry, Javier Bardem, Reese Witherspoon, Hilary Swank, Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Helen Mirren and Jennifer Hudson practiced key skills like teleprompter reading, crossing the stage without tripping and pronouncing the foreign language nominees' names.

Some had pieces of their wardrobe along -- Swank brought some steep crystal-encrusted heels to try out, and her co-presenter for best director, Kathryn Bigelow, carried her gold shoes -- while most kept it casual.

"We're movin' around! We're everywhere!" said a hoodie-and-jeans-clad Kunis as she practiced her stage walk and waved at a very enthusiastic seat filler, who turned out to be Hudson's 18-month-old son.

Timberlake moonwalked downstage between takes.

"A pop-up mike?! That's cheeky," said Brand, as he practiced announcing with Mirren. "Don't stand over that, Russell," Mirren cautioned him with a wink.

"Do you want your publicist to have this or do you want it?" Downey was asked about his Oscar credential, which had a photo of the actor. "I want my hairdresser to have it, to duplicate that look," Downey said, before stepping into place to rehearse.

"They changed my words!" Bardem said, while squinting into the teleprompter. Told teasingly to breathe, he said, "I can't breathe in this," smoothing his hands over his blazer.

By day's end, the real Nicole Kidman had turned up. Dressed in a slinky red dress, Kidman, no stranger to the Academy Awards as a previous winner, got some direction on one of Oscar's new wrinkles. "We have substantial envelopes this year, so you can get a feel for them," Kidman was told, as she was handed her rehearsal prop.

Gazing out into the crowd, Kidman looked for her seat and smiled when it was finally pointed out to her. She'll be sitting in the front row.


 -- Rebecca Keegan

Photo: Hilary Swank, left, and Kathryn Bigelow on Saturday practice presenting for the Oscars. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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