The 84th annual Academy Awards took place on February 26, 2012, at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Here is what this Academy Award winner said backstage in the Academy Awards press room.
Best Supporting Actor
The obvious question: At 82 years old, how does it feel to be the oldest Oscar winner ever?
I don’t believe that for a second. I think that Charlie Chaplin [was older when he won an Oscar], even though it was an honorary Oscar. Wasn’t he 83? I mean, an honorary Oscar after all, is an Oscar, we hope. I’m not sure, but it feels pretty good anyway.
You’re so romantic when you thanked your wife for rescuing you. What does that mean and tell me about your wife?
What do you think it means? I thought it was abundantly clear. Of course, I’m a naughty boy. I’ve been bad all my life, and she always puts me in line. I think it’s great what she’s done. It’s extraordinary. But it doesn’t strike you when you hear the phrase, “She rescues me every day of my life”? What could be clearer?
How do you look at awards of any kind, specifically, your first Oscar win? In terms of a measure of a career, it’s obviously not the reason you do things, but what kind of dessert topping does it put on a distinguished career?
That’s absolutely a wonderful phrase. It is “le crème” on top, and it’s lovely to be sort of accepted, because you know that beyond the pleasure of working in front of a live audience, particularly, it’s a general acceptance of your work. So it’s thrilling, and I don’t pretend not to poo poo awards — although there’s so many of them, I can’t keep up. I mean, they’re inventing a new one every day.
The Academy has a long history of awarding straight actors for portraying gay people. Do you think there’s a double standard for the public supporting gay actors in real life as opposed to on film?
Well, I think of actors as being universally the same, gay or straight. We’re all actors, and a gay actor can play a straight guy beautifully and vice versa. It’s wonderful, because it cancels out all of the sexual differences and all the sort of preconceived misunderstandings of a sexual existence.
Is this Academy Award a beginning for you?
Well, it is sort of a renewal, it’s not a beginning exactly, but it has recharged me and I hope I can do it for another 10 years at least. I’m going to drop dead wherever I am, on stage or on the set. We don’t retire in our profession, thank God.
In your long and illustrious career, who stands out as your favorite actor besides yourself?
No, not myself. Tons of actors for different reasons. In the French cinema we had when I grew up, I saw a lot of French film, because I lived in Quebec. From France, great actors Pierre Brasseur, Lewis Gilbert and people who are just extraordinary stage actors, particularly although they did do film.
And the great classical actors that inspired me when I was quite young. And then later the whole new school of Marlon Brando. I lived through all of those various changes, and they all had their made their mark upon me, thanks.
You’re wearing your Order of Canada pin. Why did you decide to wear that tonight?
I do because I sort of feel that I’m in a way representing my country here tonight, just as [fellow Oscar nominee] Max [von Sydow] was representing Sweden. And I feel that my country gave me the highest this is the highest civil honor that a Canadian can get and I’m very proud of it and I think an evening like this deserves to have all the medals and awards showing, so that’s why I did it.
You were born in 1929?
The same year as the first Academy Awards?
Does it matter to have a naked-man gold statue in your own hands? Are you brave enough to say that you love him?
The question is do I love the Oscar? Well, if the Oscar is gay, yes, of course.
Can you bring back anything from growing up during World War II and in Canada that gave you so much strength?
Yeah, it was great to grow up in Quebec, particularly, because Quebec never closed. Montreal stayed open 24 hours a day, even jaded New Yorkers would come up and enjoy the night life in Montreal. I’m glad I grew up in a really racy town. And it was marvelous and the cabaret was so important. [Edith] Piaf, [Maurice] Chevalier, we had a young Julie Garland, Frank Sinatra, and you can see these people for nothing, just sitting at a bar and having a beer.
It was a glorious time in Montreal and I was lucky enough to be there. The courage that you talk about was from my mother who was in the first Great War as a nurse, and anything that she lived through a pretty horrific time. I don’t know if that’s funny to some of you. Oh, there are two things going on here, all right. Does that answer your question a little bit?
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