New Zealand Pre-Oscar Party

Last Update: 30 March 2002


New Zealand Holds Early Oscar Party in Los Angeles
Sat Mar 23, 3:59 AM ET

By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two days before the Academy Awards are set to be handed out, New Zealand preempted the movie industry on Friday by holding an Oscar celebration party at a Beverly Hills hotel for its dozen contenders, including Russell Crowe.

The best-actor nominee for "A Beautiful Mind" turned up at the venue, strode past waiting media, said "Gidday, mate!" to one reporter, and then exited.

But many of New Zealand's other Oscar nominees, all connected with the hit fantasy movie "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" did wait around for a dinner of New Zealand venison and wine, a rousing speech by British actor Sir Ian McKellen and an acoustic performance by former Crowded House rocker Neil Finn.

With a leading 13 Oscar nominations, including the coveted best picture award, "The Lord of the Rings" has helped put New Zealand's movie industry on the map. It was actually the first of a trilogy based on the Hobbit books by J.R.R. Tolkien, with all the films shot during a grueling 270-day shoot in the tiny South Pacific nation of 3.8 million people.

New Zealand's center-left government stepped in by lending its small armed forces to work as extras, while a cabinet minister was given the additional portfolio of minister of Lord of the Rings to help boost the country's profile. It also underwrote Friday's party at the plush Beverly Hills Hotel.

DIRECTOR PERFORMS IN CIRCUS

Peter Jackson, the Oscar-nominated director, producer and screenwriter of "The Lord of the Rings," attended the event, as did several of his actors, including Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom and McKellen. Also on hand were Andrew Adamson, the New Zealand-born co-director of the hit animated film "Shrek," and Australian singer Kate Ceberano.

With Hollywood in fever-pitch preparation for its biggest night of the year on Sunday, the low-key Jackson told reporters he was somewhat dismayed by all the buzz.

"It's a bit of a circus, let's face it, and we're all the performers in the circus," he said. "So you just have to go along and enjoy the ride, I guess. I am trying to look on it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I may never be here again. And so I'll just soak it all in and take from it what I can."

He downplayed his Oscar chances, forecasting he would lose the adapted screenplay and director races. The film's best hope, among the major categories, is best picture, he said.

Richard Taylor, a triple-nominee for visual effects, makeup and costume design, told Reuters he also had mixed emotions.

"People keep saying, 'Are you excited?' It's not at all that we're cocky about it, we just don't understand the hype of what this is about. It makes it very, very unusual being here. It's very special, though. We do appreciate that we've been recognized at this level."

KIWI PRIDE SHINES THROUGH

While New Zealanders are known for cutting down successful compatriots in what is called the "tall poppy syndrome," it seems everyone is rooting for "Lord of the Rings."

"Over the success of the 'Lord of the Rings' there has been nothing but a collective celebration from the whole country," said Taylor. "I've been thrilled to see how much people have supported us and sent in their best wishes."

Jackson was particularly thrilled that sports-mad New Zealanders were excited about something more than the performance of the country's rugby team or yachting crews.

"Having grown up in New Zealand and had the sporting culture swirling around for my entire lifetime, it's quite good that's something's happening that the country can be proud of that's not just sporting-related."

McKellen, Oscar-nominated for his supporting role as Gandalf in "Lord of the Rings," paid tribute in his
keynote address to New Zealand's other achievements including sending the first man to the top of Mt. Everest, its environmental activism and its allegedly honest taxi drivers. Finn ended his brief set with "Don't Dream It's Over," the Crowded House ballad that went to No. 2 on the U.S. pop charts in 1987.


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