Stephen M. Silverman
March 01, 2004 01:00 AM

Winning an Oscar is one thing. Facing the press is another.

Backstage at the Kodak Theatre, all the winners came parading though — always applauded, and sometimes subjected to questions hardly worthy of them or the moment. But all in all, Charlize Theron, Sean Penn, Peter Jackson, Tim Robbins, Renee Zellweger and the others proved themselves good sports.

Best Actress Theron, looking radiant backstage, was actually asked about her tongue action with Christina Ricci in “Monster.” After trying to assess her kiss, Theron finally blurted out: “I can’t believe I’m talking about this after having won an Oscar!”

More to the moment, how did it feel as the envelope was being opened? Said Theron: “I love Adrien (Brody) for relieving the pressure right before” by pulling out the breath freshener spray, in preparation to kiss the winner. “It relieved the drumroll effect.” Theron also said that she held on to Mom and to beau Stuart Townsend until she had the strength to “drag” herself to the stage.

Sean Penn, Best Actor for “Mystic River,” chomped ice from his water cup and said, “It’s been a surprising night.” Penn — considered a bad boy of Hollywood and whose visit to Iraq was thought to have outraged some Academy voters – said of being inside the Kodak Theatre: “I did arguably feel I was there to debunk the notion that it was a popularity contest.”

As for why he showed up this year, after skipping the ceremony the three previous times he was nominated, Penn said: “We’re all aware it’s a fashion show outside. It’s a matter of social discomfort.”

Then there’s the evening’s biggest winner, “The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson. “I feel absolute disbelief,” he said as he held the Oscar against his big belly. ” The sweep that ‘Lord of the Rings’ had tonight I was just absolutely stunned by … It’s what you dream about. It seems people enjoyed what we did.”

He added that his two children “can party all night if they want to.”

Addressing the notion that fantasy films (specifically, “Star Wars”) generally don’t win the top Oscars, Jackson, who is about to shoot a remake of “King Kong,” pointed out, “Films, by their very nature, are always a fantasy.”

While “Mystic River” Best Supporting Actor winner Tim Robbins did not make any political statements on the podium, he was asked in the pressroom whether he had anything politically incorrect to say. “Oh, I would have said it up there,” Robbins insisted. “I’m not afraid of a five-second delay.”

When pressed by one journalist to make a possible anti-Bush statement, Robbins diplomatically responded, “All I can say is, register to vote — get involved in the process.”

Renee Zellweger, sparkling in a diamond necklace, was asked to describe the jewels during her brief stop in the interview room. “Vintage Cartier,” she said. “And I don’t know, it seems so, it’s like so Old Hollywood, for some reason, to me. I kind of wanted to be part of that line.”

As for her win as Best Supporting Actress for “Cold Mountain,” she was asked if she conceivably thought, “Well, finally.” Replied Zellweger: “Well, no. The invitation alone is overwhelming. As soon as I remember the moment, I’ll let you know.”

Then, after the show, Zellweger came back into the pressroom, and expressed her admiration for her parents, and how they inspired her.

“My mother’s from Norway and my father’s Swiss, but … in the early ’60s … he came over from Australia where he spent most of his formative years. They gave me so many gifts, I’m really lucky. I was spoiled, having that sense of feeling I belong somewhere.”

And asked if she cared whether she won for “Cold Mountain” or “Chicago” (for which she was nominated as Best Actress last year), Zellweger said, “I’m just happy to be invited here at all. I can’t be picky.”

Sofia Coppola, who won for her Original Screenplay of “Lost in Translation,” said that although Bill Murray lost to Sean Penn in the Best Actor race, “He’s really happy to celebrate the success of the film with us.”

Lifetime Achievement honoree Blake Edwards (“The Pink Panther,” “10” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), when asked to describe the single greatest moment of his career, answered, “When I met my wife.” That would be the one and only Julie Andrews, of whom Edwards went on to say, “She’s remarkable and, I hate to admit it, she’s right most of the time. Tremendous.”

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