Who Is Brian Cullinan? All About the PwC Accountant Behind the Oscars' Epic Best Picture Disaster
Millions watched in bewilderment at the chaos that unfolded on the Academy Awards stage Sunday night after Faye Dunaway triumphantly declared La La Land the Best Picture winner alongside co-presenter Warren Beatty — instead of actual winner Moonlight.
The colossal screw-up shocked the audience inside the Dolby Theatre, and confused viewers who watched it all on live television.
After the dust settled, it became known that just one man was responsible for the biggest flub in Oscars history: Pricewaterhouse Coopers partner Brian Cullinan.
“PwC Partner Brian Cullinan mistakenly handed the back-up envelope for Actress in a Leading Role instead of the envelope for Best Picture to presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway,” PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm that has handled Oscars ballots for the past 83 years, said in a statement Monday.
They added, “Once the error occurred, protocols for correcting it were not followed through quickly enough by Mr. Cullinan or his partner.”
In a surprise Hollywood twist, the businessman has now become front and center of a worldwide media maelstrom. But just who is Brian Cullinan? Read on to learn more.
He’s a Harley-riding accountant who’s been handling Oscar ballots since 2014
The Malibu resident — who is married with grown children — has been a part of the “leadership balloting team” since 2014, according to the company, and is now the lead partner for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, including the annual balloting for the Academy Awards.
Cullinan has a long history with the international audit and tax company. According to the PwC website, he is the managing partner for the company’s Southern California practice, and has been providing technical accounting, auditing and business advisory services to clients for more than three decades. (But don’t think that necessarily makes him square — his Twitter bio says he rides a Harley.)
He tweeted backstage not long before the Best Picture blunder
Cullinan tweeted an image of Best Actress winner Emma Stone not long before the epic mistake. Although it has since been deleted, he shared an image of the actress and captioned the shot “Best Actress Emma Stone backstage! #PWC”
According to Variety, he posted just three minutes before he erroneously handed Beatty the backup Best Actress envelope instead of the Best Picture envelope. Cullinan reportedly issued several tweets on Sunday, including one congratulating Best Supporting Actress winner Viola Davis and an image of the briefcase in the car with him on the way to the red carpet, that have since been deleted.
PwC encouraged people to follow Cullinan and balloting co-leader Martha Ruiz on Twitter on their “Journey to the Oscars” web page — and before the show promoted a “briefcase journey” on its corporate Twitter page, which showed the bag in various locations around the country in the weeks leading up to the show.
He’s spoken about how an Oscars error is “so unlikely”
In a Huffington Post interview shortly before the broadcast, Cullinan sounded confident when he spoke about what would happen if a presenter declared a false winner.
“We would make sure that the correct person was known very quickly,” Cullinan said. “Whether that entails stopping the show, us walking onstage, us signaling to the stage manager — that’s really a game-time decision, if something like that were to happen. Again, it’s so unlikely.”
In 2014, Cullinan spoke to his alma mater, Cornell University, and talked about the precision that goes into determining the winners — which only he and Ruiz know in advance — and tabulating the Oscar ballots in an “undisclosed location.”
“It’s a room with no windows, with high-security locks and all kinds of stuff,” he said. “And there’s a room within that room, and within that we have a safe, and within that we have another safe. There’s a ton of redundancy and security built in.”
He’s been photographed alongside many A-listers
Cullinan has been snapped with numerous celebrities over the years, some of whom seem pretty fascinated by the man who literally holds his fate in their hands.
In 2014, Cate Blanchett jokingly tried to wrestle the briefcase with the names of the winners out of his hand on the red carpet, a moment PWC chairman Bob Mortiz noted on Twitter. (She indeed took home the Best Actress trophy that year.)
He also told the Cornell alumni magazine that Samuel L. Jackson stopped him for a photo on the red carpet, and John Travolta and wife Kelly Preston got in on the action for the candid shot.
“It’s funny having those kinds of folks asking if it’s okay to take your picture,” he told the magazine with a laugh.
Cullinan has also tweeted numerous selfies with celebrities over the years, and just last Thursday tweeted an image of himself getting photobombed by Chrissy Teigen and John Legend at last year’s show.
He also shared shots of himself and Ruiz posing with last year’s Best Supporting Actress winner Alicia Vikander and host Chris Rock.
Many have noted his likeness to “friend” Matt Damon
But there seems to be one celebrity who stands above them all for Cullinan. He might be Jimmy Kimmel’s nemesis, but Matt Damon seems to share a special kind of bond with the accountant — because they look alike.
The similarities were noted on the Oscars red carpet last year, and Cullinan even posed with his dopplegänger, captioning a photo of the pair “My friend Matt!”
Since Sunday night’s shocker, many have taken to Twitter to jokingly blame Damon for the mix-up.
PWC even includes a mention of their likeness on its website, referring to Cullinan on its Oscars page as “PwC partner and Matt Damon lookalike.”
And Neil Patrick Harris noted their similarities when the 2015 Oscars host introduced them onstage.
“Anyone ever tell you, you look just like Matt Damon?” Harris asked him.
His rock star moment was chronicled in Accountingtoday.com, which writes that Cullinan simply laughed and appeared to blush at the comparison.