The actor has hosted the Academy Awards nine times

By Mia McNiece
May 12, 2021 03:30 PM
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Former Oscars host Billy Crystal says having an emcee on Hollywood's biggest night is an important part of the show.

"To me, a show needs a host, you need a center," he tells PEOPLE. "Let's face it, after the first 40 minutes, four out of five people have lost. By the end of the night, the winners are all backstage and you're dealing with disgruntled people who are disappointed. You want to make them feel good and the home audience to stay with the show."

The actor, 73, first hosted the show in 1990 and was such a success that he was asked back eight more times.

"I had so many great memories hosting the show," he says. "It was a history of cinema for me."

He recalls one awards in particular that left him completely starstruck.

For more on Billy Crystal, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.

84th Annual Academy Awards - Billy Crystal
Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty

"I remember being backstage and there's a tap on my shoulder, and I turn around and it's Sophia Loren. She had no idea that she and I had been married in my mind for like two years when I was 15," he jokes. "She tells me, 'Someone wants to meet you' and she brings over Federico Fellini. So, now I'm backstage with Sophia and Fellini. It was like mind-blowing."

here today movie
Tiffany Haddish and Billy Crystal in Here Today
| Credit: Sony Pictures

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The actor, who is best known for roles in When Harry Met Sally..., City Slickers and The Princess Bride, currently stars with Tiffany Haddish in Here Today, a film about a veteran TV writer who forms a friendship with a New York singer.

"I've been working a long time," he says of the film, which he cowrote and directed. "And I feel as excited about it today as I ever did."

Here Today is in theaters now.