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NPR Arts & Life

Oscars Highlights For Those Who Skipped (Or Fell Asleep)

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

For those of you who skipped the Oscars last night, or fell asleep during the nearly four-hour broadcast, we're going to fill you in on the highlights, if you want to call them that.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

There was the early stinger from host Neil Patrick Harris about the lack of diversity in this year's nominees.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

NEIL PATRICK HARRIS: Tonight we honor Hollywood's best and whitest - sorry - brightest.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: And then the expected song and dance numbers.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

HARRIS: (Singing) Bring out the glamour, the glitter, people tweeting on the Twitter...

SIEGEL: And you could say it was off to the races from there.

MCEVERS: Or the start of a marathon with other long musical performances. Lady Gaga got her "Sound Of Music" on.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

LADY GAGA: (Singing) The hills are alive...

SIEGEL: And there was some slightly off-color humor - looking at you, Sean Penn.

MCEVERS: Best supporting actress Patricia Arquette got Meryl Streep out of her seat, almost doing a fist pump. That's because Arquette used her acceptance speech to deliver a women's equality message.

(SOUNDBITE OF 87TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

PATRICIA ARQUETTE: It's our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights...

MCEVERS: Julianne Moore, in accepting her best actress award, joked she had read winning an Oscar added five years to your life - good because her husband is younger.

SIEGEL: In a moment, Moore's reflections about her role in "Still Alice" to our colleague Melissa Block. First, how J.K. Simmons prepared for the role that earned him the best supporting actor award last night.

MCEVERS: As Simmons told Audie Cornish last fall, he drew on personal experiences to create obsessive, abusive music teacher Terence Fletcher in the film "Whiplash."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WHIPLASH")

J.K. SIMMONS: (As Terence Fletcher) Start counting.

MILES TELLER: (As Andrew) Five, six, seven.

SIMMONS: (As Terence Fletcher) In four [expletive]. Look at me.

TELLER: (As Andrew) One, two, three, four...

(SLAP)

TELLER: (As Andrew) One, two, three, four...

(SLAP)

TELLER: (As Andrew) One, two, three, four...

(SLAP)

SIMMONS: (As Terence Fletcher) Now, was I rushing or was I dragging?

TELLER: (As Andrew) I don't know.

SIMMONS: (As Terence Fletcher) Count again.

TELLER: (As Andrew) One, two, three, four...

(SLAP)

TELLER: (As Andrew) One, two, three, four...

(SLAP)

TELLER: (As Andrew) One, two, three, four...

(SLAP)

SIMMONS: (As Terence Fletcher) Rushing or dragging.

TELLER: (As Andrew) Rushing.

SIMMONS: (As Terence Fletcher) So you do know the difference.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

J.K. Simmons playing the role of Terence Fletcher there, a teacher, in that case, slapping his student, a jazz drummer. Very, very intense scene - I wish I could say it was the most intense scene (laughter). It is not (laughter).

SIMMONS: I'm glad you can say that it's not, actually.

CORNISH: Oh, really?

SIMMONS: (Laughter) It gets - it gets - I was going to say better, but it gets more intense.

CORNISH: Yeah, this is one of those things that does not get better, folks (laughter). It gets worse. It is interesting, though, because this kind of figure on film is almost always a sports figure - you know, the coach who's a yeller. And I know that you're known in some of your roles for playing authority figures. But I read this interview where you said you still have problems with authority figures and certainly did as a young person. How did you draw on that?

SIMMONS: Well, to me, it's - this is a little different because this guy is a 100 percent obsessed and dedicated musician-slash-teacher-slash-mentor. And if I can understand where a character - or a person in life, you know - what their motivation is and if I can get behind that then I have much more patience with that kind of character.

CORNISH: I was surprised to read that you actually had earned a degree in music composition, right, at University of Montana.

SIMMONS: Yeah, my degree was in voice with a minor in composition and conducting. And I remember my choir conductor, Professor Don Carey, and one of the things Carey said was - well, we were working on a particularly difficult piece in the small choral ensemble. It was a Schoenberg piece - enormously hard - and we worked and worked and worked and worked on it for weeks and months. And as people were getting sort of frustrated with it, he said, look, our job here is to get this perfect, to get it note perfect, rhythm perfect. And then we begin to make music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: What kind of, I guess, experience was it like for you to get to use your musical skills in a film like this? I mean, there's a really lovely interlude where your character is performing on the piano.

SIMMONS: Yeah and that was - although I do have a degree in music - my hands never had a lot of talent.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMMONS: Any musician who watches that will say, oh, that's - I mean, you know, hopefully they'll say that I'm playing it nicely, but they'll also say, well, that's a pretty simple tune. I mean, that might as well be "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" in the key of Cs.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

SIMMONS: It wasn't all that challenging for an accomplished pianist, but for me, I had to spend quite a long time practicing.

MCEVERS: That was actor J.K. Simmons speaking to our colleague Audie Cornish last fall about preparing for his role in the film "Whiplash." Last night, he won an Oscar for that performance.

SIEGEL: Oscar winner Julianne Moore had a different experience as she prepared for her role in the film "Still Alice." As she told Melissa Block last month, the subject of the film, early-onset Alzheimer's disease, was something that she hadn't witnessed firsthand. We start here with a clip from the film.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STILL ALICE")

JULIANNE MOORE: (As Alice Howland) Today, I'd like to focus on some recent studies from my lab on the acquisition of past tense irregular verb forms.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In this scene she is giving a lecture.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STILL ALICE")

MOORE: (As Alice Howland) You may say that this falls into the great academic tradition of knowing more and more about less and less until we know everything about nothing.

(LAUGHTER)

MOORE: (As Alice Howland) But I hope to convince you that by observing these baby steps into the - into - I - I knew I shouldn't have had that champagne.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: I understand you talked with women who have been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's.

MOORE: Yeah, I spoke to so many people. I had - didn't have anything familiarity with Alzheimer's. I think I'm one of the few people who hasn't had a family member affected by it. So my research process was pretty lengthy. I actually had about four months and the women I spoke to were so incredibly generous with their time and their thoughts and their experiences. One woman I spoke to said she - she was a high school Spanish teacher. And she said she didn't know what was happening to her, but one of her students noticed that she was writing backward on the board - on the blackboard.

Another woman told me that she was making very simple mistakes at work and she couldn't learn a very simple computer program and didn't know what was wrong. So it was interesting to me that, for some of these women, so many things happened at work. That was where they noticed the deficits first. And then once there had been some kind of ramification in their professional life, they realized that things had been happening in her personal life as well.

BLOCK: You know, I found myself, as I watched this movie and afterward, becoming hyperaware of my own memory and any time that I forgot words...

MOORE: Oh, yeah.

BLOCK: Or lost my keys...

MOORE: Oh, yeah (laughter).

BLOCK: Or didn't know where my phone was - is it the same for you?

MOORE: Sure.

BLOCK: I mean, has this sort of changed how you see your own memory?

MOORE: One of the things that I did very early on, actually, I went to Mount Sinai and I met with Dr. Mary Sano, who is one of the leading researchers and clinicians in Alzheimer's disease. And I took the cognitive test. The neuropsychiatrist gave me the cognitive tests. And I didn't hear anything, and for - a couple weeks later I'm like, you know what? I'm just going to email her again to say thank you, really (laughter) the guise of finding out whether, you know, she'd seen anything. And when she answered me she said I just wanted tell you your results were normal, and I was like, good (laughter).

BLOCK: Yeah, yeah.

MOORE: Yeah.

MCEVERS: That was Julianne Moore speaking to Melissa Block last month about her Academy Award-winning performance. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.