Veteran Oscar Writer Carol Leifer Calls Billy Crystal the 'Comfort Food' of Hosts
The seven-time show scribe tells THR why she keeps coming back, how Crystal compares to host-that-wasn't Eddie Murphy and who's really to blame if the show goes horribly awry.
The Oscars can be something of an endurance challenge.
Dependably stretching past three hours and offering little in the way of surprises, viewers generally see many opportunities for complaint -- no matter the hosts, winners or absurd fashions.
Yet they always come back, something Carol Leifer knows a lot about. The comedian, who's written for Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld and Modern Family, returns to this year's Academy Awards for her seventh time scripting the broadcast. And she told The Hollywood Reporter why it won't likely be her last.
"As much flack as award shows get, nothing else comes close to [The Oscars]," Leifer tells THR. "It’s the grand daddy of all the award shows -- and every year there seem to be more [of them] -- but there’s only one Oscar. It just never stops being exciting to me. Working with the presenters on their spiel and big celebrities that I’ve never met before, I’m still as starstruck as anybody else. Half the time I’m at the Kodak -- soon not to be -- I’m pinching myself because it’s just so exciting."
Leifer boarded the 2012 show after producer Brian Grazer and host Billy Crystal stepped into the vacancies left by Brett Ratner and Eddie Murphy, but she was open to joining that earlier incarnation of the broadcast.
"I was looking forward to Eddie," she says. "He’s another old friend of mine from my stand-up days, and I think it would have been very interesting to see what Eddie would have come up with... But I think that what I’m feeling in the zeitgeist is the real anticipation for the return of Billy."
This year's show marks Leifer's third with Crystal as host. The nine-time MC offers something, as Leifer sees it, that no other comedian can bring to the show: mainly an unparalleled work ethic.
"I don’t think people know Billy Crystal works so incredibly hard on the Oscars," she says. " He might be the host that works the absolute hardest on it. And yet when he walk out there in front of a billion people, it’s like it’s rolling off his back. He’s in the moment. What I’m gleaning from people who I just see out getting coffee in the morning, they're excited about Billy. It’s kind of like he’s comfort food."
Still, it's not always a love-fest. Last year's hosts, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, were greeted with a tepid reception from critics and viewers. And in the ensuing finger-pointing, Franco blamed Oscar writer Bruce Vilanch, and vice versa, for the show's shortcomings. They later apologized to one another, but it posed an interesting question about where the buck stops if the show isn't a resounding success.
"It’s hard to say because there are so many facets of the show involved in getting it to air," Leifer tells THR. "It’s a little bit of a complicated process. It’s not something that I dash something off, the presenter gets it and they shows up and just do it. There's a lot of approval to be made throughout the production team. That’s what makes it a big show."
That big show is also breed camaraderie. Leifer said that when she stood up at the first big production meeting for this year's show, she said she felt like a member of the old guard saying it was her seventh writing for the show -- until other people started to stand up.
"I’m a baby compared to people who get up and say, 'I’ve been doing this 17 years,'" she says. "We only see each other six weeks out of the year, but there is a bit of a family with the Oscars. I’m so honored every year when they choose me again."
But there is one thing that has become less familiar over the years, the paperwork.
"The confidentiality agreement is no longer the maybe half of a page they tacked on at the end," she says, laughing. "My lawyer called me this year, saying "Read this!” It’s pretty intense."
Leifer's seventh Oscars air on ABC, Sunday, at 8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT.