Oprah Winfrey, James Earl Jones and Dick Smith on Governors Awards (Exclusive Audio)
On Saturday night, many of the film industry's biggest names will gather at the Hollywood & Highland Center for the third annual Academy Governors Awards ceremony, during which actor James Earl Jones and makeup artist Dick Smith will be presented with honorary Oscars for lifetime achievement and actress/producer Oprah Winfrey will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for extraordinary philanthropic work (which has only been awarded to 33 others, three posthumously). The three were selected for these honors by the Academy's Board of Governors in August, and in the time since have each granted an interview to THR's awards blogger Scott Feinberg.
Following are audio recordings of/text excerpts from those conversations.
* * *
Winfrey, 57, is best known for hosting The Oprah Winfrey Show, which reached millions of viewers in 150 countries each weekday from 1986 through 2011, and launching the cable channel OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, earlier this year. She has also achieved great success as an actress, scoring an Oscar nod for her film debut in The Color Purple (1985) and starring in Beloved (1998), and as a producer, markedly raising the profiles of dozens of many films including The Great Debaters (2007) and Precious (2009). Her greatest legacy, though, may be her generosity, which has improved the lives of countless others all over the world: she has rallied the public to donate tens of millions of dollars to worthy causes through her Angel Network; personally donated $350 million of her own money to various charities; and established the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in a South African township.
On how she learned that she had been chosen to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award...
"I was hiking in Maui, and the security guy runs up the hill, and he says, 'Urgent! You must call the Academy now!' I go, 'What?!' 'You must call the Academy!' Honest to goodness, I run a girl’s academy in South Africa, so I thought something had happened there, and then I get there and it’s the Board of Governors... I had heard there was some rumor that I was asked to host the Oscars, so I thought, 'Are they calling me to ask me to host the Oscars?' Or, 'Are they mad at me because the rumor’s out?' ’Cause I didn’t start the rumor -- I don’t know where it came from! So why would I have the Board of Governors on the phone to talk to me? I couldn’t even imagine... when Tom started speaking and telling me all the people in the room, I’m, like, holding my breath. 'Wh- Wh- What?!' So that was my reaction. My reaction was, 'What?!' [laughs]
On what motivated her to dream big dreams despite the bleak circumstances in which she was raised...
"I grew up thinking I was fatherless, except for my quote 'Heavenly Father.' So I’d go to church -- you know, my grandmother was very religious -- and I’d sit there, and they’d talk about, you know, God being your Father... So that’s what I grew up with as my creed, really—believing that, “Oh, I come from God; God’s my father; so therefore I come from greatness and I can do anything.' So I would have to say that that belief in a power greater than myself, and believing that I always had that to rely on, is what has helped me in everything in my life. That belief system has helped me to believe that there was no glass ceiling. That belief system has helped me to believe, 'So what, there’s racism? So what, there’s sexism?' You know? 'I come from something that’s greater and bigger than all of that.'"
"For a long time, I wanted to be an actress, and, you know, my father was very much against me acting -- he’d say, 'No daughter of mine is gonna be layin’ on some castin’ couch!' [laughs] That’s the southern perception of what it means. So, in school, I had to defy my father; I was like, 'Well, I’m going to be an actress! I’m going to be an actress!' I ended up majoring in speech and drama, and getting called to TV early in my career, so the acting got set aside."
On The Color Purple...
"Being in The Color Purple profoundly renewed my faith in a power greater than myself because, literally, to make a long story short, I had gotten the book; I had read the book; then I went back to the bookstore; I bought every single other book -- at the time there were only eight other copies at the bookstore; I packed that book out to all my friends -- this was before I had a 'Book Club' -- cause I wanted everybody I knew to read the book. I used to stop people on the street and say, “Have you read The Color Purple?” I just became really obsessed with it. Literally obsessed with it... I heard -- you know how you hear -- 'Oh, they’re gonna do a movie about that!'; and I started saying to people in the beauty shop on the south side of Chicago, 'I’m gonna figure out a way to get in that movie! I’m gonna figure out a way to get in that movie!' They said, 'Well, what are you gonna do in the movie?' I said, 'I don’t know. I can help the script girl, I can carry water, I can do whatever.' I looked at the credits of a movie, and at the end of it they had, 'Best boy,' and I thought, 'I am gonna prove that I can be a best girl!' ... I started, like, writing about it in my journal, praying about it, thinking about it -- the whole thing. I was obsessed with it... I got a call at the end of 1984, in my office in Chicago, saying, 'Would you be interested in coming to audition for a film? It’s called Moon Song.' And I said, 'It can’t be called Moon Song, ’cause I’ve been praying for The Color Purple!' I said that right there on the phone! And he said, 'Well, this movie is Moon Song. Do you want to come audition...?' And I go, 'Well, I’ll come and audition, but I’ve really been praying for The Color Purple.' So I walk into that audition, Scott, and damn if it isn’t The Color Purple, even though they had Moon Song on the script... the moment I open up the script, I know it’s The Color Purple, and I am auditioning for The Color Purple! I could weep right now, Scott, I could weep right now. And not only am I auditioning -- I’m auditioning in a scene with Harpo, which is my name spelled backwards!"
On how much The Color Purple meant to her -- and how it led to what she calls "the best decision I ever made"...
"I would not be where I am in my career today with the best decision that I ever made in my life or my career -- and that was to own my own show -- if it were not for The Color Purple... When I shot The Color Purple it was so hard because I was, you know, just starting A.M. Chicago [her first talk show]... At the time I only had two weeks vacation; I think it took me six weeks to film The Color Purple, so [her employers] kept telling me, 'You better get your ass back here because you don’t have any more vacation time!' Literally, those were the words: 'Get your ass back here! You have run out of vacation time!' [laughs] And I kept bargaining... I said, 'I’ll give up the next year’s vacation and the next year’s vacation if you’ll let me finish this film! I’ll give up all of my vacation forever more if you’ll let me finish this film!' So, when it came time to renegotiate the contract for WLS and A.M. Chicago, my lawyer at the time, Jeff Jacobs, said, 'You never want to be in the position ever again where you can’t do what you really want to do, you can’t fulfill your heart’s desire, so you should own your show so you’re never in that position again!' And that’s why that came about."
On whether she will ever act again...
"When I was first called to do The Color Purple, I thought, 'Hm. I finally get to fulfill that opportunity, that seed of a dream that I’d held for myself for so long.' Now I don’t have it as much -- I don’t have the deep, burning, if-I-don’t-do-it-I-will-die kind of yearning; what I have is: if I’m offered something that I see as compelling, and worth my time and the energy and effort it takes to rearrange my whole life to go shoot something, then I would do it."
On the meaning of "the Oprah brand"...
"A force for good -- a force for hopefulness and the possibility of the human spirit, really... what my goal on Earth is is to maximize my own human potential; my goal is to have the fullest expression of myself as a human being, and to carry along with me as many people as I can... I think that’s why we’re all here, is to experience the maximum expression of yourself, all that it means it to be human. And so I’m still in the climb, in the search for that... and every day offers a new opportunity for me, and it’s so exciting that I don’t want to do that alone; I want everybody else to know that you can, too; and that my path isn’t yours, and mine isn’t, you know, Denzel [Washington]’s or anyone else’s. But what I have to offer, the world needs; otherwise I wouldn’t be here. And so my goal is to let the rest of the world know that for themselves."
On her girls academy in South Africa, the cause about which she is most passionate...
"We were doing 'ChristmasKindness' over there, where I decided I was gonna go from village to village and bring some joy to kids because some nuns had done that for me when I was a little girl... and I stayed at Nelson Mandela’s house -- his home was my base -- so I got to know him very well, and literally was sitting in the living room at his feet one night, and we were talking about what to do about poverty. You know, we’d have these big, thoughtful conversations -- exactly what you would imagine you would be doing if you were with Nelson Mandela... And we were talking, and I was saying that I think the way to change poverty is through education, and then he agreed, and then we got into this big conversation, and I said, 'One day I want to do a school,' and he said, 'Okay' and got up and called the Minister of Education. And that’s how it started!... [Now, four years later] Everybody’s going to college! These girls were carrying buckets of water on their heads five years ago and now they’re talking about going to Wellesley... It's amazing! It’s am-aaaaa-zing!"
(Click below for the interviews with James Earl Jones and Dick Smith.)
Jones, 80, made his big screen debut in Stanley Kubrick's classic Dr. Strangelove (1964) and scored a big breakthrough in The Great White Hope (1970), for which he became just the second black man to score a best actor Oscar nod, but he will always be most closely associated with his booming voice and the first part for which it was used but his body was not: Darth Vader in the first three Star Wars films (1977, 1980, 1983). He also gave memorable performances in Claudine (1974), Conan the Barbarian (1982), Matewan (1987), Coming to America (1988), Field of Dreams (1989), The Hunt for Red October (1990), Patriot Games (1992), Clear and Present Danger (1994), The Lion King (1994), The Sandlot (1993), and Cry, the Beloved Country (1995), to say nothing of the countless theatrical productions that have always been his primary focus.
On how he learned that he had been chosen to receive an honorary Oscar...
“I never answer the phone at home… So my son gets this call, and he said, ‘Call from California.’ It was very late our time, and I said, ‘Oh, they’ve gotta be kidding,’ so he didn’t accept the call. And they called back and said, ‘No, it’s very good news!’ So my son told me that… and, ‘They say it’s Phil [Alden] Robinson [the writer/director of Field of Dreams and a member of the Academy’s Board of Governors] talking.’ I said, ‘Oh, it’s a joke! I’ll take a joke call.’ And I said, ‘Phil, what the fuck is going on?! I don’t take fucking calls at this hour!’ And he told me, and I told my wife, and we started laughing with him, and haven’t stopped laughing since—laughing with joy.”
On the stutter that led him to stop talking from age six to 14...
“I’m a walking irony, of course… I attribute it to the move from Mississippi, the deep South, to Michigan, the deep North… I was four-and-a-half, I think… you’d think that the move from Mississippi, the asshole of the nation at that time -- in terms of education, in terms of level of poverty, and everything else… you’d think that that would be a jubilant journey for a young black boy; [but] for me, it was trouble: I was no longer able to touch the soil I touched as an infant… I think that was at the root of my stuttering.”
On the best advice her ever received...
“My father was an actor, Robert Earl Jones. In terms of film, you might remember The Sting? He was Luther, the black guy with the mustache who was [Robert] Redford’s sidekick until he gets killed by Robert Shaw, which sets up the revenge scene for the whole movie... When I entered acting, my father said to me -- he had been not only black, but blacklisted, so he couldn’t get work in Hollywood -- and he said, ‘If you want to do this business, you gotta do it because you love it, not because it’s gonna make you rich or famous. That was the best advice he could give me.”
On providing the voice of Darth Vader in the Star Wars films, for which he earned only $7,000...
“One of those summers that I was broke again, my agent called and said, ‘Do you want a day’s work doing some voiceover?’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure!’… She said, ‘It’s a science-fiction movie.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ So I went to work, and I met George Lucas... They had the loops up on a screen, and I said, ‘Gee, I don’t have to match anything, do I?’ He said, ‘No.’ He just wanted to coach me through some of the attitudes he wanted me to have vocally. David Prowse had already done the role and sweated in that costume. So I went to work, and we did it in two-and-a-half hours. I got paid seven thousand dollars for it. Nobody at that time knew that it would become a cult hit… I’m very happy to be a part of that cult, even though I didn’t get paid a lot for it.”
On Field of Dreams, in which he plays a J.D. Salinger-like character...
“One of my most beloved movies. My wife had a chance to read the script before I got home that day, and when I got home she said, ‘Here’s a movie you’ve gotta do! You’ve gotta do it -- but don’t expect to ever get to say those [poetic] lines about baseball, ’cause there’s just too much dialogue; it’ll land up on the cutting room floor’… Well, because the movie was produced by Phil Alden Robinson, and was directed by him, and was written by him, all of that stuff was left in! ‘People will come, Ray’… I start crying as soon as the music starts… because it’s not about baseball -- it’s about fathers and sons, and opportunities missed.”
On one of his proudest moments...
“I was most proud when, during the first Iraq War, two pilots had come back, and they mentioned that when they got back to their base one of the first sounds they heard was, ‘This is CNN’ [the promo for the cable network featuring Jones' voice], and they knew that home was in sight.”
On his greatest film role...
“I am primarily not a film actor -- that’s what’s so ironic about [this honorary Oscar]!... I’m still a novice in film work... I haven’t found that character that I can say, ‘Yeah, that represents me and the best I can do’ ... [Cry, the Beloved Country] probably comes the closest to being the movie that I can say, ‘I’d like to leave that as part of my legacy,’ [but] ... I’m still waiting for it. It might happen, you know? It’s not yet a lifetime -- I am only eighty.”
(Click below for the interview with Dick Smith.)
Smith, 89, is easily the world's most famous and influential living movie makeup artist. (He was referenced just this summer in Super 8.) After getting his start working for live TV, he transitioned to films and performed some of the most famous makeup jobs ever committed to celluloid -- many involving prosthetic and aging techniques, which he advanced greatly. He turned Dustin Hoffman, 33, into a 121-year-old Cheyenne in Little Big Man (1970); Marlon Brando, 48, into a jowly 63-year-old in The Godfather (1972); Max von Sydow, 44, into a frail 79-year-old in The Exorcist (1973, for which he also made up Linda Blair's demonic spinning head); and F. Murray Abraham, 45, into a 73-year-old in Amadeus (1984, for which both Abraham and Smith won Oscars). Unlike his predecessors, he shared his tricks of the trade with colleagues -- and the general public. His 1965 book Dick Smith's Do-It-Yourself Monster Makeup Handbook became a best-seller and his correspondence course has produced more Oscar-winning makeup artists than all other makeup schools combined.
On how he first developed an interest in makeup...
"I was a kid, practically... I had always been fascinated by movies with monsters, and strange creatures, and so forth -- they had always been, to me, something fantastic... I read what books on makeup I could get. And, actually, the books on makeup were rubbish -- there was nothing very advanced in them... these books were carefully written so as not to divulge what was considered more 'professional' techniques... I was also a shy person... This was something that helped free me of that problem, that shyness. I mean, the wonderful thing about when you put on makeup like that, no one can recognize you; you yourself look in the mirror and you don't know yourself; and it gives you a freedom from your inhibitions."
On testing his work on unsuspecting audiences...
"I would go out in the dark of night, you know, late in the night, and go to friends' houses, and ring the bell, and watch them recoil in horror when they answered the door." [laughs]
On sharing his techniques with others...
"Makeup artists, generally speaking -- both the ones in the east and the west -- were kind of secretive about what they considered 'their' techniques that they had developed or invented or whatever... well, that's, frankly, a hell of a way to run any kind of an art... I didn't believe in that. I believed in answering questions, if I could... I had a policy of not keeping secrets, and it became well-known. It didn't hurt me or anything -- that's the funny thing."
On writing the immensely influential Dick Smith's Do-It-Yourself Monster Makeup Handbook...
"I never thought it would catch on that much, but it has... I thought it would be an interesting thing that young people -- particularly kids -- would enjoy... It carefully describes... where you buy makeup materials... and how they can be used... with stills and illustrations of the steps of putting on various things... a ghoul, a split-face, a werewolf, a weirdo, a martian, a mummy... artificial eyes, and false-teeth, and bald headcaps, and all of that... I think that helped start a movement towards more people getting interested in and learning about makeup."
On the many makeup techniques that he invented or advanced...
"There's no one thing that I'm proudest of... I suggested, in a number of cases, that they use what I call 'overlapping appliances,' usually made of some rubbery material... one appliance, say, a false eye or a nose, would be overlapped by other appliances... 'Little Big Man' was one of the characters that got that benefit, so to speak."
On his favorite film experience...
"The film that I enjoyed working on the most was probably Little Big Man with Dustin Hoffman... it came out to be a fine film... [Also], Amadeus was a very fine, serious film... Of course, The Exorcist was another biggie... that tried my mettle."
On the thrill of his work...
"It's wonderful when you achieve something that you didn't think was achievable, when you find that you have the ability to do even more than you dreamed of... That is something that you can't get enough of... It was so exciting... I've had a wonderful time with it. It's been fun."
- Prince Takes Over the 'Arsenio Hall Show,' Debuts New Funky Song
- A Train, a Trestle and 60 Seconds to Escape: How 'Midnight Rider' Victim Sarah Jones Lost Her Life
- 'Divergent' Star Shailene Woodley: The Next Jennifer Lawrence?
- 'Noah' Banned in Several Middle Eastern Countries
- Lindsay Lohan's OWN Series Gets First Official Trailer (Video)
- MOST SHARED
- MOST POPULAR
What's Hot In Awards
- Sheila MacRae Dead: 'Honeymooners' Actress Dies At 92
- Russell Brand Says There's Only One Explanation For Philip Seymour Hoffman's Death (VIDEO)
- This Guy's Acapella Version Of Mike Tyson's 'Punch Out' Will Make You Nostalgic (VIDEO)
- Conan O'Brien Gives Body-Slam Filled Review Of The WWE 2K14 Video Game