This was one Oscar pool no one was going to win.
The producers of the 83rd Academy Awards on Monday pulled off a surprise by recruiting James Franco and Anne Hathaway, rather than any of the usual suspects, to front the awards telecast set for Feb. 27 on ABC.
Not only did producers Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer opt for a male-female teaming, they picked one of the youngest duos in Oscar history.
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It’s only the third time that an opposite-sex couple have shared the hosting assignment and the first since Jerry Lewis and Celeste Holm turned the trick in 1957 — and even then the couple didn’t share the stage since Holm was beamed in from a simultaneous ceremony in New York.
Hathaway, 28, also will be the youngest Oscar host. Come show time at the Kodak Theatre, she’ll be a few months younger than Donald O’Connor was when, fresh off the success of Singin’ in the Rain, he co-hosted the 1954 show.
At 32, Franco might seem like a new kid on the block, but there have been plenty of other hosts — like Lewis (the first year he hosted in 1955), Diana Ross, Goldie Hawn and Kathleen Turner — who were 30 when they shared in hosting duties. And even though Bob Hope came to be known as the most senior of Oscar hosts, he was only 36 when he presided for the first time in 1939.
“We have a concept [but] we can’t elaborate on it very much at this point since it’s still in progress,” Mischer said of the road that led to the current hosts. “We felt that an interesting thread running through the show is the enduring power of motion pictures. They transcend generations, and each new generation rediscovers classic films on their own. On Oscar night, we’ll be celebrating the great films of the year, but we’ll also be making references to some of the great films of the past. But to do that through the eyes of two young actors who are emerging as major talents in film — we felt that was a great way to go.”
Of course, the fact that the producers waited until just three months until the Oscars to unveil the hosts has led to speculation that other perspective emcees turned down the gig. Hugh Jackman, who hosted two years ago, and Tina Fey are among those who are said to have been approached.
But according to Cohen, once he and Mischer hit upon the idea of two hosts, it was the matter of finding the right combination, which meant looking beyond the usual list of stand-up comedians.
“We started looking at the idea of movies stars,” he said. “The Oscars are the chance for the movie industry, one night a year, to entertain the world and remind the world that movies have been entertaining the world for generations. That just kept feeling [like it called for] movie stars to us.
“We loved the job that Alec [Baldwin] and Steve [Martin] did last year as a duo. And it hasn’t been since 1957 that a man and a woman have co-hosted together, so we thought it was time for a male movie star and a female movie star to co-host. As a film producer, casting is always one of the most important and most fun parts of the process. So Don and I were looking for a combination that you hadn’t seen before, but when you heard it, you thought, ‘That’s exciting’.”
They approached Franco and Hathaway individually and pitched their concept, and then Franco and Hathaway spoke with each other before committing.
While some skeptics found the choice of two non-comedians an odd one, both Franco and Hathaway have hosted Saturday Night Live — where Franco impersonated James Dean and Hathaway offered up a wicked parody of Katie Holmes — proving their ability to handle live situations.
Of the two, Hathaway has to be the better known among the general public. In her first film role in The Princess Diaries, she had a $100 million hit. She has followed up with other crowd-pleasers like The Devil Wears Prada, Get Smart and Alice in Wonderland, although her latest movie, the skin-baring romantic comedy Love and Other Drugs, just opened to an unimpressive $14 million over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday. Hathaway was also nominated for an Oscar for best actress in 2009 for her role in Rachel Getting Married.
“I can’t talk about anything,” she said, dodging any Oscar-related questions as she made her way into the Gotham Independent Film Awards in New York on Monday night.
Meanwhile, Franco, who presumably was off studying in his other life as a Ph.D. student at Yale University, has built his career by appearing in the spectacularly successful Spider-Man movies, albeit in the supporting role of the Green Goblin’s son, Harry Osborn. As a headliner, his biggest success has been the 2008 stoner comedy Pineapple Express, which grossed $87 million in North America. But the idiosyncratic actor has been equally at home in indie projects like Milk and Howl and is considered a best actor contender this year for his dramatic performance as a trapped hiker in 127 Hours.
On the East Coast, the Oscar casting picked up several good notices.
“They are two very intelligent and very talented actors,” Harvey Keitel said. “I think they will bring a very good vibe. Oscar is in good hands.”
Focus Features CEO James Schamus agreed. “I just think that’s cool,” he said. “They are cool people.”
Back in Hollywood, as Cohen and Mischer put together a show that’s aiming to view the galaxy of old Hollywood through the prism of two new stars, Academy president Tom Sherak said the hosts “bring us that young Hollywood combining the present and the past.”
“Bruce and Don have created something that will be really special, that will give you all the emotions and feelings that you want from that show,” Sherak added. “You have to be able to reach the broad audience. Hopefully, James and Anne will help us do that.”
Georg Szalai in New York and Kim Masters contributed to this report.