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This story first appeared in the March 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
There’s a compelling reason the Independent Spirit Awards can lure such A-list Oscar nominees as Matthew McConaughey and Cate Blanchett to their 2014 sandy celebration, which takes place only 24 hours before the Academy Awards: It’s a helluva lot of fun. From the dressed-down dress code to the anything-can-and-will-happen trophy presentation, the Spirits are the mellow elixir campaigners need toward the end of a merciless awards season. It also is a show (set to air again on IFC, at 10 p.m. March 1) during which breakout indie artists you haven’t heard of get their moment onstage — and hosts like Patton Oswalt, this year’s emcee, get to skewer and celebrate them in equal measure. Here, the self-proclaimed movie geek and busy multitasking performer reveals his favorite Spirit contenders and which snubs reinforce how unpredictable Hollywood can be.
You announced Feb. 12 that you would replace the traditional avian-inspired Spirit trophies with live birds. Do you care to comment further on this planned stunt?
Live birds? My God, why would I be handing out live birds to Indie Spirit-winning actors in the middle of the afternoon? That’s insane.
Personally, I have always dreamed of seeing Bruce Dern hold a young cockatiel.
Well, when that happens, we’ll know the Rapture is definitely coming!
Usually, the biggest task for the Spirits host is making time to see all of the nominated films. Have you caught up?
They sent me all the screeners. I’m still cramming, but at this point I’ve seen more than half of them. I can do it!
As is typical for the Spirits, a lot of dark subject matter is nominated this year, from Dallas Buyers Club to 12 Years a Slave to Short Term 12. How will such intense content inform your onstage material?
I think the content of my material is less about the movies than who’s in the room. It’s about how you bounce off of them and anything controversial. We’re still in the stages of writing, so we’ll see.
Can we assume there will be jabs at recent tabloid figure Woody Allen, a best screenplay nominee for Blue Jasmine?
Not gonna say! That will have to be a surprise.
What is the secret to striking the perfect chord with this crowd, a mix of serious actors and out-there personalities?
Part of my approach to hosting any show is that I’m actually genuinely happy to be there. As a film buff, I’m especially excited to be at the Spirits. So with anything you really, truly love, you’re going to poke fun at it. But if I’m making fun of something, it’s only because I truly love it.
Which Spirit-nominated films or performances did you love this year?
Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club were a revelation. I was not ready for that! I always knew that Brie Larson was fantastic, but she really took it to another level in Short Term 12 and in The Spectacular Now too. Speaking of that film, Shailene Woodley was incredible in that. It’s really exciting to see someone that young be that good. It’s exciting to see where they’re going to go — that, to me, is really exciting. She’s also a genuinely cool human being.
You have had a busy acting career of late, with recent stints on NBC’s Parks and Recreation and FX’s Justified. You also starred in 2009’s critically acclaimed, Spirit-nominated film Big Fan. Who are your dream indie-film collaborators?
Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) is my dream director. I’ve always liked Nicole Holofcener, but Enough Said catapulted her right to the top of my list. I knew that movie would be well-written, but that genuinely funny? It was gorgeous. Also, Ramin Bahrani — he did Man Push Cart and Chop Shop. He’s so good. And I’d love to work with Jason Reitman again. Doing Young Adult was such an amazing experience.
Who are you most looking forward to meeting at this year’s awards?
I’d love to meet [12 Years a Slave star] Chiwetel Ejiofor. He strikes me as a very cool, elevated human being. I’ve known Brie Larson for years, from working on United States of Tara together, but I also want to give her a big hug. I’m so proud she’s getting the attention she deserves. And, of course, the film fan in me also wants to meet Robert Redford and thank him for all his early work, like Downhill Racer and especially The Candidate.
A lot of people are happy Redford is being recognized at the Spirits after being snubbed by the Oscars.
Yeah, him getting snubbed and also Julia Louis-Dreyfus not getting an Oscar or Spirits nom? That was more than a little confusing. She was amazing! But what are you going to do? This is a whimsical business.
The Independent Spirit Awards are Saturday at 4 p.m. in Santa Monica.
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