Governors Awards Kick Off the Season in Style

41 FEA Oprah Winfrey H
George Burns/Harpo Productions

Winfrey on hearing the news: "I was hiking in Maui, and the security guy runs up the hill and says: "Urgent! You must call the Academy now!" I go, "What?!" "You must call the Academy!" Honest to goodness, I run a girls academy in South Africa, so I thought something had happened there."

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out its highest honors at a private party not to be missed.

The Third Annual Governors Awards ceremony, set to take place Nov. 12 in the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland, is a new tradition, but it has become an instant hit. Away from the pressure of a TV broadcast, the Academy will offer heartfelt tributes to actor James Earl Jones and makeup artist Dick Smith, who will receive Honorary Awards for lifetime achievement, while producer, occasional actress and genuine force of nature Oprah Winfrey will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her philanthropic work.


On to what one of the great voices in film attributes his childhood stutter: "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 4½, I think. You'd think that the move from Mississippi, the asshole of the nation at that time -- in terms of education, level of poverty and everything else -- you'd think that would be a jubilant journey for a young black boy. 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 providing the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars: "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!" I got the script, and she said, "It's a science fiction movie." I said, "OK." So I met George Lucas, and I just went to work on the dialogue. He wanted to coach me through some of the attitudes he wanted me to have vocally. David Prowse had already done the role on camera and sweated in that costume. We did it in 2½ hours. I got paid $7,000 for it. Nobody at that time knew 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."

Producer, actress and philanthropist

On how she learned of the honor: "I was hiking in Maui, and the security guy runs up the hill and says: "Urgent! You must call the Academy now!" I go, "What?!" "You must call the Academy!" Honest to goodness, I run a girls academy in South Africa, so I thought something had happened there. Then I get [to the phone], 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 to ask me to host the Oscars, or are they mad at me because the rumor's out?" Because 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."

On how The Color Purple, for which she was nominated for a supporting actress Oscar, affected her career: "When I shot The Color Purple, it was so hard because I was just starting A.M. Chicago. At the time, I only had two weeks' vacation; I think it took me six weeks to film The Color Purple, so [my bosses] kept telling me, "You better get your ass back here because you don't have any more vacation time!" Literally, those were the words. I kept bargaining. I said, "I'll give up next year's vacation and the next year's vacation if you'll let me finish this film!" 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, where you can't fulfill your heart's desire, so you should own your show so you're never in that position."

On how she decided to open a girls academy in South Africa: "I got to know Nelson Mandela and was sitting in the living room at his feet one night, and we were talking about what to do about poverty. I was saying that I think the way to change poverty is through education, and he agreed. Then we got into this big conversation, and I said, "One day I want to do a school," and he said, "OK," and he got up and called the minister of education. And that's how it started!"

Makeup artist

On how he developed an interest in makeup: "I had always been fascinated by movies with monsters, strange creatures and so forth -- they had always been, to me, something fantastic. I read what books on makeup I could get. 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 were considered more "professional" techniques. I was also a shy person. This was something that helped free me of that problem, that shyness. That's the wonderful thing about when you put on makeup like that: No one can recognize you -- you look in the mirror and don't know yourself -- and it gives you freedom from your inhibitions. I would go out in the dark of night, late in the night, and go to friends' houses. I'd ring the bell and watch them recoil in horror when they answered the door."