"Tell me to break a leg!" says Titanic's Gloria Stuart, who is up for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Stuart admits to being surprised that her ship is finally coming in 66 years after her first movie role. "I'm 87—I should probably be rocking in a chair and having a martini at night. Period!" she says with a laugh. "I am practically retired. I've already gone through all of that knitting, crocheting, padding, embroidering and weaving." Still, Stuart is being careful not to rock the boat before the Academy Awards. "I just take more naps," she says. "I want to be upright when it all happens."
"You think of the best lines backstage," says Billy Crystal, 51, who'll be knocking 'em into the aisles when he hosts the Academy Awards for the sixth time on March 23. But his quirky off-the-cuff quips aren't what takes the trophy for the comedian. "My favorite Oscar moment," says Crystal, "was when Kirk Douglas walked out to accept his honorary Oscar right after he had a stroke [in 1996]. I had been exchanging letters with him for a few years. After City Slickers came out, I got a letter from Kirk saying, 'Even though you didn't pick me for Curly, I thought Jack [Palance] was great.' Then after Kirk came onstage after his stroke and made an emotional speech despite his difficulty speaking, with his family out front, I sent him a letter admiring his courage and grace. And then I got a note back saying, 'When I can talk, let's talk.' "
LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL
As Good as It Gets star Helen Hunt found out about her Best Actress Oscar nomination the hard way—she got up and watched it on TV at 5:30 a.m. in L.A. "I wish that I could say that I slept through it and heard by accident," says Hunt, 34, "but I did wake up and turn on the TV and did the whole shebang." Even so, Hunt had to hold her breath for the big announcement. "When your last name is Hunt and they go alphabetically and it comes after [Helena Bonham] Carter, Julie] Christie and [Judi] Dench, it's a long wait," she says. But Hunt's costar, Best Actor nominee Jack Nicholson, didn't lose a minute's sleep wondering if he'd get his record 11th Oscar nod. "[Producer-director] Jim Brooks was the first to call, so he was the one who told me," Nicholson says. "It was about noon." So did he just go back to sleep? "You bet," says Nicholson, 60. "I was just glad and humble in my slumber."
Basic film-industry theory has it that directors cast the big stars first and then go after the big bucks necessary to make their movie. But Curtis Hanson, whose 1950s crime drama L.A. Confidential has been nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture, took the opposite approach: He cast relative newcomers Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce before rounding out a blue-chip cast that features Kevin Spacey, Danny De Vito and Best Supporting Actress nominee Kim Basinger. "They liked the script, but they also liked that I said, 'I'm starting to film this movie in a few weeks, and want you to be in it,' " says Hanson, 52, who is up for Best Director, "as opposed to saying, 'I'm looking for financing for a movie.' In other words, I was approaching them as actors, rather than locomotives to pull the dream."