If you watched the Oscars from home, you surely saw Will Smith slap Chris Rock in a shocking exchange on stage. But how did the room react to that slap when the cameras weren’t rolling?
In the backstage pressroom, Questlove appeared set on edge by the incident, which occurred just before he won for best documentary feature for “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).”
“Something controversial just happened. What happened?” the musician quipped, upon hearing a commotion in another room. “Oh, I’m sorry. I heard mumbling, like another situation just happened. I was running for cover.”
The incident caused quite a stir throughout the Dolby Theater – but, luckily, USA TODAY had eyes and ears on the red carpet, inside the audience, in the press room and, yes, even at the bars, where stars mixed and mingled.
Here’s what went down behind-the-scenes.
Will Smith slapping Chris Rock draws laughs … then dead silence
Smith wasn’t wearing a microphone when he jumped on stage to slap Rock in the face, after Rock, a former “Saturday Night Live” comedian, joked about Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett-Smith’s bald head. But the expletives he shouted at Rock after returning to his seat rang loud throughout the Dolby.
The crowd apparently thought it was a bit at first, laughing after the slap. But as Smith continued to shout at Rock, it became clear the exchange was no joke – and you could hear a pin drop in the audience.
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The second a commercial break hit, stars mobbed the Smiths. Tyler Perry and Denzel Washington were among the stars who spent time talking to the “King Richard” star, and Cynthia Erivo whispered in Pinkett-Smith’s ear. Ariana DeBose also gave Pinkett-Smith a hug after the tense exchange, and Smith got hugs from Queen Latifah and Lupita Nyong’o. Best actress nominee Nicole Kidman and her husband Keith Urban also hugged the couple.
Smith’s publicist Meredith O’Sullivan also came over to confer with the actor privately for about 30 seconds.
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Questlove dodges Will Smith question, ‘King Richard’ star skips press room
The slap was the talk of the press room, with a reporter immediately asking Questlove about the scuffle.
“I’m not talking about that,” the musician-turned-director replied. “We’re very happy right now to accept this award.”
Afterward, an Academy employee asked reporters to keep the questions about the nominees. And the organization meant business, cutting off best actress winner Jessica Chastain before she could answer a reporter who asked what she thought of Smith’s emotional best actor acceptance speech.
At the end of the night, an Academy employee informed reporters that Smith would not be coming backstage for questions.
Superstitious Jessica Chastain refused to touch Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar
Chastain literally jumped backstage and squealed happily about winning her first Oscar for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.”
Chastain admitted she wouldn’t even hold her friend Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar (for “The Theory of Everything”) when she was visiting his home in London. That’s because, Chastain said, she feared attracting some Oscar curse.
“Everyone was like, ‘Oh look his Oscar’ and they all picked it up,” she said. “And I was like, ‘I can’t pick it up.’ I’m very superstitious. So this is the first time I have ever held an Oscar.”
Chastain joins Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis as “The Help” stars who have won Oscars. She gave credit to the film’s director Tate Taylor’s casting.
“He fought for me to be on this film. I definitely wasn’t the obvious choice,” Chastain said. “It goes to show his respect and admiration for actresses. And you can see that in the careers of the women he put in the film.”
Kristen Stewart, Ariana DeBose trade style for comfort after red carpet
Stars, they’re just like us. And while they may get dressed to the nines for the red carpet, they still love to kick back and get comfy when watching the show.
Kristen Stewart, a best actress nominee for “Spencer,” seized the best of both worlds by rocking stilettos for her red carpet photos – and immediately ditching them in favor of sheer socks and loafers for the show.
DeBose took a similar approach. After winning the Oscar for best supporting actress for “West Side Story,” the Broadway-vet-turned-film-star discarded her flowing red train, allowing her to expertly zigzag between chairs in her pantsuit. She draped her cape elegantly over her seat beside her Oscar statue.
Stars schmooze and booze during commercial breaks
Yes, even celebrities lose their cool in the presence of other celebrities.
During a commercial break, Stewart, still in her flats, ran across the audience to hug Chastain and her husband, Gian Luca Passi de Preposulo. DeBose also ran across the room, clutching her Oscar, to hug Jessie Buckley and snap a selfie with Daniel Kaluuya and her mother before collapsing back into her seat. Nyong’o also shared hugs with Benedict Cumberbatch and Diddy.
Meanwhile, at the bar, Kourtney Kardashian held hands with her fiancé, Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, and Queen Latifah exchanged air kisses with Tracee Ellis Ross before the start of the show.
As for the stars’ drinks of choice? Best supporting actress nominee Kirsten Dunst opted for a margarita, while Jane Campion and Maya Rudolph sipped rosé.
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Contributing: Andrea Mandell, Anika Reed and Bill Keveney