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“I Told Warren Beatty He Was in Trouble”

Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel explains the behind-the-scenes chaos of the Best Picture mix-up, what was going through his head, and the final joke that never was on ‘The Bill Simmons Podcast’

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The 89th annual Academy Awards ended like no ceremony before it: in total confusion. Best Picture presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were given the wrong envelope, but they forged ahead anyway (after a few long seconds of hesitation) and announced that La La Land won the night’s biggest award. It was only after a few minutes — and a few acceptance speeches — that the mistake was corrected. "Moonlight: You guys won Best Picture," La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz proclaimed. Host Jimmy Kimmel bore witness to the whole fiasco, and, just days after, he and Cousin Sal joined The Bill Simmons Podcast to give a first-person account of the instantly legendary moment.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Bill Simmons: You had a very tumultuous weekend.

Jimmy Kimmel: I wouldn’t say it was tumultuous.

Simmons: It was the biggest, most famous thing that ever happened at the Oscars.

Kimmel: It is funny. Somebody said to me yesterday, "You better get your story straight because you’re gonna be telling this story for the rest of your life." And I thought, "I don’t want to tell this story for the rest of my life. It’s about the wrong envelope being handed over." It’s essentially a boring story, but the impact was obviously …

Simmons: It’s never gonna go away!

Kimmel: I’m just gonna say it wasn’t me.

Simmons: It was like the JFK assassination, and you were kind of Jackie O., crawling on the back of a limo, wondering what happened.

Kimmel: I was, in a way. I haven’t really done any interviews since the Oscars, so there are many things that people don’t know about that night. Like, afterwards, somehow I wound up in the huddle, trying to figure out what was going on.

Simmons: What do you mean?

Kimmel: Mike De Luca and Jennifer Todd are the producers of the show, and then there’s Dawn [Hudson] and Cheryl [Boone Isaacs] who run the academy. They were trying to figure out what happened. For some reason, I became a part of that with Warren Beatty.

Simmons: You were a decision-maker.

Kimmel: I really was in the middle, and everybody was very keyed up trying to figure out what happened and who did what, and I just kept screwing around through the whole thing. I told Warren Beatty he was in trouble. I told Warren, "There’s only one way to handle this. You need to come on my show tomorrow night, and we’ll explain what happened." He said, "That sounds great for you, but I think I’m just gonna wait awhile." And I said, "I’m gonna tell you right now, I think that’s a mistake. Speaking for myself, it would be great if you were on the show, but I’m saying I think you need to handle this immediately." He didn’t really think that was a great idea. But he did a very smart thing. He kept those envelopes. He would not hand them to anybody. He showed people, but he would not hand them over. He kept both of them because that’s the smoking gun there. As soon as you give those envelopes up, who knows which is what, and what happened? The other smart thing is that he went to the microphone to clear things up.

Cousin Sal: But everyone blames him now because he did that. He didn’t even read it. Although [Beatty] did throw [Dunaway] under the bus and let her read it. But she was in an Uber and he’s explaining … He didn’t even read it.

Kimmel: It’s funny too because one of our writers saw somebody post a close-up on Instagram. They zoomed in on the envelope that was in his hand. I went in, all this commotion was still going on, and I said, "Warren, you could see the envelope that you were handed said, ‘Outstanding Female Actress.’" I just announced, "You’re free to walk the streets of Hollywood again." And I walked out of the room.

Simmons: The accountant must have had two envelopes left, right?

Kimmel: They have one set of envelopes on one side of the stage and another set on the other side.

Simmons: So each time somebody wins an award, he’s probably putting the duplicate in some suitcase. He just had two left, but he’s walking around, he’s tweeting, he’s taking photos. Then they’re like, "Hey, we need that Best …" and he just gives the wrong [one]. What are the odds?

Cousin Sal: So, it takes a minute to get on stage, they go through two and a half speeches and then … it was, like, two and a half minutes. These are not people you want watching your 6-year-old around the pool, right? Get in there before anyone gets on stage.

Kimmel: I think, at that point, people were hoping it somehow went away. They could’ve just went with it. I don’t know what I would’ve done in that situation, but the thought would definitely cross my mind of just letting La La Land have Best Picture because it was the favorite. It’s not like it would have been a huge surprise. It’s not like it was Arrival or Hell or High Water.

Cousin Sal: That’s another reason [Dunaway] read the name. She’s like, "Well, this doesn’t look right, there’s an actress’s name here, but everybody has been telling me all day that La La Land should win, so …"

Simmons: Emma Stone gave an interview right after, and you could tell she thought there was some sort of conspiracy. She’s like, "I just want you to know I had my envelope the whole time." There was 20 minutes where nobody knew how it was gonna play out.

Kimmel: I don’t know if she thought there was a conspiracy. I think she thought that Warren had a made a mistake. She didn’t realize there were two versions of that envelope and that card. It was crazy, really crazy.

Simmons: Old people can’t see is really one of the morals to this.

Kimmel: Not only that — they came to two different rehearsals because it was hard to see the teleprompter, so that definitely was part of the issue.

Cousin Sal: I told Jimmy, the only thing that would have made it better is if Jimmy announced, "Release the Raisinets," just as they were trying to figure it all out.

Kimmel: I had one more loaded candy. That would’ve been the greatest worst moment ever.

Simmons: Let’s go back to when it happened. You’re in the row with [Matt] Damon. What was the plan for the last joke we never saw?

Kimmel: The plan was the Best Picture is announced; they make a speech. I was assuming the Best Picture was not going to be Manchester by the Sea. And I said to Matt, "If it’s not Manchester by the Sea, I’m gonna be sitting next to you. This will be my revenge for the Emmys." Because at the Emmys, he walked onstage after we lost our category. So I’d be sitting next to him, and it would start on me, and I’d start wrapping the show up. The camera would widen, we’d see Matt was sitting next to me, and I would say, "Wow, unbelievable, Casey won and Kenneth won and really only one person didn’t win tonight, and it’s you for this movie." It would have been a nice little button to the whole night, but we’re watching, we’re waiting for the camera to come to us, and we’re, you know, concentrating. Suddenly, the stage manager wanders up on stage, which is never supposed to happen. So, I really don’t know what’s going on, and I don’t hear very well, so Matt hears somebody say something to the effect of, "They had the wrong movie for Best Picture." So he says to me, "I think they announced the wrong Best Picture." I looked at Matt and I said, "Well, I guess I better go up there." I walked up on stage, and all hell is breaking loose. People are mad and confused. I feel bad for them, but I can’t help but laugh because it’s such an uncomfortable situation. Then the microphone actually goes down to the ground. I lean forward to talk into the microphone and it disappears, which is a comedy moment on its own. I didn’t know if my lavalier mic was on. I didn’t know if people could hear me. People were very confused. It wasn’t a great moment for a joke because people wanted to know what was going on.

Simmons: But your default in that exact situation is to make a joke.

Kimmel: Yes, to make it worse. I think I yelled at Warren. Warren said, "I’m not trying to be funny." I said, "Well, you were." No one laughed. I screamed, "Warren, what did you do?" I thought it was his mistake because I had this backstory in my head of him coming to two rehearsals and not being able to see the teleprompter. Now, thinking back, that’s ridiculous. I mean, the words "La La Land" don’t look anything like the word "Moonlight." I got up there and I said something — I don’t even remember what I said — and I wandered offstage with everybody at the end of the show. Then people started going like, "Did you do this?" I was like, "Hold on a minute. I just want to make this very, very clear right now: If this was a prank, I’m not in on it. I’m one of the victims."

Simmons: Although, if Sal had wandered out with a big smile on his face, it would have been the greatest thing both of you ever achieved.

Kimmel: Anyone could have wandered up on stage at that point. Literally.

Simmons: So the Moonlight people come up. Could you hear the conversations?

Kimmel: Nobody wanted to make a speech, you know? It was so unclear what was happening that they kind of absorbed the fact that they’d won, but nobody took the next step of saying, "I guess now we have to make a speech." Until Denzel Washington literally was waving at me.

Simmons: That part’s incredible.

Kimmel: He’s going, "Barry!" and he’s pointing. The director Barry [Jenkins] of Moonlight is behind me, and he wanted me to get him. I think Denzel just wanted to go home. I grabbed Barry and pushed him toward the mic — I think, I don’t remember exactly what happened. I do remember Denzel. It might have been another six minutes if Denzel hadn’t directed me to go get Barry and bring him to the microphone.

Simmons: Are they telling you, "Wrap, wrap, wrap"?

Kimmel: No, nobody is.

Simmons: It’s almost like a natural disaster just happened. There’s been an earthquake and people are trying to figure out what to do.

Kimmel: It’s not scary, it’s just confusing.

Simmons: It all made sense after because we rewound it like, "What the fuck just happened?" You can see Beatty, he’s confused, he opens the envelope to see if there’s another card, and then he just punts. Everyone blamed him, but really, it’s like the Justin Timberlake–Janet Jackson scenario. Faye Dunaway is the one that pulled the boob, but [Beatty] got blamed. He was the one who was like, "I don’t know what to do," and Faye’s like, "La La Land!" I think it’s the most famous Oscar moment of all time.

Kimmel: Is that good? Is that a good thing?

Simmons: I think it’s good! I think it’ll be the first paragraph in your obituary 50 years from now.

Kimmel: Oh, I hope that’s not true. That would be terrible.