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What Not To Do If You Win An Oscar
Your guide to graciously accepting your Academy Award


It's going to be the greatest night of your professional life, so ideally you don't want to screw it up. Now you already have flocks of stylists, make-up artists, hairdresses, agents and publicists to advise you on your road to the ceremony – but here's what to do, and more importantly what not to do, when you actually win, based on years of Oscar observation. Learn it, love it, live it...

WORDS HELEN O'HARA
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1. Take a moment to kiss or hug those closest to you, but only a moment.
Academy rules allow each winner a meagre 45 seconds onstage, and there's a total time-limit, including your journey to the stage, of about 2 minutes. This obviously discriminates against the nominees seated towards the back of the auditorium (hi, technical winners, foreign filmmakers and animators!) but even the A-listers can run into problems if they pause to glad-hand all their nearest and dearest. After all, you may well be called upon to nuzzle with really important people on your way to the stage – Harvey Weinstein, Steven Spielberg – and you'll want to save some love for them.

2. Don't climb over seats to the stage.
We really shouldn't have to say this. Your mum should have explained it to you as a child, but since certain parents seem to have overlooked it (ahem, Mrs Benigni!) it bears repeating. While some natural exuberance is to be expected and perhaps even encouraged given that this is presumably the pinnacle of your professional ambitions, the walkways are there for a reason and the path to the stage will be safer for everyone if you use them. Just imagine the insurance costs if your shoe tangled in someone's diamond earrings, or if you accidentally kick someone's shoulder and derail shooting on a major action film. Basically, you can't afford not to use the aisle.

3. Don't send a proxy to collect your award.
Sadly, since Marlon Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather to collect his Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather in 1972, the Academy has banned collection by proxy, so you can no longer make grand gestures on behalf of the oppressed unless you do it yourself. Brando made a few other minor errors in that case – such as giving Littlefeather a 15-page speech to deliver (thankfully for viewers, a producer backstage threatened to have her removed if she spoke for more than 60 seconds). Making political statements is risky at the best of times come Oscar-night, and if you're going to get booed, turn up and get booed in your own right, we say.

4. Don't cry too much.
Shedding a tear is acceptable and can even be adorable; paying tribute to a departed loved one or important figure in your life entirely commendable. But when you start blubbing like a tiny child who's just discovered that coffee is hot, it's time to reassess. The appropriate level of crying is most decidedly not Gwyneth Paltrow-esque. Does anyone remember anything that Paltrow said in her speech? Nope, because we could barely make her out between sobs. Whoever you are, chances are you work in movies and have some clue how acting works. Try that, and keep the crazy sobbing cunningly concealed beneath a layer of outrageous charm.

5. Memorise a witty put-down in case of streakers.
In 1974 when streaker Richard Opel ran across the Oscar stage, host David Niven responded with perhaps the greatest line in Oscar history: "Isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?" Now, sure, there have been suggestions that the streak was a publicity stunt and the line planned – but that could happen again! If ratings among the younger crowd continue to falter, you can practically guarantee it! So just in case some nekkid weirdo appears from nowhere, be ready with your own line so you can appear as eloquent, poised and damn witty as Niven himself.

6. Don't forget to thank your husband.
Tom Cruise's advice to Cuba Gooding Jr., when the latter was nominated for Jerry Maguire, was, "Don't forget to thank your wife". Rarely were wiser words spoken: entire relationship breakdowns have been attributed to a failure to thank one's spouse in an Oscar speech and it's rarely, we suspect, been the foundation of a happy post-Oscar week. It also gives you a chance to pay tribute to someone who has, in all probability, played a huge part in getting you on that stage, and more importantly the chance to be ridiculously charming. After all, even if you had no idea who Ryan Bingham was before the 2010 Oscars, you'll likely always remember his line to his wife: "I love you more than rainbows, baby."

7. Don't out anyone.
This actually hasn't happened, but it's worth making sure it doesn't. Try not to reveal any secrets in your acceptance speech, whether it's your PIN number, secret on-set affair with your co-star or the sexuality of the high-school drama teacher to whom you attribute your sensitive portrayal in the movie Philadelphia, Mr Hanks. Now in fact in that case, and contrary to popular legend, the teacher concerned, Rawley Farnsworth, had agreed to a mention in advance and, now retired, was unconcerned that his sexuality be made public. In this as in all things, Tom Hanks' example is a good one: check first if you're going to name someone, and especially if you're going to refer to something that they've kept private for decades.

8. Do be charming.
This should be the single biggest thing you work on: make it charming. Be funny, be grateful, be beautiful – whatever works for you. Some self-deprecation also works well: Colin Firth's rueful opening claim that, "I have a feeling my career's just peaked," only cements his reputation for charm. If you're an actor, all of this should be easy because you're probably already used to practicing this – see George Clooney or Sandra Bullock's speeches for great examples. If you're a director or producer, it might be tougher because, let's face it, you've probably abandoned charm in favour of iron discipline and lots of shouting. As a basic rule, less with the "I'm King of the world!" and more with something like John Wayne's, "Tonight I don't feel very clever, very witty. I feel very grateful, very humble, and all thanks to many, many people."

9. Do try for eloquence – but not too much.
There is such a thing as being too eloquent by half. There is, for example, Sir Laurence Olivier, whose speech in 1979 went like this: "In the great wealth, the great firmament of your nation's generosity, this particular choice may perhaps be found by future generations as a trifle eccentric, but the mere fact of it--the prodigal, pure, human kindness of it--must be seen as a beautiful star in that firmament which shines upon me at this moment, dazzling me a little, but filling me with warmth and the extraordinary elation, the euphoria that happens to so many of us at the first breath of the majestic glow of a new tomorrow." And that's not even all of it. Best go for something a little less high-falutin' – even if you're as intelligent and well-educated as he was.

10. Have fun!
The Oscar speeches that go down best are not the ones where people remembered to thank their lawyer. They're the ones where they pushed the envelope (no pun intended) a little bit, where Jack Palance decided to do some one-armed press-ups onstage, where Cuba Gooding Jr. exuberantly declared his love for everyone in the room (repeatedly), where the entire nation of New Zealand received its dues, where Stanley Donen started singing, "Heaven, I'm in heaven…" If you can do something like this and make it work for you, you will truly go down in Academy Award history. What's more, you'll have brightened up the evening of tens of millions of people watching a dull ceremony hoping that something awesome will happen. It's your job to ensure that it does. Good luck!

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