regina hall and wanda sykes on hosting the oscars

Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes on Hosting the Oscars

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Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes, two of the comic actresses who have the task of making the Oscars relevant again, are acutely aware that the bar is low.

Not since 2018 has there been one host of the Oscars — let alone three. And last year’s telecast hit record low ratings.

So now, the hosts of the 94th Academy Awards on Sunday say their goals for the evening are fairly straightforward: Keep it moving, and make it funny.

“It’s a night of celebration,” Sykes said in an interview she and Hall gave The New York Times from inside the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles.

Hall and Sykes spoke with The Times via video on Thursday after a general news conference earlier in the day. Amy Schumer, the show’s third co-host, was scheduled to take part in the interview and news conference but bowed out. At the news conference, academy representatives, quoting Schumer, said only: “Don’t worry, it’s not Covid.” They later specified to The Times that Schumer had not been feeling well and was resting for rehearsals.

At the news conference, the producers of the show, Will Packer and Shayla Cowan, and their team explained what viewers could expect to see Sunday. After a changeup last year, the best picture award will once again be presented last; the show will honor the 50th anniversary of “The Godfather” and 60 years of James Bond; “Encanto” cast members will perform “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”; and some awards will be handed out and accepted in the audience.

“You should not assume that we have announced the presenter for best picture yet,” Packer added. “We definitely want that to be part of a few unexpected surprises.”

Hall and Sykes said that all three hosts would be onstage together to open the show, and that at other points in the program, they would split up.

“It might be one of us, it might be two of us, we all might be drunk, so it might be nobody,” Sykes said. “We all get our moment together and we get our moments alone.”

They also said the producers had something planned that would acknowledge the war in Ukraine. And asked how they would top Glenn Close doing “Da Butt” at last year’s Oscars, Sykes had an idea: “We’re going to try to get Judi Dench to do the Worm.”

These are edited excerpts from our interview.

What compelled you to sign up for a thankless job like this?

WANDA SYKES If they had come to me and said, hey, do you want to host the Oscars by yourself, I would have said hell no, absolutely not. Why would I want to do that? I like my life. But with the two of them, I’m really looking forward to it.

REGINA HALL I was excited that Will Packer and Shayla Cowan were at the helm. But then when I heard Wanda, I thought, “Wait a minute — now that sounds fun.” And then Amy. I just thought, three women, we get to collaborate together and have a huge support system.

I’m sure there have been benefits to being able to collaborate, but I also imagine there have been challenges because there are so many parts and people. Have you worked everything out in rehearsals? How’s it going so far?

HALL How you get to the material, I think, is to like and dislike and discuss. That’s how you really create things. I don’t think that things have to move completely smoothly to be wonderful. What we appreciate in the collaboration is having each other’s ideas be heard.

SYKES We’ve been really upfront and open to each other’s opinions and saying, “I don’t think that works for me” or “Oh, I love that!”

HALL Or “Here’s what would make it work even better.” That’s the joy of having Wanda and Amy: Sometimes there’s a good idea, but then somebody takes that idea to the next level.

Can you give us a more exact sense of who is doing what? Who’s doing a monologue? Who’s doing a roast? Who’s singing? Who’s dancing?

HALL We’re all doing it. Really, it is true.

Do you all typically watch the Oscars? And what did you think of the hostless approach and the show the last couple of years?

SYKES I usually watch the Oscars. The hostless wasn’t working for me. The show seemed longer — it felt longer.

HALL I think last year was specific, we understood, with the pandemic. But I think the first year when they didn’t have the host, that you missed that entertainment portion that moves the show along. I’m glad it’s back.

SYKES The host is like the connection to the people watching at home. We’re the bridge to the people in the room and the people at home. Build bridges. It [the show] was an island without a host.

HALL Now we have three bridges back.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the movement of eight categories out of the main telecast. Given that you both work in Hollywood, what do you think of that decision?

SYKES I trust Will. And from what they’re saying, it is going to be very respectful, and those categories will have their moment.

HALL They’re a part of the live show. That hour’s not televised, but it will be incorporated into our actual, televised show.

SYKES Those decisions are above our pay grade. I think everyone is above our pay grades.

Do you feel any pressure to create a viral moment? Are there any planned selfies for the night?

SYKES We haven’t planned it, but I think there are some things that we are doing that will be, you know … we’re not trying to create a viral moment ——

HALL —— but we have moments that will be viral-able.

Wanda, you said earlier today that you don’t want the jokes to be meanspirited. Is anything or anyone off-limits given that we have already seen blowback to remarks made at the Critics Choice Awards?

SYKES I’m not going to say things are off-limits. If you can make something funny ——

HALL —— that’s the creativity of what we do. It’s the intention behind it.

SYKES Yes, thank you.

I’m from San Diego — I love Shaun White and Tony Hawk as much as anybody. But can you help explain to me why they are presenters at the Oscars?

SYKES It’s a Will Packer production. It’s different.

HALL They like movies.

SYKES Exactly.

HALL They love us. We love them. So we’re united.

Like bridges on an island …

SYKES We’re bridges, baby!

There are serious and awful things happening in the world. Can you elaborate on how you plan to handle the hard stuff in what is hopefully going to be a pretty joyous environment?

HALL Will and Shayla decided to respect and acknowledge what is going on. We are really in support of the idea that they have for the show. It is honest and heartfelt, and that’s how we believe that those difficult moments should be treated. And so we’re very proud of the way that it’s being handled in the show.

To put a fine point on this: There is going to be some segment of the show that will acknowledge what’s happening abroad?


Can you promise me that the show is going to be less than three hours?

HALL Well, we can’t control how long people talk.

SYKES I suggested an air horn, but …

Any other suggestions that did not receive approval?

SYKES We talked about having Patti LaBelle and Chaka Khan sing people off. Nothing like a hollering Black woman that will make you move.