Zen and the art of getting an Oscar

A meditation teacher views the Academy Awards ceremony as a showcase for techniques that the rich and famous use to keep their cool. A short-list of spiritual and psychological tips for overcoming performance-anxiety:

War of the poses: Ex's Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron have their eyes on the 2010 Academy Award prize

War of the poses: Ex's Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron have their eyes on the same 2010 Academy Award prize

GUEST COLUMN: REID PETERSON — The Oscar statue’s familiar gold form emblazoned everywhere in the media lets us know that it is once again time for the show that is watched by one billion viewers worldwide.

As the awards unfold much of our planet will be gathered in front of their TV screens for a few hours as actors, directors, and writers gather to receive praise, prestige, and paparazzi for the degree of excellence that they have achieved in their industry during calendar-year 2009.

We all know that the 2010 Oscars are a huge deal because the event has an uncanny ability to hook us emotionally.

But what quality of emotion do we view in the people who are in front of the camera for this event?  Is this reality-TV that exposes how nervous the nominees really are? Or is it a real-time acting lab?

Can you imagine being nominated for an Academy Award in front of the world (LIVE!) with the opportunity to be officially recognized and rewarded for your work?

It would be literally gut-wrenching!

And to add to the anxiety of the experience, your fashion sense and image would be under scrutiny since outward appearance (especially on this Oscar night) is a crucial aspect of the film industry.

oscar_2009_winnersYet, ceremony after ceremony, year after year, the superstars that attend demonstrate how calm, collected, and cool they can be, in spite of “starring” in one of the more important and intimidating events of their lives.

How do they do it?

Before answering that question, you have to ask another. “Are they even nervous?”  It’s easy to assume that most, if not all, of the people are, who are nominated. But hey, they’re superstars. Maybe they don’t get nervous, like us mere mortals.

It really depends to whom you’re referring.

I’ve noticed that most first time nominees who win an Oscar approach the stage with an obvious emotional expression on his or her face. Sometimes they are shocked, other times they cry. Often times it has been very dramatic, to say the least.  We won’t soon forget Adrien Brody’s fervent kissing of Halle Berry when accepting his Best Actor award in 2003.

When Oscar virgins do say something they usually are choked up, or they stumble over their words. Usually one of the first things that they voice is related to how nervous they are.  This year, with 12 first time nominees, it will be fascinating to see how people react, if they do happen to win.

The infamous Cuba “incident”

Who can forget when Cuba Gooding Jr. won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1997 for Jerry Maguire?  If it wasn’t so funny it would have been downright embarrassing and perhaps in retrospect is at least for Gooding Jr.’s career, which subsequently Das Boot-ed.

cuba-oscar1“Tom Cruise! I love you brother! I love you man!  Everybody I love you. I love you all. Cameron Crowe! James L. Brooks, I love you. Everybody who’s involved with this, I love you. I love you. Everybody involved.”

As the music swelled as a hint to get him off the stage Gooding Jr. continued to punch the air with his Oscar and jump up and down.

This year we’ll be watching the reactions of actors such as first time nominees Gabourey Sidibe (nominated for Best Actress for Precious) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Crazy Heart).

And if Gabby does win for Best Actress you have to wonder if she’ll tell Vanity Fair what she really thinks of being left off this month’s cover which celebrates rising young stars in Hollywood. . .well rising white, skinny stars anyway.

What I’ve noticed is that repeat winners don’t show similar expressions. They are more relaxed, less dramatic, and relatively calm. They have more experience at the Oscars and have developed a better understanding of what to expect from the event.

As we can learn from the stars, being nervous is strongly associated with unknowns. It is common sense that the more experience you have with someone or something, the calmer and collected you will remain. In this context we will be able to correlate any actor, director, or writer’s nervousness with the amount of experience they have at the Oscars.

But stars are only human, even those experienced with attending the Oscars still get nervous. How can you tell? By how funny they are!

The power of humor

geenadavisHumor has amazing qualities.  Telling funny stories, cracking jokes, and using humor in communication has a way of settling and easing tension.  Most of the stars that you see at the Oscars fully understand this concept. They use humor to create more comfort. After all, they are entertainers. Their profession trains them to create emotional experiences for their viewers.

But they’re flesh and blood too and they experience their own range of emotions.  That’s why when the Oscars go to commercial, the audience members get up and mingle, with every intention to support each other. They show care and support. They do everything they can to put a smile on each others’ faces.

Humor can make people laugh, creating a feeling of joy. When people laugh, they reduce stress. The good feelings from laughter can reduce distressing emotions like anxiety and nervousness that you would expect people at the Oscars to experience.

Laughing can calm the nerves. That’s why we see and hear laughter when we watch the Oscars.

You’ll know they’re nervous, but they’re dealing with it through humor.  We can do the same in our daily lives.

So if we civilians can’t learn any fashion tips from the stars (a case in point being Geena Davis pictured at right circa 1992) at least we can learn to use humor to defray some of the anxiety we feel in our daily lives.


Reid Peterson, MA, is a holistic health lecturer and writer. He teaches meditation and breathwork to help people reduce stress and anxiety. Visit his site at Breathe of Presence.

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2 Responses to “Zen and the art of getting an Oscar”

  1. Hugh Jackman doesn’t get as nervous because he meditates every day…at least that is what he told People magazine :)

  2. thanks for the tips reid. humor is very undervalued in our society in so many ways. we need to utilize its power more.