Picture this: You're standing on a stage. You're the center of attention in an auditorium filled with over 3,000 people. Roughly 40 million more are watching you on TV.
No, this isn't a nightmare — it's the Academy Awards. Every year, the standout members of the film industry are presented with Hollywood's highest honor: an Oscar.
But what happens after you've won the coveted gold statue? What does it feel like to walk away from the flashbulbs and fans, and step into the quiet darkness behind the curtains?
Anthony Breznican knows. The senior writer for Entertainment Weekly has covered the Oscars for 14 years. He roams backstage for the night, witnessing film greats in the surreal and abrupt comedown after a career-defining moment. Breznican tells NPR's Arun Rath it's the best seat in the house.
"If you're back there, you're up close and personal with everyone who normally would be at arm's length, so you get to see some really human moments," he says.
After Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook (with that famous stumble up to the podium), she came backstage nervous and unsure of how her speech had been received.
"I remember all she wanted was a doughnut," Breznican says. She eyed a box of Krispy Kremes on a card table, but red carpet-caliber gowns and frosted donuts don't really mix, so after a brief inner struggle, she abstained and made her way to a photo op out front.
There is an Oscar tradition to help winners with their nerves: For the more prestigious awards, last year's recipient presents the statue to this year's winner.
"They're sort of like the spirit guide for whoever the winners are. And it's reversed: The Best Actress last year presents Best Actor this year," Breznican says. "I think that's the most moving thing that I get to witness backstage."
When Marion Cotillard won Best Actress for La Vie En Rose, Forest Whitaker presented the Oscar. As they walked offstage together, Cotillard began to cry, completely overwhelmed.
"I just remember her saying, 'I feel so disoriented and lost,' " Breznican says. Whitaker "was saying, 'Yeah, that's what's magic about it. That's what you're supposed to feel.' "
Of all the moments behind the scenes, perhaps the most important one for Breznican had nothing to do with the awards. In 2008, he ran into Philip Seymour Hoffman on a loading dock behind the theater. They talked about having kids; Breznican and his wife were thinking about taking the plunge.
"You just have to commit," Hoffman said adamantly. "Your priorities will clarify."
Breznican took the advice. He and his wife have a 4-year-old daughter and a 10-month-old son.