“If I fall in my dress, just leave me for dead,” Tina Fey deadpanned to Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph as the buddy-trio walked toward center stage to rehearse lines they’ll deliver as presenters during Sunday’s 91st Academy Awards. “Or you can just drag me.”
No can do, responded Poehler: “If any of us fall, the other ones have to go down, too.”
Quips, laughs and a touch of anticipatory nerves marked a packed afternoon of Oscars rehearsals at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre as a steady stream of dressed-down, if still dazzling A-listers ran through lines on a Teleprompter, learned stage blocking and worked out production kinks a day before Hollywood’s biggest night.
“There’s Gaga!…Where’s Bradley?” said Poehler, after spotting Lady Gaga’s photo on one of the dozens of cardboard placards emblazoned with celebrity head-shots that pepper the near-empty orchestra as seat-holders. “Dana Carvey!” Poehler said excitedly, noticing her former Saturday Night Live costar’s photo affixed to another. “There’s Angela Bassett…Glenn…”
The star power was non-stop — Awkwafina! Pharrell! Charlize! Kacey Musgraves! — and presenters, wearing little make-up and casually dressed in jeans, sweats and baseball hats, breezed on and off the sprawling, red rose and crystal-bedecked stage.
For some, the afternoon was a family affair. Mike Myers brought his wife, Kelly, who watched from the front row as he practiced a bit with Carvey (insider hint: “Wayne’s World” just may have some relevance) and cracked each other up. But it was Serena Williams’ 17-month-old daughter, Alexis Olympia, who stole the show. Dressed in a pink cotton shirt and pants with sequined stripes, the toddler stood by her mom’s side playing with the microphone. While Williams, who will introduce Best Picture nominee A Star is Born, rehearsed her lines, Alexis was adorably transfixed and, like a star in the making, stood clapping on stage until her mother scooped her up and the pair headed out.
Be sure to check out PEOPLE’s full Oscars coverage to get the latest news on film’s biggest night.
With the mood jovial during the behind-closed-doors rehearsals, the celebrity pairings enjoyed the annual go-to challenge of finding where they’ll be seated when they return the following day.
“There I am! Up there!” joked Javier Bardem to his co-presenter, Black Panther’s Angela Bassett, as he gestured to the nosebleed section of the Dolby. Bassett, who rocked a blue Adidas track suit and ball cap (gloriously mismatched with sparkly stilettos to practice walking onstage and to get the microphone height right), laughed and then spotted her own seat decidedly closer to the stage.
Oscar winner Brie Larson, who will present with her Captain Marvel costar Samuel L. Jackson (who wore a “Sith Happens” tee and beanie), lit up when she noticed her seat placement — “I’m right in front of Serena!!” she announced excitedly — but then spotted her proximity to fellow presenter Chris Evans. “Oh, that’ll be a problem!” she joked.
By the end of the afternoon, lines were learned, blocking was mastered and many a prop Oscar statuette had been handed out to stand-in “winners”, who gave mock acceptance speeches to a near-empty auditorium.
Before leaving the stage, Awkwafina, in sweats and a ball cap, held up the makeshift trophies and exclaimed to John Mulaney, her amused co-presenter, “They’re real! Real Oscars!” The Crazy Rich Asians star then added, “Just kidding!”
The real ones, of course, were waiting in the wings for tomorrow night.
The 91st Academy Awards are broadcasting live from Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT on ABC.