HOLLYWOOD – Amy Poehler has one golden rule for the Oscars.
“If any of us fall, the other ones have to go down, too,” she cracked at rehearsals Saturday, practicing her presenting moment alongside pals Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph. All three women had not falling on their mind: Each paired jeans with what appeared to be the heels they’ll be wearing at the 91st annual Academy Awards (ABC, Sunday, 8 ET/PT) and practiced walking across the Dolby Theatre stage.
Before a room of seat placards, producers and Academy staffers, Fey read off her first line. “Good evening, and welcome to the one millionth Academy Awards!” Fey said at the microphone to laughter, segueing straight into a joke about how there’s no host this year. (Oh, and she delivers a USA TODAY joke you don’t want to miss.)
Then Rudolph opened her white rehearsal envelope: “And the Oscar goes to … Amy Poehler!” she proclaimed, in faux shock.
Roughly every 15 minutes, another celebrity pairing took the stage, which was outlined in gold and bathed in Swarovski crystals, to practice their lines and hand out fake Oscars to stand-ins.
Sure, this is routine for some. But no one was too cool when an adorable baby popped in (especially a famous baby). The Dolby just about melted from cuteness when Serena Williams strode onstage holding the hand of her toddling 17-month-old daughter, Alexis Olympia.
Attention, Academy: Little Alexis, dressed in a pink jumper with sparkles running up the sides, had zero stage fright. The tot confidently grasped the tall mic in front of her mother as Williams laughed before scooping her up and placing the child on her hip.
Sans baby, Williams practiced her lines twice, with Alexis watching steps away. Before they went on with their merry Saturday, Williams’ daughter took center stage, looking out at the audience – and started to clap. The whole room full of battle-weary production folks couldn’t help but laugh and follow.
That’s the thing about Oscars rehearsals. They’re low-key, but impossibly A-list. Stars arrive in various forms of athleisure and baseball caps (like Angela Bassett, who paired her Adidas track suit with killer stiletto mules). Kacey Musgraves appeared in black sweats, trying out her impossibly high white satin heels. A jeans-clad Daniel Craig had that new dad glow of pure exhaustion. Charlize Theron was fresh-faced, taking the stage in jeans and a fedora.
At one point, Keegan-Michael Key hung suspended from the ceiling, a large black umbrella in hand.
Newcomers Awkwafina and John Mulaney worked their first-time Oscars jitters into their bit. Between line readings, the “Crazy Rich Asians” star wanted to cement how they’d greet each other as they walked on stage from separate wings.
“What do you want to do? Do you want to hug?” Awkwafina asked.
“Hugging is fine,” Mulaney affirmed.
The awe of the experience wasn’t lost on Brie Larson, who will present with her “Captain Marvel” co-star Samuel L. Jackson. The makeup-free star, who took the stage in black corduroys, a bomber jacket and studded boots, immediately looked for her seat placard, beaming when she spotted it in the audience. “I’m right in front of Serena! Daaang,” she exclaimed to Jackson.
Frankly, no star could resist checking out the seating map before them. Bassett spotted her seat placard way before Javier Bardem, her co-presenter. “There I am! Up here!” a clean-shaven Bardem joked, pointing up to the cheap seats in balcony.
What else did we learn?
Mike Myers and Dana Carvey are serving up a solid Beavis and Butt-Head moment during the show. (“Just surprise me tomorrow,” Carvey said when Myers riffed on the end of their bit.) Trevor Noah (whose Saturday look was a pastel pink hoodie and gray sweats) has a killer “Black Panther” joke prepped.
And some stars are always game for a bit of fun. James McAvoy hammed it up, breaking into dance onstage and using a water bottle as a stand-in for a golden Oscar, while Williams, finished with her line readings, dramatically pirouetted off the stage.
Next stop: The Academy Awards!