Dave Karger - books

Interview with Hollywood Insider Dave Karger – Author, TV Host, Entertainment Reporter & Oscar Expert!

It’s showtime!  The 96th Oscars air Sunday March 10th and there’s lots of chatter about who will win, and what people will wear on the red carpet. FabLister Audrey H. kindly introduced me (Chrissie) to Dave Karger, the author of the new book 50 Oscar Nights. Iconic Stars & Filmmakers on Their Career-Defining Wins in which he interviews Oscar winners about their winning experiences including the expectations, their day-of prep, their winning moment, their speech, their celebration and even where they keep their Oscar statues.  It’s a great read!  And, Dave was kind enough to grant me an interview right before the big night!! 

Dave knows his movies and his Hollywood stars. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of movies. He is the host of Turner Classic Movies but his work doesn’t stop there. He’s co-hosted live from the red carpet, has been on The Today Show over 170 times as an entertainment contributor and Oscar expert, appears regularly on E! and Access Hollywood, has been honored as an outstanding entertainment journalist, and worked at Entertainment Weekly for over 17 years.  And, he couldn’t have been nicer to interview!

I asked Dave burning questions like “What 5 stars would you want for dinner party guests?” and “What are your favorite 5 Oscar acceptance speeches?”  Read on for those answers and more in my interview with Dave Karger.


What was the first movie you remember seeing: 

The first movie I remember ever seeing I think was Benji. For some reason I have a little bit of memory of being in a movie theater with my brother and my parents watching Benji! Then the other early memory I have was the movie The Champ with Ricky Schroeder and John Voight. My family was on a cruise ship on a vacation and they were showing The Champ.  I remember sitting in there and just being so fascinated by this child actor Ricky Schroeder and how he was crying so convincingly.


Is there a particular genre of movie that you prefer over another?

I like a tearjerker.  I like a drama, a love story, a movie about societal pressures keeping people apart.  A lot of the classic movies that I introduce on TCM are movies like that  – The Razor’s Edge, Place in the Sun, The Heiress – these are the kind of star-crossed love stories that I really love the most.


If you were going to win an Oscar yourself, what category would you be nominated for?

I think if I were to ever win an Oscar it would be in this brand new category that they’ve just created which is ‘Best Casting’. I think I probably would be okay at that! If someone wanted me to read a script and think of which actors and actresses could go in each role? I think that that would be the job for me in the movie industry.


Why did you write this book?

There’ve been a lot of books about the Oscars, but I really wanted to do one that felt more personal and more intimate. So my goal with these 50 interviews was to create a format in a space where these very accomplished and well-known people could share personal stories that maybe they hadn’t shared in such detail before. I’m so happy with how the book came out and that people seem to be responding to some of the emotional content of a lot of these people’s stories.


How did you choose the 50 people you interviewed about their Oscar experiences? I understand you already knew 35 of them personally?

I’m very grateful to my publisher and my editor Cindy Sipala. When I sent her my wish list of people that I was going to reach out to for the book she actually came back to me and said ‘this is a great list but I would encourage you to include a handful of people that aren’t as well known’ – who are what we call below the line – such as cinematographers and costumers. I’m so glad I listened to her because some of those stories are some of my favorites in the book, like Kevin O’Connell, the sound designer who finally won an Oscar after being nominated 20 times.

But I got to choose who is in the book and that was the fun of it. A lot of the people, even the people I had never interviewed before, who I knew just from my studying of the Oscars over the years in my career, I knew had interesting stories to tell. Like Rita Moreno or Mel Brooks or John Legend. It was completely up to me to choose the 50, to reach out to them, and to wrangle the interviews.


Are you going to the Oscars this year?

No, I’ll be here watching on the sofa which is actually my favorite way to do the Oscars – to just be at home watching it.


Have you heard from any of the interviewees since the book came out?

Steven Spielberg loves the book. Elton has been reading the whole book and he lets me know when he finishes a chapter that he likes.  Marley Matlin and Octavia Spencer sent me flowers to thank me for putting them in the book. I actually found out that there’s a picture of Alison Janey in the book with her best friend Steven Rogers, who wrote I Tonya for her, that she had never even seen until she saw it in the book. So yeah, there’s been a lot of wonderful feedback so far which has been very exciting.


Have any of the interviewees who weren’t your friends before now become friends?

That’s a great question!  I had never met Rita Moreno before but now she and I text occasionally so that’s cool!


If you could add one more person who wasn’t in the book who would it be? 

I would have loved to have talked to Eva Marie Saint because I love her. I’ve interviewed her before, she’s 100 years old, she won an Oscar for her very first movie On the Waterfront, and she’s just a lovely person. But she wasn’t available at the time I needed her and that was a disappointment. But if I did Volume Two, she would be the first person I would ask.


Who was the best interview, or someone who was just so fun to talk with? 

I think Sally Field was a highlight just because her interview had so many facets to it. I mean there’s the part that you’re responding to about her relationship with Burt Reynolds (ed note: He was not supportive of her win). There’s the great story she told at the end where she encountered Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn at the after-party and she became like a little girl again around them. So her interview to me was a true highlight just because she was so sweet and so interesting. And she really seemed to enjoy walking down memory lane.


Was there anyone who came across differently than you anticipated they would?

Everybody was lovely. There was no one who was hard or difficult to interview. Some of the older winners required a little bit more memory jogging on my part, but that’s to be expected. I mean, there’re six people in this book that are above the age of 90! So for the older winners, I needed to be even more prepared and kind of prompt them to remember some things.  But Mel Brooks, Rita Morano, and Estelle Parsons – these people, they were there! Those are my three winners from the 1960s and their recall was astonishing.


You ask all the winners about where they keep their statues. A lot seem to reside on pianos! Some people have them out front and center and then there are those who hide them away. Do you think where they keep their Oscars tells you anything about the winners?

I was really surprised by how many people were uncomfortable displaying their Oscar outwardly. I was surprised at how many people were shy about it or had it packed away in a box, because that’s not how I would do it! But I tried to understand, and of course it wasn’t my job to judge.

But when I’m thinking about it, there’s a lot of different emotions that these people have with regards to this achievement. There’s some guilt. There’s some insecurity. You know, Dustin Hoffman said he only ever took it out after years of therapy. Rita Marino only took it out of a cardboard box when her new husband said “Why are you hiding this? You didn’t buy this, you earned it and you should have it displayed.” One thing I had never thought of that was brought up by Mira Sorvino, as well as by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, was regarding Oscar winners who have kids. They didn’t want to have their statue out as something that would intimidate their children, and that’s something that never occurred to me. That’s pressure….look what mom and dad did!


Did anyone admit to you about receiving the Oscar, ‘Yeah, I thought I was gonna win’? 

I think it’s easy to psych yourself out in a situation like that. I mean certainly J.K. Simmons basically admitted he knew, and Estelle Parsons basically said she gave the best performance that year so why shouldn’t she have one?! Jane Fonda basically said that she knew she was the front-runner.

So there were some people, but even some of the people who now in retrospect seemed like they were the ultimate locks  – Julia Roberts for Erin Brokovich or Steven Spielberg for Schindler’s List  – even they were psyching themselves out like “I’m going to be the surprise loser”.  You may remember the year that everyone thought Lauren Bacall was going to win but Juliette Binoche beat her  –  so there can be true surprises. They are few and far between these days, but there can be true surprises at the Oscars.


After reading your book it seems there are different reasons why the Oscars mean so much to winners?

So that was really interesting as well.  Why it means so much to people  – was it the recognition and the ego or is this a career enhancer. People’s perspective on the win really ran the gamut, from those for whom it launched their career to those for whom it felt like the cap at the end of their career.

But I think the one thing that they all have in common, which I really was happy to hear about, was the respect they all have for the institution of the Academy Awards.  Even people like Marlee Matlin or Jennifer Hudson, who freely admitted they really didn’t know anything about the Oscars until they were nominated themselves, the fact that they are now Academy Award winners is very meaningful to them. And I get the sense that it’s something they’re constantly and consistently trying to live up to.


So of all the people you interviewed, who are the 5 Oscar winners you’d want to sit next to at a dinner party? 

  1. Well Meryl Streep is number one. Every word out of her mouth is so entertaining. Even though she’s so accomplished, she’s actually very self-deprecating. So she’s fun.
  2. Julia Roberts would be another one. The great thing about Julia is that unlike a lot of megastars she’s really interested in the person that she’s sitting with. So if you sit with Julia Roberts at a lunch, you’ll ask her some questions, but she’ll be asking you just as many questions about yourself and that’s probably rare.
  3. Elton John would be a great person to sit next to just because he’s very naughty. And he has a wicked sense of humor and he has such great stories because he’s been around for over 50 years.
  4. I would also add to that Olivia Colman, because you know the Brits are always the most fun. They have the best use of language and she’s an absolute delight to talk to.
  5. Do you know who’s super nice and entertaining to talk to is Michael Douglas, because he’s had such a varied career from TV to film to behind the camera to in front of the camera. And he’s just a true gentleman and would be great at a dinner party.

Let’s put that dinner party together – that’d be fun! (ed note: Count me in!)


Do you have a favorite Oscar show?  

Actually I’m a huge fan of Jimmy Kimmel as an Oscar host. I’m really glad that he’s back doing it again and he’s now one of the four people that’s hosted the Oscars the most. I think Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, and Billy Crystal are the only three that have hosted more often than he has. So honestly, any show that he does I’m always very excited about, especially in a year like this year where it seems like we know who’s going to win a lot of the big awards. I’m really looking to Jimmy Kimmel to provide a lot of the most interesting and fun moments of the show.


Would you change up the show at all if you were the producer?

I would get rid of the short film because it’s just not of interest to people. It would save time.


I hear you’re not a fan of the “Oh, I didn’t know I was going to win so I didn’t prepare anything” acceptance speech?  

That drives me crazy. If you’re nominated you have a chance of winning. You are one of 5 nominated. Don’t ever say ‘I had no idea this would happen so I didn’t prepare!’ You have to think about it.


Your Picks for Winners in the Top Categories this year?

  • Best Picture: Oppenheimer
  • Best Director: Oppenheimer
  • Best Actress: Lily Gladstone, Killers of the Flower Moon
  • Best Actor: Cillian Murphy, Oppenheimer
  • Best Supporting Actress: Da’Vine Joy Randolph, The Holdovers
  • Best Supporting Actor: Robert Downey Jr., Oppenheimer
  • Original Screenplay: Anatomy of a Fall
  • Adapted Screenplay: Barbie

You’re an expert Interviewer. Any tips for talking to people, whether it’s an interview or at a cocktail party?

Whenever I’m doing an interview, I obviously like to be very prepared and I do have a list of questions that I want to ask people. But it’s also very important to keep your ears open. Often I’ve been interviewed by people and they ask a question and as I’m answering the question I can tell they’re already looking down at the next question and they’re not even really listening to what I’m saying.

So the key to a great interview is having your questions, but also listening very actively so that you can follow up on things or ask for a clarification or something a little more specific, and then it might take you down a road that’s even more interesting.

And also, I just think kindness goes a long way and gentleness I think goes a long way. And that’s certainly what I have tried to do throughout my career and particularly with this book was to create a space that felt very encouraging and open for these people to share these stories. 


Finally, we’d love for you to share a couple more Fab5 Lists. 

5 Favorite Oscar Speeches

  1. Halle Berry for Monsters Ball. She was the first Black actress ever to win best actress and her speech was off the top of her head. And it was so beautiful and she spoke to the moment and how it wasn’t just about her, but it was about all of the black actresses that came before her and after. I love her speech. It’s my favorite.
  2. John Legend and Common when they won for best song for the movie Selma. John Legend told me in the book that he spent hours memorizing the speech and it shows.  They were able to tie the content of the lyrics of the song to Martin Luther King as well as today’s civil rights movement. It was just the perfect speech.
  3. Mira Sorvino when she won for Mighty Aphrodite and the reason I love her speech is she was so composed. She looked beautiful. And she gave a gorgeous tribute to her dad. She said when you acknowledge me you acknowledge my father who taught me everything I know about acting. And they showed him in the audience and he just lost it and it’s such a beautiful moment to see his pride
  4. J.K. Simmons when he won for Whiplash. He knew he was going to win and he just decided to kind of wing it and say what was on his heart. His parents had recently died so he said to everyone in the audience, and all the billion people watching, if you have your mom and dad around call them. Don’t text them, don’t email them. Pick up the phone and call them and talk to them for as long as they want to talk. And he told me that he found out after the fact that many people who were estranged from their family members ended up picking up the phone. So the power of the Oscars is on full display in that speech.
  5. Olivia Colman, I loved her speech when she won best actress for The Favorite. She was flabbergasted that she won, and everyone thought Glenn Close was going to win,  and she got up there and gave this absolutely rollicking, funny, emotional, moving, kooky speech and it’s one for the ages.

Those five I will watch over and over again!


And now for something more personal:

5 Places You’d like to Travel:

  1. I want to go to Australia. I’ve never been to Australia, especially Sydney.
  2. I really want to go to the Greek islands. I would love to island hop in Greece.
  3. I would like to go to Croatia. Just from photographs I’ve seen it just looks so beautiful.
  4. Oh, I would like to go to Sardinia.  I like that whole region and I would love to go there.
  5. I have never been to the Grand Canyon, but I’m going in May!

I’d like to give HUGE thanks to Dave for speaking with FabList!

Please check out Dave’s book 50 Oscar Nights and enjoy his amazing interviews that tell us so much about these stars and the nights that changed their lives.

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Chrissie and Joanne love discovering, curating and creating. They developed FabList as a place to share their favorite finds with you.

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