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Non-Americans Celebrate First-Time Oscar Nominations - 2004-02-10

The Academy Awards, or Oscars, will be presented later this month, and nominees were honored Monday at a luncheon in Los Angeles. Many first-time nominees bring an international accent to this year's ceremony.

There were surprises last month when Oscar nominees were announced, and some of the nominees were just as surprised as everyone else was.

Keisha Castle-Hughes, 13, is the youngest nominee ever for the Oscar for best actress for her starring role in the small New Zealand film Whale Rider. The teenager says she's excited and nervous about the attention, and was thrilled at the Oscar luncheon to meet a favorite actress.

"I just met Charlize Theron and was I like, O my God, O my God," she exclaimed.

Nominee Charlize Theron, who played a serial killer in Monster, was born in South Africa. Although she is more of film veteran than her New Zealand admirer, Ms. Theron is also a first-time nominee. And she's says she's excited to be here.

"I've never gone through this experience, and the great thing is that I've never relied on these things to happen in order for me to be happy about my career, but now that they are happening, it's really nice," she said.

Iranian-born actress Shohreh Aghdashloo is a nominee for her supporting role in House of Sand and Fog, a film about an Iranian immigrant family. She says she is humbled to get a nomination.

"It's just a dream coming true," she said. "For an actress who's come all the way from Persia, almost 6,000 miles, it's a miracle. And I'm very happy."

Other international nominees include Ken Watanabe of Japan, who will compete for the award of best supporting actor for the The Last Samurai, and Benin-born Djimon Hounsou, a supporting actor nominee for In America.

Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles, a best-director nominee for his film City of God, says his tale of life in the slums of Rio de Janeiro has already earned 49 international awards. It will also compete for Oscars for its cinematography, film editing, and adapted screenplay.

"I really don't know what's happening here because, I mean, a film in Portuguese, four nominations, what is that about? Something is really changing, I think," he said.

Director Peter Jackson is favored to win the Oscar for best director for the final entry in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King. A second-time Oscar nominee, the New Zealand native won this year's award from the Directors Guild of America, and says he is thrilled at the prospect of winning an Oscar.

"You grow up as a kid in New Zealand, watching TV, the Oscars every single year

After the Oscars are awarded, Hollywood will return to the day-to-day business of making movies. Until then, nominees will engage in a round of media appearances and parties. Director Jackson was asked about his plans after the Oscars are presented, with his epic three-part series finally finished.

"Three sleeps in a row," he said.

The Oscars will be awarded February 29 in Los Angeles.