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Hollywood Prepares for Academy Awards - 2004-02-24

The eyes of the world will be on Hollywood Sunday, when the Academy Awards, or Oscars, will be given out to leading stars and moviemakers. Oscar contenders are getting ready for the big evening.

It is a diverse field this year, with acting nominees ranging from Sean Penn in Mystic River to 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes, star of the small New Zealand film Whale Rider.

Whether veterans or newcomers, all admit to some nervousness as the winners are announced. They spoke at the recent luncheon in Hollywood.

Ben Kingsley is a contender for the Oscar for leading actor for his role as Iranian immigrant in House of Sand and Fog. A four-time nominee and one-time Oscar winner for his role in the film Gandhi, he says actors go through a ritual before they perform on stage, and he'll experience something similar Sunday evening.

"When you're an actor in the dressing room, they give you a half-hour call, a quarter-of-an-hour call, a five-minute call, a beginner's and then you find yourself standing on the wings, and then you make your entrance," he said. "And the metabolic rate changes completely between the half-hour call and the green light when you walk on the stage and say your first line."

He says his heart speeds up the same way when the Oscars are presented.

Naomi Watts, a nominee for leading actress for her role in 21 Grams, says she's happy to be an actress, and that a possible Oscar win seems like a dream.

"That would just seem too far-fetched," she said. "I grew up knowing that this is what I wanted to do, but I wasn't dreaming of being nominated for an Academy award."

Peter Weir is up for the Oscar for best director for the seagoing epic Master and Commander, and says the competitive juices will be flowing as the winners are named.

"There's some ancient, I mean, I'm talking really primitive, some millennia-ago, stone age thing comes out and you want to win," he said. "It's like an acid in your mouth, horrible. And it's a relief that someone's one. If it's not you, then at least it's someone, and that feeling disappears and you're back to being the filmmaker you should be."

The fantasy The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the most-nominated film this year, with 11 Oscar nods. The final entry in an epic trilogy could well bring the Oscar for best director to filmmaker Peter Jackson. After winning the top award from the Directors Guild of America, he is considered the leading Oscar contender, and says that makes him nervous.

"I think we are the favorite from the point of view of people who speculate on these things," he said. "I mean, I don't particularly feel like a favorite, and I think favorites, for that matter, always have a tendency not to actually win at the last minute, so I'm just going to wait and see."

The suspense will end Sunday, when the envelopes are opened and Oscar winners are announced at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.