The secret OSCAR DIARY of a very unlikely superstar
Once she was a waitress at the Oscars. Tomorrow her film All Quiet On The Western Front is up for NINE awards. As British champion triathlete Lesley Paterson hangs out in Hollywood with Tom Cruise...
TEN years ago, Stirling- born Lesley Paterson was a titlewinning athlete with a ‘wild dream’ of scoring a very different sort of trophy — an Oscar.
The five-times triathlon world champion, 42, had moved to LA with two suitcases and, to earn money, took a job as a waitress at the Academy Awards. Tomorrow night she will be on the red carpet herself, as All Quiet On The Western Front — the film she fought for 16 years to get made after falling in love with the book while at high school — has been nominated for an astonishing nine Oscars. Made as a German-language film, it is the toast of Hollywood. As is the woman herself.
With no financial backers and no real connections in the industry, she had to fund it herself with her modest sporting winnings. At one point she completed a triathlon in Costa Rica with a broken shoulder, so desperate was she for the prize money that would keep the project afloat.
Since her amazing story emerged she has been approached by film-makers wanting to make a movie about her own life. Here, on the eve of the awards ceremony, Lesley shares her diary of the epic preparations with JENNY JOHNSTON.
ARE all Oscar nominees on their stationary bike trainers at 2am on the day the nominations are released? Probably not, but it’s the morning of January 24 and I am too excited to sleep. The buzz has been building about our ‘little’ film, and our fingers are crossed for an Oscar nod.
I toss and turn in bed for a while, but realise that what I’m feeling is akin to being on a world championship starting line with nowhere to go. So the bike it is. I need to burn off nervous energy.
Just before the nominations are due, at 5.30am, my writing partner, Ian Stokell, comes over. He watches the nominations on TV, because I’m too wound up. ‘Let me just pace up and down outside for a while,’ I say.
He runs downstairs and almost bowls me over with the news that we are up for best adapted screenplay. Luckily All Quiet is always announced first in these things, because they are read out alphabetically.
Ian, my husband Simon and I start screaming and shouting, probably waking up the neighbours. We run back upstairs to watch the rest of the nominations. There is more screaming. I simply cannot believe this is happening.
All Quiet is up for NINE Oscars, including best picture. Bananas!
When I moved to LA this is what I dreamed of. When I waitressed at the Oscars, I stood there thinking ‘One day . . .’. I told myself I could will it into existence. Yet I still never quite imagined it would happen.
The rest of the day passes in a complete haze of press interviews, emails, calls from industry people, from family. My mum and dad are leaping about back in Scotland. Things like this do not happen to little girls from Stirling, no matter how determined they are to play rugby with the boys.
We go out in the evening to celebrate with the head of European Netflix, who gave our movie the green light. Huge bottles of champagne are consumed. I cannot sleep when night comes. I wonder if I will ever sleep again.
A-LISTERS WHO LUNCH
AND so it begins. The thing you have to understand about the Academy Awards is that they aren’t just one event. The build-up runs over weeks and includes various functions.
An early one in February is the Nominees Luncheon, to which everyone who has been nominated is invited. The horror, though!
I wake up with an allergic eye issue. My eyes are so puffy I look as if I have cried for a week. I slap on every facemask I can get my hands on. Help comes in the form of a hairdresser and make-up artist — I will get used to these, because it turns out that once you are an Oscar nominee there will always be people in the background, brandishing mascara brushes.
I’m feeling nervous and giddy when we arrive. Every star you can think of is here. Is that . . .? OMG! It’s Tom Cruise! I go up to him and introduce myself. He does not comment on my puffy eyes. He says he knows who I am. TOM CRUISE KNOWS WHO I AM!
He says, ‘I know your story! How many hours a day do you still train?’ He is fascinated by my triathlon training schedule and tells me he trains for three hours a day, even when he has a film in production. We bond over this — for a few minutes, until he is whisked away to talk to someone else. But can I just repeat this — Tom Cruise knows who I am!
Getting called up for the famous nominees’ photos is extraordinary — another proper ‘ pinch me’ moment. I find myself chatting to Austin Butler, then to Colin Farrell, who says he went to see All Quiet and cried in the cinema — the first time he has ever done that. My husband spoils the moment by calling out his bouffant hair.
Outside, there are autograph hunters. Whose autographs do they want? Someone asks me for mine. Are they for real?
AWARDS ceremonies are like buses — you wait and wait, and they all come at once. The Baftas are held just before the Oscars, and All Quiet is in the running, so we are flown to London — business class, if you please.
When we were desperately trying to raise money to fund this film we once had to fly to New York and I remember booking night flights because we couldn’t afford daytime ones.
We are put up at the Corinthia Hotel, which is where all the celebs stay. A fancy car picks us up and there are paparazzi at the doors. Surreal. My family arrive en masse. I’ve got them tickets so we meet my mum, dad, step-mum and father-in-law.
My mum has her make-up done with me. We both try to pretend we are used to this. My dad looks a bit bewildered, but I calm him down by saying ‘Champagne, dad?.
Arriving on the red carpet is wild. Everyone is screaming and shouting my name. I stand like a lemon, trying to find a pose that doesn’t look silly. How do the celebs do this? As the cameras pop, I feel as if I am living in a movie myself.
Things seem to go in slow motion as the ceremony begins. Our names are called out and I scream and jump up and down and rush to the stage.
Should I have practised in my heels more? The most awful thing happens. I slip. I can feel myself falling. I bet this never happens to Cate Blanchett. Luckily, I feel arms around me and I gather myself together to get to the stage. Afterwards I discover that the man who caught me was the actor — and heart-throb — Jamie dornan. I literally fell into his arms.
I feel dazzled as I look out through the lights. Suddenly I am hugging Viola davis, who presents us with our award. I am walking backstage with her as she talks about how much she loved our movie. I go back to my seat in a daze.
The rest of the night continues like that — up, down, up, down. All Quiet sweeps the board so we are leaping up and down like Jackin-the-boxes, cheering, punching
the air. I realise how much I need to wee — you sit in your chairs for hours on end at these things. Also, how hungry I am.
As an athlete I’m used to keeping my blood sugar steady and I routinely carry around energy bars. There are surprisingly few places to keep energy bars in red-carpet frocks, but that is where husbands (with pockets) come in handy.
After the awards, we line up to meet Prince William. This is another ‘ pinch me’ moment. He tells me about the emotional impact the film had on him, how real it felt, and how emotionally drained he was after watching it. This is epic, and so cool.
I should savour the seriousness of the moment, but I realise when he goes to shake my hand that I’ve been nibbling on an energy bar and probably still have half of it over my mouth.
Then it’s dinner and party time. I chat to Eddie Redmayne, probably too excitedly. There is dancing. There is chocolate at 4am, which isn’t remotely normal for me. But, then, nothing is normal any more.
On the flight back to LA — business class again, darling — the British Airways staff take pictures of my Bafta. MY BAFTA.
I am brought back down to earth with another eye flare-up. I lie down in the back of the car with an eye mask on. I do hope I am not allergic to red carpets.
DRESS HUNT BEGINS
ALMOST as soon as the nominations were announced, people started asking ‘What will you wear?’ or, more accurately ‘Who will you wear?’.
My normal attire is sportswear but I resist the urge to say Nike, although there is a small part of me that is tempted to rock up on the red carpet in my cycling shorts.
What I soon discover, though, is that designers approach YOU, asking to dress you for the Oscars.
I’m sure it’s not the case if you are an ugly 60-year-old man, but if you are a sporty blonde chick — which I am — I guess you are lucky.
In an interview with Woman’s Hour, I say I haven’t got a designer lined up and a call comes in from an amazing design team called Kolchagov Barba, who have dressed Kylie Minogue, Sophie Ellis- Bextor and Billie Piper.
We have a meeting. They have only a few weeks to source material so everything has to happen fast.
They ask for my ideas. What image do I want to present? Argh! But actually it’s easy. I want my dress to project my personality, which is driven, bold. It has to say ‘This is a woman with fire in her belly’. They ask about my favourite colours. I feel a bit foolish making some truly terrible sketches on a piece of paper. It’s ridiculous, but they take my ideas and run with them. To see a few scribbles being worked into an actual design, then a mock-up, is amazing.
When it comes to the final fitting, I feel like a proper star. I’m in the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills wearing MY Oscar gown. That makes me practically Julia Roberts.
What about the shoes, though? Is there enough time to practise walking in them?
I contemplate ringing up Jamie Dornan and asking if he can walk beside me, always.
YOU know the other utterly bananas thing about getting red- carpet ready? The being tarted up. I like to think I scrub up well but in a normal day I don’t think about how I look. I’m on bikes or in wetsuits.
With all these luncheons and events there is a pressure to look glossy and gorgeous all the time. I start off loving it, squealing when a professional make-up artist lays their wares out over a whole table. But, my goodness, it takes time.
I can’t believe it when one make- up artist says it will take two hours to put on my face. Now I can do two hours on the exercise bike no problem, but two hours in make- up is a whole other ball game.
I’m afraid as the weeks — and the functions — go on, I get quite irritated by it. Things I have discovered about myself this week: I have no patience. Do I HAVE to have my nails done too? Still, it’s amazing what you get used to.
As a treat, my mate buys me a super- fancy, super- expensive facial from Angela Caglia, the most renowned facialist in Hollywood. I am afraid to ask the cost but I think it might be the most expensive facial in the whole world. Worth it, though.
I lie there as she caresses and strokes and puts pure gold across my puffy eyes. I am not making this up. She says she does it for luck (as well as to reduce swelling). Apparently, every Oscar nominee she has done this for wins.
HOW many parties can you go to? I do endurance for a living, but I’m exhausted. I’ve been to a function at the British Consulate, to a Women In Film party. I’ve made a speech with Steven Spielberg sitting in the front row of the audience. Steven Frigging Spielberg!
At the Critics Choice Awards, I get a hug from Kate Hudson. She knows who I am! She, too, wants to talk about triathlons. She wants to do one.
My worlds — sport and screenwriting — are colliding. I am winning here — and I’m not afraid to say it, I love winning.
Although, if being an athlete has taught me anything, it’s that mastering the craft is more important than trophies.
You meet the same people on the awards circuit. At the Writers’ Nominees Dinner I am at a table with Sarah Polley ( Women Talking), Rian Johnson (Glass Onion) and the two Daniels (Kwan and Scheinert) behind Everything Everywhere All At Once.
We have a blast sharing stories about our various films. At the end of the night we take a picture pretending to kill each other, then we decide that each of us should write the other’s Oscar winning speech.
Still on my to-do list is to get to the luxe gift lounge where Oscar nominees get to pick out expensive gifts — everything from beauty products to home wares — for FREE. Yes, it’s the irony of the film industry. You spend years barely able to afford your rent, then when success finally arrives, so do the freebies.
My husband says we need a new toaster, so fingers crossed.
The problem is, I still have a day job. I train other athletes but it’s a bit nuts to be fielding calls from them AND my dress designers. I deal with the stress by getting up at 4am and heading straight for the stationary bike.
Meanwhile, an astonishing thing has happened. The calls I make — to people in the industry — get answered. My partners and I spent 16 years trying and failing to get people to answer our calls. Now, everyone wants to hear from us.
THE HOME STRAIGHT
THE finish line is in sight. How do I feel? As I prepare to step onto the red carpet, it’s hard to put into words, but I feel excited, emotional, elated. Mostly, I feel proud — of myself, my team, of the film we all worked so hard to get made.
The irony is that there are even people here who want to make a movie of OUR story, which seems mad. Who will play me?
Dare I ask Kate Hudson?