Michelle Obama’s surprise appearance at Sunday’s Academy Awards to announce the Best Picture winner had everyone from Hollywood’s biggest stars in the audience to television viewers at home asking, “How did the first lady end up on the Oscars?”
Arranging for Mrs. Obama to appear live from the Diplomatic Room of the White House was almost as complicated an endeavor as the movie to which she bestowed the Best Picture honor, Argo, a film about a plan executed by the CIA to rescue six Americans trapped in Iran.
“The planning of it was like ‘Argo’ — it was a CIA mission, it was so complicated,” Oscar show producer Craig Zadan told The Hollywood Reporter.
Zadan was referring to a trip he and fellow producer Neil Meron took to the White House nearly two weeks ago aboard a private jet provided by Disney, ABC News’ parent company, to hammer out all the details with the first lady’s staff. The pair told colleagues they were traveling to New York, not D.C.
“We didn’t even want anyone to know where we were going,” Zadan said.
The idea to have Mrs. Obama co-present with Jack Nicholson came not from Meron or Zadan or even White House staff, but from the teenage mind of the daughter of uber-Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, whose company was behind three films with multiple nominations at this year’s awards.
Weinstein and his daughter, Lily, pitched the idea to Zadan and Meron who then pitched it to Mrs. Obama, who was quickly on board, the Hollywood Reporter reports.
“Yes, I think it’s a great idea,” she responded, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “We watch movies all the time at the White House. Let’s do it.”
Mrs. Obama dazzled in a sleeveless silver gown by designer Naeem Khan surrounded by military personnel when she opened the envelope, but it’s likely that not even Khan knew his dress would make an Oscar appearance.
The first lady’s Oscar drop-in was kept such a state secret that, in the weeks leading up to the awards, the Academy released a statement announcing that Dustin Hoffman would present the Best Picture award with Nicholson. Mrs. Obama’s appearance was also very intentionally kept out of the show’s rundown, according to Deadline.
On the big night the Academy did have a backup plan just in case things went awry. While Mrs. Obama was handed the envelope by the chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the company that tabulates the Oscar ballots, Jack Nicholson was holding a second envelope with the same results inside the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
“I knew we could do it and we did it,” Academy president Howard Koch told Deadline.