Oscars producer Steven Soderberg addresses that awkward, controversial ending

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Ending this year's Oscars on the award for best acting was a decision made prior to the academy announcing nominees, show producer Steven Soderberg said in a new interview.

When the April ceremony made a rare pivot to ending the annual award show with best actor, rather than best picture, as it had for all but one of the past 73 Oscars, viewers assumed it was a plot to wrap up on an emotional note: The late Chadwick Boseman was favored to win for "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," all but ensuring a memorable, tearful acceptance speech from his widow, Simone Ledward Boseman.

But then Anthony Hopkins' name was called. The 83-year-old U.K.-based "The Father" actor was not present and the showrunners ruled against members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences giving remote speeches (a decision Soderberg stands by, he said to the Los Angeles Times), which led to an awkward, abrupt ending some criticized as a “massively bad idea.”

"That was something we were going to do well before the nominations came out — we talked about that in January," Soderberg, who directed "Ocean's Eleven," told the L.A. Times in an interview published Tuesday.

More: Anthony Hopkins speaks out after Oscars viewers say Chadwick Boseman was 'robbed' of posthumous statue

Sir Anthony Hopkins in "The Father."
Sir Anthony Hopkins in "The Father."

"It’s our belief — that I think is not unfounded — that actors’ speeches tend to be more dramatic than producers’ speeches. And so we thought it might be fun to mix it up, especially if people didn’t know that was coming. So that was always part of the plan," Soderberg said. "And then when the nominations came out and there was even the possibility that Chadwick could win posthumously, our feeling was if he were to win and his widow were to speak on his behalf, there would be nowhere to go after that. So we stuck with it."

Soderberg added that his team didn't assume Boseman would win, but "if there was even a possibility that it would happen, then you have to account for that."

"I said if there was even the sliver of a chance that he would win and that his widow would speak, then we were operating under the fact that was the end of the show," he said. "That would have been such a shattering moment, that to come back after that would have been just impossible."

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"Black Panther" and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" star Chadwick Boseman died in August 2020.
"Black Panther" and "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" star Chadwick Boseman died in August 2020.

Some critics, including USA TODAY's TV critic Kelly Lawler, took issue with other aspects of the "excruciatingly long, boring" production, held this year at Los Angeles' Union Station instead of the usual Dolby Theater.

"I wasn’t aware of that, ‘cause I don’t read reviews," Soderberg said of the criticisms. "So if you’re telling me that’s the case, not a lot I can do about that. You have to understand this show was very much viewed by us and by the academy as an opportunity to try some really different stuff. And the understanding was always, there are going to be some things that work and some things that don’t, things that people like, things that people don’t. That’s the point."

More: How the first (and hopefully last) pandemic Oscars went so terribly wrong

Ratings this year hit another all-time low, plunging to 10.4 million viewers, according to final Nielsen estimates. That's down 56% from last year's pre-pandemic 23.6 million viewers, then a record-low that was down by 6 million from 2019. Ever since COVID-19 disrupted awards shows (along with life in general), other recent awards ceremonies have also hit record lows.

The producer said his ultimate goal was "to really do something different" this year and applauded the support of the academy and network.

"I like the stories. I like knowing more about the nominees," he said. "I think that grounds the industry in some sort of reality and makes it clear to people that the majority of the workers don’t come from L.A. and New York, don’t have connections to the entertainment industry and that there is not a firewall between the cast and the crew, that everybody is very much working together. And that the experience of making a film is not siloed the way I think some people believe."

Contributing: Gary Levin

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Oscars ending: Steven Soderberg on Chadwick Boseman, Anthony Hopkins