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Julia and Nicole: Oscar Backstage

Julia Roberts And Nicole KidmanLord of the RingsBilly Crystal

Julia and Nicole: Oscar Backstage

I got to spend most of last night's long Oscar ceremony with Julia Roberts. Not bad, huh? Sometimes the job has its perks.

"Is this a conversation? Or are you interviewing me?" Roberts said with a smile when I ran into her at the bar right after Billy Crystal's fantastic opening film, monologue, and song medley. "Let's get snockered," Roberts said, laughing. Well, she wanted to, and who didn't? But she didn't — She stuck to Evian.

Roberts, who'd brought along two girlfriends and her publicist, was nervous about presenting the Katharine Hepburn tribute, and was happier to stick around the small George Eastman pub in the lobby right off the stage. So that's where we chatted, endlessly it seemed, on and off during the show.

It wasn't like Roberts didn't have other admirers. I had to fight off entertainment TV guy Billy Bush, who got to meet Roberts for the first time, and best supporting actor nominee Djimon Hounsou, who — after losing at the top of the show to Tim Robbins — spent a chunk of time keeping his nervous "In America" director, Jim Sheridan, occupied.

"I love him," Roberts said, and immediately struck up a conversation with Hounsou. Then she spotted Sheridan, and I was knocked to the side. In fact, the pair were literally forehead to forehead for about 10 minutes, locked in a secret session. They were either doing a "Star Trek" like mind meld or they were discussing Roberts' old beau and Sheridan's good friend, Daniel Day-Lewis. I didn't ask.

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Roberts, by the way, has never looked better. Her hair is a soft blonde-and-brunette, her eyes are twinkling, she appears rested and is full of good humor.

"You're happy, aren't you?" I said.

"I've always been happy," she said, with a big toothy smile. "But I'm really happy right now."

In a couple of weeks she will go to England to shoot "Closer" with director Mike Nichols and co-stars Jude Law, Clive Owen and Natalie Portman. Later, at the Governor's Ball, Julia and Jude sat together and talked about the upcoming film.

In the bar, Roberts signed autographs for anyone who came by, but after a while she joked, "You know, I'm charging a buck for each of these." Someone asked her about her dress, and she said, "It's Armani. I just called them up and said I need a dress. It was that simple. No fighting among designers."

And who was the most interesting person she'd met that night? "Julianne Moore," she said. "I just met her. She's so beautiful. I mean, you could just eat her with a spoon," Roberts, said, and snapped her big white shining teeth with a comic growl.

Roberts, by the way, got up at 7 a.m. Monday to tape Oprah Winfrey's Oscar show from the red carpet. "I'm just going to stay up all night!" Roberts joked.

Meantime, Nicole Kidman appeared with a girlfriend she'd brought along. Because she was standing at the bar after she got her drink, a long line formed and didn't move right behind Kidman. It wasn't clear whether these people wanted drinks or autographs until Kidman offered to move.

"Are you waiting to get a drink?" she said to the star-struck person behind her.

"No!" said the woman, who then produced a pen and a piece of paper.

Kidman was philosophical about not being nominated for "Cold Mountain." She was almost more disappointed about "The Human Stain."

"They didn't like me in it," she said of the movie reviewing community. "But you know, I was completely in it. I really felt the part." She's shooting "The Interpreter" now, has "Dogville" coming out, "Birth" in the can, "The Stepford Wives" completed, and the Nora Ephron-directed "Bewitched" — a big-screen version of the TV show — on deck.

"I have to do that," she said. "I need something light."

Some observations on what's to come: "The Stepford Wives," she said, took so long because of its special effects. "Dogville": "In Europe everyone likes it. Here, no one likes it." "Birth": "That's a weird little movie," she said, pronouncing the word weh-ahd in a very Aussie way. "You'll like it," she said.

And that was when we finally moved away from the actual bar, and a huge group of people just enveloped her with the same questions: Are you happy for Renee? What advice did you give Naomi Watts?

"Just enjoy it," she said, as a blanket answer, and off she went, never to be seen again.

Hobbits Run 'Rings' Around Oscar

"We were sitting there saying, 'OK, here's another one, and another one. It was surreal.'"

That's what Liv Tyler told me at the Governor's Ball after "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" swept the Oscars and won all 11 awards for which it was nominated.

Tyler and husband Royston Langdon were just two of the dozens of "Rings" cast and crew that seemed to take over table after table at the glamorous and elegant Governor's Ball which follows the Oscar ceremony at the Kodak Theatre.

Around their encampment, director Peter Jackson hugged and kissed executive producer Mark Ordesky several times. Famed singer Annie Lennox — whose performance won best original song for the film — greeted fans and signed autographs. And Elijah Wood, Sean Astin and John Rhys-Davies were busy celebrating. But there was no sign of star Viggo Mortensen, who skipped every single Oscar event — not to mention all other promotional activities — for "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."

"That's just the way he is," shrugged a disappointed publicist.

The white draped room at the top of several huge escalators above the theater was filled with stars every way you looked. Many of them had nice gold statues in their hands. One who didn't, and didn't care, was nominee Jude Law, who joked, "Does Governor's Ball means it's Schwarzenegger's?"

Law was thrilled that Sean Penn won the best actor award for "Mystic River."

"It was all his," said Law, who brought his mom and his girlfriend Sienna Miller. "He deserved it."

Law had felt so strongly about it that stories had run on the wire a couple of weeks ago with quotes that he was urging people to vote for Penn. When I reminded him of that, Law said, "Really? They did?" It makes you wonder where some of this stuff comes from, doesn't it?

Of course, then there was Renee Zellweger looking lovely in white and sitting with her longtime manager at the main Miramax table with Law, Uma Thurman and Julia Roberts, among others. Renee was so happy I didn't want to tell her that a very pregnant Marcia Gay Harden, at the "Mystic River" table, commiserated with another best supporting actress, Patricia Clarkson ("Pieces of April") about losing this year. (Harden won for "Pollock" a couple of seasons ago. Clarkson will be back soon enough.)

I ran into Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, who I'd never met before. They're lovely, and very much in love, holding hands during dinner. They both talked about the time, two years ago, when Smith had to exit the Oscar ceremony before his nomination for "Ali" was called because the couple's then 1-year-old daughter had to be rushed to the hospital with a high fever.

"She's three now," Jada beamed, "and very cute."

The Smiths are moving to New York for four months this spring so Will can shoot a new movie. Will hasn't lived in New York since he shot "Six Degrees of Separation" about 10 years ago.

Oscar Dope: Billy's $250K Opener

So how much did Billy Crystal's opening film bit cost? Executive producer Joe Roth, who did a great job with the show, told me it was about "a quarter of a million dollars."

"The studios gave us the footage, and Pixar paid for their own stuff with 'Nemo,'" he said of the customized animation. "It wasn't too bad, and it was unbelievable what they did, I thought."

Meanwhile, Alec Baldwin brought 8-year-old daughter Ireland out for a soda in the middle of the show. They were very cute together, holding hands and chatting. Ireland looks like the Mini Me version of her mom, Kim Basinger, and is obviously ga-ga about her dad.

"City of God" director Fernando Merielles introduced me to the movie's editor, first time nominee Daniel Rezende, who also edited Walter Salles' great "Motorcycle Diaries," coming this fall and sure to be a best foreign film nominee. "City of God" was the first movie Rezende ever edited.

On the red carpet, New Line's Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne, with wives, were asked by a photographer to take a picture. Shaye immediately stepped forward while the other three were busy grouping together. "I think he means all of us, Bob," Lynne laughed, pulling Shaye back.

Dina Eastwood, Clint's wife, is a sport. Not only did she and Clint bring Eastwood's mother and eldest adult daughter, Kimber, who has those same wide, bright eyes as her half-sister, actress Alison. When Billy Crystal sang a joke about Clint's ex, Sandra Locke, Dina cracked up laughing. You see, it takes a real sense of humor to make it in this town.

More tomorrow, from the superficial capital of the world where no one moves on a green light (they're either on the phone or doing their nails) and security guards (there was actually one named Damien) think they're in prison movies with really bad dialogue...

P.S. Kudos to my colleague Cindy Adams, the hardest working journalist in this country. Read her stuff today in The New York Post. It's brilliant!