Q&A: Jimmy Kimmel is hosting the Oscars again. This time, it’s an election year

FILE - Host Jimmy Kimmel speaks at the Oscars on March 12, 2023, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Kimmel will host the 96th Oscars on Sunday. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

FILE – Host Jimmy Kimmel speaks at the Oscars on March 12, 2023, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Kimmel will host the 96th Oscars on Sunday. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Through one of the most tumultuous periods in Oscar history, through flub and slap, Jimmy Kimmel has emerged as the steadying hand and abiding face of the Academy Awards.

When Kimmel hosts the 96th Oscars on Sunday, he’ll be emceeing the telecast for the fourth time. Only three people — Bob Hope (19 times), Billy Crystal (nine times) and Johnny Carson (five times) — will have hosted more than him.

After Kimmel hosted the 2017 and 2018 ceremonies, he watched the Oscars experiment without a host and then with a trio of them. But after returning last year to right the ship following the Will Smith fracas, Kimmel has proven adept at a balancing act that has eluded most others.

“It’s an experience that I try to remember is special,” Kimmel said in a recent interview. “I just want to make sure for the people who are watching and the people who are there that we bring the proper amount of respect and also the proper amount of disrespect to the proceedings.”

Kimmel spoke as he prepared for Sunday’s show in between his day job at “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” That includes sifting through possible jokes, posing for photographs he’d rather not and plenty of Oscar discussion around the dinner table, too. Molly McNearney, Kimmel’s wife, is an executive producer on the broadcast.

But Kimmel is by now an old hand at a highly specialized gig. Last year’s broadcast drew 18.7 million viewers, the most since 2020.

“I’m pretty calm,” said Kimmel. “I can’t speak for everyone else.”

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

AP: Does it irk you that your avowed nemesis Matt Damon is a co-star in the film that appears to be steamrolling to best picture, “Oppenheimer”?

KIMMEL: It delights me. Matt Damon was completely left out of the Oscar festivities. He was even in the movie. It couldn’t be more embarrassing for him. It’s like if everyone in the class got invited to a birthday party, and he’s the one kid who didn’t.

AP: How does having two huge films like “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” prominently nominated affect your job?

KIMMEL: It makes it 10 times easier. When nobody has seen the movies — and that has happened, including years when I’ve hosted — you have no point of reference to go from.

AP: You’ve even suggested “Barbie” partially motivated you to host this time.

KIMMEL: It was one of the big contributing factors, knowing that this movie was probably going to get nominated. I felt like I could have some good angles jumping off that. Like our promo was one of them.

AP: This is an election year and war is raging in Ukraine and Gaza. Do you expect to be more political?

KIMMEL: I probably shouldn’t tell you this but I’m going to march all the nominees to the border and we’re going to see if we can’t fix the whole thing on Sunday night. (Laughs) I don’t know. It’s not really the focus of the Oscars. It doesn’t mean I won’t have a joke or two about it. But it’s not really my goal to invoke the name of he-who-shall-not-be-named at the Oscars.

AP: You haven’t been shy on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” to take jabs at Donald Trump. He recently called you “a loser.”

KIMMEL: I was going through my records and it seems like only one of us has lost.

AP: For you, what’s the appeal of hosting the Oscars?

KIMMEL: What I do is very fleeting. You do a show and then it’s gone. You don’t have much to show for it because it is so topical. The Oscars have a permanence that’s different for me and it’s fun. However it goes, I’ll always have that. When you watch these montages of 96 years of the Oscars, and to be in it, you have to be pretty jaded for that not to have an effect on you.

AP: You’ve sounded as though you thought you were done. Is that right?

KIMMEL: Oh, absolutely. I never imagined they’d ask me again, really. I was, like, two times, that was good. Maybe it was one of those things where she dumped me and I’ll never date her again. But whatever the case, here I am again for number four.

AP: Does that mean you’re approaching it as if this is the last time?

KIMMEL: It might be. I don’t presume that I’ll be asked to do it again. Looking back on it, it’s always easier to only remember the good things. But I don’t know. I’ll say four seems like a solid number to me.

AP: You’re not interested in remaining a mainstay like Bob Hope?

KIMMEL: The way I look at is: People tend to take you for granted and resent you rather quickly. (Laughs) I’m sure I’ll get some of that this time around. I’ll get the usual, “Can’t they get anyone else to host this thing?” And the answer is, no, they couldn’t.

AP: Have you kept any mementos from your past three times hosting?

KIMMEL: I steal one Oscar every year. Usually from the animated short people. I tell them I need to take it and I’ll get it back to them, and I just never do. They don’t know any better. I have three Oscars now and I’m looking forward to number four.

AP: That’s tough for the animated short people.

KIMMEL: Yeah, well, they’re lucky to be there.

AP: Is there anything you’ve learned about what works and what doesn’t from previous shows?

KIMMEL: I’ve learned that you can put a huge amount of effort into pre-taped comedy bits and get very little response from them. (Laughs) We’ve learned not to do that anymore. Whatever people see on the Oscars that is not an award being handed out they believe is the reason the show is long. That’s not really true, for the most part. A lot of times you have live comedy bits or pre-taped comedy bits just to reset the stage. But I’ve given up on them almost entirely.

AP: One thing we know about Sunday’s show is thatRyan Gosling will be singing “I’m Just Ken.”Do you plan to join him at all in that number?

KIMMEL: No one has asked me to sing. But if I get the call, Oh, yes, I will be center stage belting it out with Ryan.

AP: You were great with him in the Oscar promo.

KIMMEL: It’s a lot harder to look at my face when his is in the same frame. I believe that was my wife’s assessment.

AP: You had the post-slap narrative last year. Is there anything aboutthis year’s crop of movies and nominees that’s interesting to you?

KIMMEL: For me, none of it is particularly interesting. But I like the surprises, you know? Most of these nominees, we don’t know these people, we don’t know what they’re going to say. Some of them we do. Some of them have won 11 awards leading up to this. But the really great moments come from the unexpected winners and people you’ve never heard of. I very much hope that the quality of the speeches comes even close to last year. That’s the difference between a good show and a great show.

AP: How is it going through this experience with your wife, Molly McNearney?

KIMMEL: It’s great. There’s nobody I trust more. That said, we get involved now in a lot more decisions than we were last year. And they’re not all fun decisions. It has its pluses and minuses, for sure. It’s become the topic work-wise in our house pretty much all day, every day for the last two months.

AP: Does your family enjoy you hosting the Oscars?

KIMMEL: A big side storyline is me trying to figure out what my parents are going to wear, how they’re going to get to the show, who’s going to get them backstage after the show. It turns quickly into a family reunion. My older kids will be there with their spouses, some of my cousins, my brother, my sister. There will be a few Kimmels cheering me on in the audience. They look around and then they report back on who was laughing and who wasn’t.

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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For more coverage of the 2024 Oscars, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/academy-awards

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