Before the 44-year-old actor-host flew off to La La La, he tells us how the Harvey Weinstein scandal has affected the way he watches movies and which celebs he’d love to interview on the Red Carpet.
8 DAYS: You’ll be in Hollywood next week for the Oscars. It’s your second time reporting from the Red Carpet. What memories do you have of your Oscar debut back in 2015?
UTT: It was pretty intense, because that was also the first year for HBO Asia. I remember it so vividly because I was so excited. I remember attending lots of meetings a day or two prior to the actual show because there were a lot of [security] protocols to follow. I also remember that because we were HBO Asia, I thought they were probably going to put us at the back. Usually the press from the US would be at the front, followed by Central America and Europe, and then you’d have Asia. So I was like, “I got this. It’s all good.” But when we were there, because HBO is huge in the US, we were positioned right in the front between [US networks] ABC and NBC. I was like, “What?” I totally flipped out because I thought if we were at the back, there’d be less pressure on us, and on me. But obviously, when you’re at the front, you need to know your stuff!
Did you mix up anyone’s names?
No! I didn’t (laughs). So I was good. I did extra homework, making sure that I didn’t get people mixed up and I pronounced their names correctly if they happened to stop where we were at (laughs). We had a good team. We also had this producer who was based in LA who helped me a lot, too. Each time we had an actor or actress approaching, we would double check with one another.
Ever since Donald Trump became President, awards shows have become somewhat politically charged. How are you going to tackle your Red Carpet interviews this year?
I think obviously because we’re coming from Asia, I don’t think it’s something that I will try to get into because we’re not part of the that political landscape that’s happening in the US. But I prepared for it too, because we’re never sure where the actors and actresses will take the interview. So if [political topics do] come up, I’d know how to address them lightly and casually, rather than going too deep into it.
Has the Harvey Weinstein scandal affected the way you watch movies produced by him? Take Good Will Hunting, it’s hard to imagine — and even harder to watch — a film that has given us so much joy knowing it was created in a toxic environment of hurt and harassment.
Definitely. I think [the scandal] has embedded in our conscience in such a different way now, because you are more aware of everything that had happened behind-the-scenes. It definitely affects me as well. The thing is, [the likes of Weinstein and Kevin Spacey] are people in the industry that you respect and to see a different side of who they are as human beings, and it’s like a mind[expletive], to be honest.
Can you separate art from the artist? I’ve stopped watching movies by Woody Allen and Roman Polanski because of all these unpleasant things they’re associated with.
To be honest, I can’t completely separate them. Even before the whole Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey scandals, I’ve heard a lot about Woody Allen, and for some reason, that stuck in my mind, so much so that I couldn’t watch his movies anymore. It’s very interesting you brought this up, because I didn’t consciously answer that until you asked, and I just realised that I haven’t watched any Woody Allen film since I heard all this stuff about him.
And that’s my cue to move on to something lighter. So who are you dying to interview on the Red Carpet?
I want to talk to Oprah Winfey (laughs). I saw Oprah when I was there the last time. She was probably a couple of steps away from me, but she couldn't hear me because everyone else was calling her name. So I’m going to have to project a lot louder this time around.
What are you going to ask her?
She’s a very powerful speaker. She commands the stage. When she speaks, people listen. I have a lot of respect for her. I don’t even know if she’s been to Asia yet, so I want to ask her on her thoughts of Asia and if she’s ever visited Asia, or if she has plans to.
Meryl Streep, because she’s legendary. She’s there every year, too. I didn’t get a chance to interview her when I was there, so she’s also at the top of my list. Hugh Jackman would be great. I interviewed him before when he was in Singapore. It would be good to get him, and he’s familiar with Asia as well, so I think Asians can relate to him and he can relate to Asia.
The 90th Annual Academy Awards premieres live on Mar 5, HBO (StarHub Ch 601), 9am. The Red Carpet starts at 7.30am. Catch exclusive behind-the-scenes content on hboasia.com/oscars.
Photos: HBO Asia (Main), 20th Century Fox