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Edmonton-raised director Raj Kapoor is in the midst of preparing film’s biggest night: the 96th Academy Awards, a.k.a. the Oscars.Illustration by Photo illustration by The Globe

Raj Kapoor says his favourite Hollywood award-show moments are the ones that give viewers a glimpse into the humanity of stars.

Fresh off executive-producing the 2024 Grammy Awards, the Edmonton-raised director is in the midst of preparing film’s biggest night: the 96th Academy Awards, a.k.a. the Oscars.

Having earned six Emmy Award nominations and one win for Adele: One Night Only, Kapoor has built a career producing awards shows and massive tours for such stars as Mariah Carey, Ariana Grande and Shania Twain. Taking on this new role seems like a natural progression; after all, the showrunner has been a key member of the Oscars production team for seven consecutive years. Seasoned as he is, the stress of putting on a show of that calibre – the three-hour-37-minute 2023 Oscars hit an average audience of 18.7-million – he says, is always present.

“We plan ahead, but you never know what’s going to happen,” says Kapoor.

The Globe and Mail spoke with Kapoor about his favourite behind-the-scenes moments, his myriad inspirations and how he creates Hollywood magic.

How do you get yourself in the right headspace when preparing for the Oscars?

For the big awards shows, the preparations are long-term, so we started as early as possible, in May and June, 2023.

The overall design and colour story of the Grammys sort of influences the whole show. It’s about working with an interesting artist who could translate an abstract way of looking at music. This year, the the energy and premium look of David McLeod’s artwork was such a natural fit for our physical set design.

For the Oscars, I started by looking at the last 12 years of shows, and really, really diving in to what was successful and what could be improved, what was beautiful and made the audience feel connected. It was a moment from 2009 that really inspired me, where the five past winners introduced that year’s nominees and gave them the award for each of the four acting awards. It was such a moment of awe and astonishment for these big Hollywood actors.

What were some of your favourite moments from this year’s Grammys?

I really love when the audience gets to see the community element of the shows. Like when you saw Miley Cyrus, who is a genuine fan of great artists, blown away by Mariah Carey presenting her the award for best pop solo performance. I think moments like that give everybody in the room and at home a little glimpse into the humanity of those celebrities.

Any behind-the-scenes moments that stuck out?

The past few shows for the Grammys have been very stressful. Last year was the first year that a lot of people were coming back downtown (since COVID). The arena was full, so the amount of traffic in Los Angeles played havoc with us. We were 15 minutes away from the show and still didn’t have our opening performer – Bad Bunny – in the building. Jennifer Lopez was our first presenter and she was stuck in traffic. Viola Davis was not there yet, Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, Viola Davis, all stuck in traffic. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the stress of that night.

How do you manage your stress levels during and after a big awards show?

I really and truly rely on my team. We’re all connected by walkies, phone and text throughout the night and everything is operating to adapt to what’s going on. When an artist like Bad Bunny is stuck in traffic, we start coming up with alternative plans while letting your team do their jobs to find solutions and problem solve. That laser-like focus is something you can only get from on-the-job training. Once it’s all done, you can breathe, but in it, at the moment, you’re on the entire time.

The day after the Oscars, I plan on sleeping in, getting a massage and either do an early dinner out with friends or order takeout from my favourite Thai restaurant.

The Oscars have been historically criticized for being very white and male-dominated, with #OscarsSoWhite trending on social media a few years ago, how do you think diversity has changed over the years at the Oscars?

I think that the conversation was very relevant a few years ago. When I look at this year’s lineup and the nominations, it’s an amazing year for diversity with filmmakers like Celine Song and musician and composer Scott George, who received a nomination for best original song in Killers of the Flower Moon, one of my favourite films to be nominated this year is American Fiction, so there’s so much diverse talent that is finally getting a chance to produce great films and be recognized.

What are you wearing to the Oscars?

I had a custom tux designed by the team at Berluti Paris which includes a monochromatic look with the tuxedo, shirt, bow tie, cumberbund and shoes all in electric blue, and a diamond lapel pin and watch by Cartier. The suits I get for the shows are custom-made, so they fit well, and I can wear them throughout the night. It’s really important for the shoes to be very comfortable, since I go from the awards show to the after party.

Favourite way to unwind when you’re not working?

I do like to work out, I try to get at least 30 minutes of cardio on my Peloton daily. I love a good concert, I get to see Madonna when she comes to Los Angeles in March, so I’m looking forward to that. I also love to travel. I visit my family in Alberta a couple of times a year. My mom is very social, so we go out with my friends or hers and visit our favourite restaurants, and Edmonton has a great scene. We usually go to Uccellino or Bianco for Italian. Uccellino does a really great roast chicken on Sundays with Italian mashed potatoes. And then I love a good cocktail at Hotel Macdonald.

You’ve done a couple of trips to Africa, with a trip to Kenya in July. How was that?

I love adventure vacations, and sometimes, the safari, being that close to nature, it makes your heart feel like it’s going to jump out of your chest. For two weeks, we woke up at 5 a.m. daily, were in the Jeep by 5:45, and then chased the sun until we got to where our guide wanted us to be. Then you get to watch everything begin to light up, and listen to the sounds as the nature and animals wake up and feel the warmth from the sun as everything around comes to life. It’s unpredictable and gorgeous and frightening and exhilarating at the same time.

Kind of sounds like putting on an Oscars show or the Grammys.

I guess so, haha.

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