Rodney Rothman ’95 Recounts Oscar Win

By RILEY BOARD

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Rodney Rothman ’95 gives his acceptance speech after being awarded the Best Animated Feature Oscar for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which he co-wrote and co-directed.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to win an Oscar?

“You feel like you’re playing a role; it doesn’t feel real,” Rodney Rothman ’95, the writer and director of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and a first-time Oscar winner, explained. Rothman, who credits his creative start to the Otter Nonsense Players improv comedy group at Middlebury, talked to The Campus two days after taking home gold at the 91st Academy Awards, discussing the surreal experience of winning the highest honor in the film industry.

Rothman described the atmosphere at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, where the awards were hosted, as hectic and exciting. “It felt like what I’d imagine the Super Bowl feels like,” he described, noting that the streets around the theater were all closed and helicopters circled overhead as nominees arrived.

In the weeks leading up to the awards, nominees are coached about limiting their acceptance speech lengths. Rothman explained, “They say to you, ‘“Everybody thinks they’re going to be able to say what they planned but as soon as you’re up there, you’re going to panic. Don’t plan to say too much.”’ During this period before the event, Rothman was calm; however, once he reached the theater nervousness set in.

“You’re obviously seeing a lot of famous people all around, people you recognize, and there’s the chance that you’re going to have to get up live in front of millions of people and say something, which is really cool but also daunting,” he said.

As his category, Best Animated Feature Film, approached, Rothman’s mind was full of questions and possibilities: “Was I going to be able to get up there? Was I going to be able to squeeze past the people to the side of me? Are we going to be able to get through what we planned to say fast enough? Am I going to do something embarrassing? Will I fall on the steps? Am I not going to win? What do I do then? Do I go to parties? Do I go home?”

Rothman stressed that, although the excitement and grandeur of the Oscars may suggest the opposite, it’s hard to forget about anxieties and extraneous thoughts, even in one of the best moments of your life: “You’re not really in the moment. Your brain doesn’t stop working.”

And then, of course, “Spider-Verse” won, and Rothman’s adrenaline “multiplied by 10.” He described the moments walking up to the stage as a series of flashes, a non-stop shaking of hands, and then suddenly he was on stage, looking out onto a crowd of Hollywood elite but trying not to look into the audience, lest he be distracted by a famous person and forget his speech.

Rothman took to the mic, in a moment that appears on screen to be full of emotion and excitement and that he describes as a blur. “On behalf of everyone who made this movie, we want to thank our families who stayed with us for four years on this,” he said. “This is for you. We love you all.”

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Rothman’s Oscar, at home on his bookshelf and wearing shorts that Jimmy Kimmel gave him.

Backstage, Rothman and his co-directors were ushered into an elevator — when they got out, they were greeted by a group of other people who worked on the film, many of them sobbing, all incredibly excited. “And that was the first moment that it hit me,” he said. “All of sudden your body just discharges a lot of the emotion and energy that you’ve spent months, if not years, building up to. We worked really hard on the movie, and we were really proud of it, and we didn’t expect to be there.” 

While backstage, Rothman encountered several celebrities, all of whom congratulated him and his co-directors on their big win: comedian John Mulaney, an old friend of Rothman’s and also a voice actor in “Spider-Verse,” hugged him, as did actor Paul Rudd. After being interviewed by hundreds of journalists — an experience which Rothman explained felt like “talking but not really knowing what you’re saying” — the directors were treated to endless trays of champagne and then hung out with other Oscar winners like Mahershala Ali, who won for Best Supporting Actor and was also a cast member of “Spider-Verse.”

After four glasses of champagne, Rothman and his co-directors were sent back out to watch the rest of the show. They took an elevator back down to the theater, and when the doors opened, they were greeted by actors Sam Rockwell and Frances McDormand.

“She did this really cool thing where she pointed at, like nine points really quickly, with a smile,” Rothman spoke fondly of his encounter with McDormand. “None of us knew her so that was really cool.”

And with that, Rothman returned to watch the rest of the Academy Awards, and ended the night at various Oscar parties around the city. 

Monday morning, the reality of the situation finally sank in.

“It really wasn’t until the next morning in some ways that I could even begin to get my head around the fact that something I’d been working really hard toward for a long time had happened,” Rothman reflected on the evening and the win. “Something that I never really expected was going to happen for me.”

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Rodney Rothman ’95 Recounts Oscar Win