Oscars 2012: Great Performances

Sebastian Kim for TIME
Sebastian Kim for TIME
George Clooney

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Each January, Los Angeles is effervescent with anticipation, as the world’s biggest stars gather to participate in a flurry of parties, dinners and events in the walk-up to the Golden Globes, marking the beginning of the awards season. This year was no exception.

TIME’s annual Oscars portfolio showcases each year’s best performers through a portfolio of striking portraits. Tears, giggles, pranks and emotions ran high, and loads of laughter pealed through the studio during this year’s shoot, which resulted in a series of images and short films photographed and directed by Sebastian Kim. It was our most ambitious Oscars shoot yet. We had just three days to photograph and film 12 world-class actors during their busiest time of the year.

George Clooney arrived early on set, but it didn’t take long for the actor to settle in and begin joking around and planning pranks with Michael Fassbender, who had recently been photographed by Kim for the February issue of Interview magazine. This previous experience of working together made for a great rapport between them. And it wasn’t the only happy reunion on set: Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer happily embraced upon seeing each other on our set, giving us a glimpse of the fun these two had while working together on The Help. Later, Adepero Oduye was brought to tears when introduced by Joel Stein, who was on hand to interview the actors, to Davis, one of her greatest heroes. “It was so unbelievably Hollywood and yet really real,” Stein says.

Kim says that the project was the most star-studded he’s photographed so far. “I was quite excited photographing Meryl Streep,” he says, noting that his girlfriend is a big fan of the actress’s, “so naturally I was quite nervous when I met her. Being nervous on set is not a good thing as it impedes your concentration, but I just kept thinking, ‘My gosh…I better a get a good shot of her and make my girlfriend happy!'”

But Kim needn’t have been nervous. Streep was running a bit late, having arrived from a previous shoot with MGM studios, where she was taking part in a project to photograph the greatest living actors of our time. She was immediately forgiven—and how could she not be? Streep is kind and gracious, possesses a rare elegance and professionalism that made the photo shoot feel like anything but work. In fact, this set the tone for all of our actors’ portraits, which also included sittings with Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Christopher Plummer, Michelle Williams, Rooney Mara, Jean Dujardin, as well as the adorable Uggie, the dog in The Artist.

It’s a rare pleasure to watch actors of this caliber play for the camera. Instead of characters, they play themselves, with a focus and passion that can only come from years of experience on set.

The performers’ interviews with Joel Stein can be viewed here.

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