Diane Warren was in the recording studio with Sofia Carson to work on her new song “Applause” when she got an unexpected phone call earlier this year. It was David Rubin, the former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and he had some good news: She was getting an Oscar.
“I was like, ’no I’m not. I’m the one who loses all the time,” Warren said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “I was in total disbelief.”
The prolific songwriter had been nominated for best original song at the Oscars 13 times. And 13 times she’d gone home empty handed, most recently at the ceremony earlier this year. Warren, 66, was never distressed or deterred by that statistic, though. She loved being in the game. But she had started to wonder if she was supposed to ever get one.
Warren will be collecting her honorary statuette Saturday at the annual Governors Awards, alongside fellow recipientsEuzhan Palcy, Peter Weir and Michael J. Fox, who is getting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. She’s the first songwriter to ever get the award.
“This is the big Oscar,” she said. “And I still want to win one. But the nomination is the win. This isn’t the Grammys with, you know, 50 song categories. There’s five songs in one category. To hear your name when they say those nominations? That’s like winning the lottery every time.”
The first time she was nominated, for the song “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” which she co-wrote with Albert Hammond for the film “Mannequin,” Warren did not hear her name called. She didn’t even know nominations were happening. There were no campaigning events or screenings. It just seemed to come out of nowhere.
“That was in the old days,” she laughed. “Now I stay up all night. I’m too uncool to go to sleep and not give a s—-. I’m just very uncool. And I stay up all night, and I’m happy to be uncool.”
Warren developed a passion for the power of songs in movies early on. She remembered “crying her eyes out” hearing John Barry and Don Black’s song for “Born Free” and being moved by Mark London’s song for “To Sir with Love.”
“They viscerally moved me,” she said. “Music doesn’t go to your brain. It goes to your heart. And you combine that with the right movie? It’s powerful.”
It was, in other words, a natural fit on top of her wildly successful career. Some of her more famous Oscar nominated songs include “Because You Loved Me,” from “Up Close and Personal,”“How Do I Live,” from “Con Air” and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” from “Armageddon.” And she’s gotten a nomination almost every year since 2015.
And, while she loves every Oscars ceremony, she counts Lady Gaga’s 2016 performance of her survivors anthem “Til It Happens to You,” from “The Hunting Ground,” as one of her favorite performances ever.
“It was monumental to me,” she said. “She was hitting notes and I have no idea how she hit them, but it was so emotional. Then when you got those survivors standing up when people weren’t really talking about this at that time? I don’t think there’s been a better performance of to me on the Oscars or almost anywhere.”
She also loved playing the piano at the 2020 Oscars as Laura Pausini sang “Io sì (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead.”
“It was amazing,” Warren said. “I’d never done anything like that before.”
Mostly, Warren just loves the Oscars and getting to be part of that world. And she found it rather poignant that she got the call about the award as she was working on “Applause,” which is included in the movie “Tell It Like a Woman,” is made up of seven short films directed by and about women.
The lyrics, she thought, seemed appropriate for the moment: “Give yourself some applause. You deserve it. Give yourself some respect because you’ve earned it. Give yourself some love because you’re worth it. You’re worth it. You know, let them know.”
“How crazy is that?,” Warren said. “I’m in the room doing that song and I go in the other room because the phone rings and it’s that? After all these years of trying to get an Oscar it’s like, wow, what a moment, right?”
Now she’s just trying to get her thoughts together for her speech and she’s pretty sure she’s going to start crying immediately when she takes the stage Saturday.
“It hasn’t even really hit me yet,” Warren said. “I know it’s going to really hit me on that on that night. I don’t even know how I’m going to handle that.”
—Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press