What goes through an Oscar nominee's mind as she sits in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, before a TV audience of 1 billion people?
If she's Marisa Tomei, everything.
"I'm thinking, 'OK, this is just a ceremony, it's an initiation,' " says Tomei.
On the other hand, she admits to visions of Whitney Houston in the Academy Awards scene in "The Bodyguard."
It's been a year since Tomei picked up the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the smart-talking, stiletto-wearing Mona Lisa Vito in "My Cousin Vinny" -- only her third film, if you count her one line in "The Flamingo Kid." "It seemed so unreal, it seems unreal now when I think about it," Tomei says. "It was great and there was this great party and all, but at the same time I didn't really know anyone. This year, I'll know more people."
She sure will. Last year, she even got to meet the Queen of England while she was in London to promote "Charlie," Richard Attenborough's film about Chaplin.
"It was amazing," she recalls. "You line up in the royal waiting room -- they call it the Royal Holding Area -- and she comes by and shakes everyone's hand. Actually, she extends her hand and you respond. Then she gives her little sound bite to each person. I really talked more with the king [Prince Philip]. He asked what part I had and I started going on way too much. He finally said, 'OK, that's nice,' and moved on," she says, laughing.
Today she meets an elderly, gravel-voiced man who approaches her in the diner where she's being interviewed. He tells her how much he liked her in "My Cousin Vinny."
"Didn't you think that was sweet?" she asks when he's gone. "I love when that happens in New York because everyone's such a character here. But people are normally so guarded, so when that happens I get to connect with them in a way most people don't. It's like, 'Say hello to the neighbors!,"' she says in a Mr. Rogers sort of way.