With this year’s 91st Academy Awards rapidly approaching, we’re staring down the barrel of the first Oscars ceremony with no host since 1989. Despite the Academy’s efforts to bolster the awards by recruiting an impressive group of presenters, it appears likely we’re headed for a hot mess—after all, the last host-less Oscars went so poorly that a group of Hollywood’s foremost luminaries sent the Academy a letter condemning the show as “an embarrassment to both the Academy and the entire motion picture industry.” Not the most optimism-inspiring precedent, is it?
This situation could seemingly have been avoided, if not for Jumanji 3, of all things. Yes, as revealed by the star of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (and, uh, a few other movies), Dwayne Johnson himself was the Academy’s first choice to host this year, a role he had to pass on due to it conflicting with his Jumanji sequel shooting schedule. Johnson will be too busy saving the world (or escaping a malevolent board game, same difference) to save the Oscars.
Ironically, the Academy’s apparent next choice was Johnson’s Jumanji co-star Kevin Hart, who backed out after his past homophobic tweets re-emerged, stoking an uproar for which he initially refused to apologize. How lazy are these Oscar producers—were they just throwing darts at the Jumanji poster? Did Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Nick Jonas get offered this gig, too?
Of course, it’s also entirely possible that Johnson’s claim is just meant as a playful shot across Hart’s bow. The actors will again share the screen in Jumanj-three (or whatever dumb thing it’ll be called), with presumably similar shooting schedules, after all. If Hart could make it work, then what exactly was stopping Johnson?
At any rate, Johnson later gave The Hollywood Reporter a detailed account of how his hosting gig fell apart, as well as what he’d had planned for the big night.
“I was so excited to get that call, and I didn’t anticipate it,” Johnson told THR. “We didn’t campaign for it, but it came and I was over the moon and one of those calls where I said, I’m going to have to call you back. I just paused in my silence and was like, wow, thank you so much, and then immediately my brain started going, we’ll do this kind of number and that.”
The absurdly bankable movie star went so far as to meet with Oscar producers Donna Gigliotti and Glenn Weiss on multiple occasions, planning out specific bits and song-and-dance numbers. “I had this whole idea about this massive number, and I was going to sing and I was going to bring in this person to sing, this person from the audience, and … oh my god,” Johnson told THR. “And they were excited, but finally I had to pass.”
Johnson also elaborated on the scheduling conflict that undid his hosting prospects, explaining, “We spoke to the producers and it pained me not to be able to host because of the schedule. I live in a world of possibility, but was the immediacy of rolling into Jumanji that put a vice grip on things.” The actor also said production on the insane-looking Fast and Furious offshoot Hobbs and Shaw was a factor, as that flick only just wrapped in late January.
“We were going to turn the Oscars on their head this year and make it something special and unique and different, and start a new era of how Oscars are going to be enjoyed,” a downright wistful-sounding Johnson told THR. “That was the goal, audience first. I wanted to try and create a scenario where, at the end of the night, my friends who won, my friends who didn’t win, all had, despite not winning, had the greatest time. That was the goal. So, one day.”
The Rock-less Oscars, airing live via ABC from Hollywood’s Dolby Theater starting at 8 p.m. ET on Feb. 24, are going to be a sight to see.