Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest on Returning to the Oscars, Backstage Plans and Whether Hed Ever Host the Show (EXCLUSIVE)

After a years-long pandemic hiatus, Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest are heading to Los Angeles and will be back at the Oscars this year.

The “Live With Kelly and Ryan” hosts are returning to the Academy Awards for their “After Oscar Show” — a tradition that the New York-based talk show has held for years, bringing the duo to the Dolby Theater to produce their show from the Oscars stage the morning after the biggest night in Hollywood.

The special episode — which will air the day after the Oscars on Monday, March 13, at 9 a.m. — has had to take place remotely for the past few years, given tight pandemic protocols at award shows. This year, Ripa and Seacrest will be in extremely close quarters with the biggest stars of the night, conducting interviews backstage at the Dolby with the first spot, as winners and presenters exit the stage with the golden statues in hand.

“After two years producing the show bi-coastally, we are beyond thrilled to be back on the Oscar stage for one of our absolute favorite shows of the year,” says executive producer Michael Gelman. “Kelly and Ryan and the entire ‘Live’ team are geared up to deliver that signature Oscar excitement to our millions of viewers at home.”

Ripa and Seacrest will be conducting interviews backstage the night of the Oscars, and then hosting “Live” early the next morning from the Dolby stage with a live studio audience. Fashion expert and “Queer Eye” alum Carson Kressley will serve as a special correspondent on the red carpet, chatting with the stars about their glitz and glam and breaking down all the looks on the “After Oscar Show.”‘

The 95th annual Oscars will air March 12 on ABC with Jimmy Kimmel returning as host of the ceremony.

Here, Ripa and Seacrest speak exclusively to Variety about what to expect from their big night back at the Oscars, their favorite celebrity interview and movies — plus, Seacrest reveals whether he’d ever want to host the big show.

This is your first time back in Hollywood for the Oscars since the pandemic. Are you excited to be back in full force?

Ripa: Well, let me tell you why Ryan is excited. He’s never been backstage when everybody comes off stage after having just won an Oscar. He doesn’t even understand the claustrophobia he will experience when we’re in this little tiny area. It is so small. The stars come off with their Academy Award, and they are in what I like to call the fifth dimension – they’ve just won an Academy Award, and it is the biggest achievement in their career, so they are floating on cloud nine. It is thrilling and overwhelming and shocking, and it is the best interview because people who have just won an Academy Award will tell you anything. Even the questions you didn’t ask, they’re going to tell you the answer.

Seacrest: It is the biggest of the award shows, so it’s very exciting to be there. “Live” has incredible real estate backstage for us to get emotion and reaction from the winners before they even realize what’s going on, so we get some very candid conversations and moments. Personally, I have to tell you, I’m looking forward to going up to the kitchen where Wolfgang [Puck] makes the dinner. Usually, all of my years on the red carpet, when the ceremony started and I had finished the red carpet, I know where to go, and he would make me the plate that they were going to serve after the Oscars. So, I’m looking forward to that.

You’re just here for the food.

Seacrest: That is my priority. Believe me.

Given that this is Ryan’s first time backstage in the wings, do you have any advice for him?

Ripa: Literally get out of the way and clear your corner – make way for the dresses, make way for the chaos. Ryan has tons of experience obviously out on the red carpet, but I always tell him the red carpet seems very roomy compared to backstage.

Do you have any rituals in preparation for the show on Oscars Sunday?

Ripa: It’s one of those rare days where I’ll wake up late because everything is happening so late. And then Mark [Consuelos] and I always have a gorgeous room service breakfast in whatever hotel we’re staying at, and I review all of my show notes. I make sure that I take Advil, so that my feet don’t suffer because you spend hours and hours and hours standing in high heels, and it really takes a toll. One year, I actually wore sneakers backstage and it was joy. The joy of the sneakers backstage can’t be overstated, but I try not to do that — only in special circumstances.

Ryan, you’ve done so many red carpets and award shows, but do you still get that “pinch me” moment when you’re at the Oscars?

Seacrest: I do get that “pinch me” moment. I think about all of the people who are celebrating the greatest award in their industry or the potential to win that award. But I also get a little nervous because I want to make sure I know who everybody is and I want to make sure I know what everybody’s done. That takes a little bit of studying and preparation to do, but hopefully with my flashcards, I’ll be ready to go by the time we get to the Oscars.

So, Ryan Seacrest still gets nervous?

Seacrest: I get nervous. Yeah, I do. I get nervous more about making sure I get all the facts right when it comes to memorizing things that each actor or director has done. But that comes with just studying.

It’s always clear that you’ve done your homework and are not just reading off a teleprompter.

Seacrest: Thank you. I’ve missed 20 years of pre-Oscar parties to do that.

Looking back on your years at the Oscars, do you have a favorite moment that you witnessed backstage?

Ripa: My favorite moments really had nothing to do with winning an Academy Award. Samuel L. Jackson was bored from sitting in the audience, and he came backstage and did an interview with me because he was presenting something. And then he just sat backstage next in the chair next to me and started watching the Academy Awards on TV with me and eating snacks and just hanging out.

Is there a memorable interview from over the years that stands out to you?

Ripa: There are so many, but Leonardo DiCaprio – that was a pretty big one. It was really like a lot of fun. It was for “The Revenant” and we gave him a stuffed bear. We had a glass of champagne, and until you’ve had a glass of champagne with Leonardo DiCaprio, have you even lived? And while we’re on the on the topic, Jack Nicholson – he really gave that old Hollywood allure.

Seacrest: One unexpected moment was when Sacha Baron Cohen threw the dust of somebody on me, which was a surprise, but in hindsight, very funny. That was something I didn’t see coming. But all the conversations there are spontaneous and people may have had a sip of something in the limo on the way and you get some good candor, so I look forward to that.

I had completely forgotten about that Sacha Baron Cohen moment, so thank you for reminding me.

Seacrest: You have to look it up again. I really do laugh at that. It certainly does stand out.

Kelly, you mentioned drinking champagne with Leonardo DiCaprio. There’s been a lot of recent conversation lately about drinking on-air. I’m curious, will you be drinking with the stars backstage?

Ripa: You know, I quit drinking about five years ago, so I don’t drink at all. But one of the reasons we are so popular is that not only do we have a champagne bar, but we also have tequila. And apparently, you cannot get tequila in that theater. We are the only place where it is served, so people happily come back for an interview and to grab a tequila to-go to take back to their seats.

Stars winning Oscars and drinking tequila – that’s a recipe for an amazing interview.

Ripa: I mean, what more can you ask for?

I imagine you’ve met and interviewed pretty much every star over the past two decades, but is there anyone you are dying to interview?

Seacrest: Brendan Fraser is somebody that I’ve not spent a lot of time with. His work in “The Whale” is amazing. Tom Hanks is always a lot of fun. Then, you’ve got newcomers like Austin Butler, who would be great to chat with.

Ripa: That’s a good question. I’m trying to think of who I haven’t interviewed and I’m really racking my brain. Oh! I would like to interview Steven Spielberg. I’ve not interviewed him.

What movies are you loving in this year’s Oscars lineup?

Seacrest: I like a big blockbuster movie, so I really liked “Top Gun: Maverick.” I [was] very happy to see it nominated for best picture. “The Fabelmans” is also outstanding. And then, “The Whale” is at the top of the list for me. I need to do my homework on quite a few others, but it’s the best type of homework.

Ripa: Cate Blanchett in “Tár” is something I’ve rarely seen in film. She just transformed to the point where I was convinced that she is a maestro. She speaks several languages at the same time, and then she can speak them all in conjunction – like she can start a sentence in German, in the middle, she’ll switch it over to English and then end it in French, like it’s no big deal. And she does that repeatedly through the whole movie, and you’re just like, “This can’t be possible. This level of acting just doesn’t seem possible.” I’m curious to see if the Academy sees it the way I see it.

Ryan, you’ve been doing the red carpet since the heyday when everybody watched live. What do you think about the state of award shows?

Seacrest: Live broadcasts have an appeal to audiences because of the spontaneity. I think because it is live, people do to tune-in in large numbers – though not as large as they used to be – but that’s a problem that broadcast television is having all the way around. It’s great when you have big stars at the Oscars because people tune in to see big stars that they recognize and that they know. But our New Year’s Eve show and the Oscars are some of the highest-rated shows on ABC, so we’re doing all right.

Ratings across the board for all award shows are down. Why are the Oscars still important event programming, particularly for morning TV?

Ripa: It’s so funny that the ratings across award shows always go down and down and down because our post-Academy Awards show, we always have big ratings. I think when you take our show out of our tiny little studio in New York City, and then the next day we are right on stage, it’s 6 a.m. L.A. time, we don’t really sleep the night before because we are prepping the show, it just turns our show into a big spectacle, and we benefit greatly from the ratings. It’s like a big field trip. There’s something special about being in that grand auditorium with all of these viewers that wanted to wake up and get there at 3 a.m. to be part of the studio audience. They really wanted to be there and that’s not lost on us. It’s very meaningful.

Sometimes the conversations around the glitz and glam and big moments are more exciting than the actual show.

Ripa: It’s less thanking people [onstage during acceptance speeches] that the at-home viewing audience wouldn’t know. I’m not diminishing their importance, but I think that’s the disconnect between why viewership sometimes goes down, versus the post and pre-shows, which get such a boost. It really is about the fashion and the glamour and what people don’t see on the stage.

What else can we expect from the “Live” show this year?

Seacrest: We are not quite sure who’s going to be on the show until the night before obviously, but we’ll have some of the winners live on that same set the morning after. Often, they have not even been home yet, or they’ve been home for like two hours before they have to come on our show. We’ll be able to have some of our fans in the audience at the Dolby Theatre, and we haven’t had a chance to do that for a long time. It’s just so cool to walk out on that set hours after the Academy Awards have just taken place and after Jimmy [Kimmel] has just hosted. It’s kind of a rush to be on that stage the morning after.

Have you ever been asked to host the Oscars, Ryan?

Seacrest: I have not been asked to host the Oscars. I could never do that job well. I think Jimmy is the perfect fit. He’s seamless at the job, even though he makes it look easy. We know he prepares. And he’s funny. I’m not so funny. He’s great at it. But not for me.

So, hosting the Oscars is not on your to-do list in your career?

Seacrest: No. I’ll spare the audience and myself.

Editor’s note: These interviews were conducted separately, and have been edited and condensed for this story.

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