If you love movies as much as Annette Insdorf does, the Academy Awards may break your heart. Back when Paul Newman, star of “Hud,” lost the Best Actor trophy to Sidney Poitier (“Lilies of the Field”), the future host of the 92nd Street Y’s “Reel Pieces” series burst into tears.
Her mother the Holocaust survivor, Insdorf says, set her straight: Would Paul Newman weep for her?
Granted, that was in 1963 — 54 years and thousands of films ago. Insdorf has since toughened up, though her love of cinema has never been stronger. First a film professor at Yale — where her students included Ed Norton, Angela Bassett and The Post’s Kyle Smith — she now teaches at Columbia and has hosted the Y’s celebrated screening-and-Q&A series since it began 30 years ago.
Along the way, she’s interviewed people for whom first names aren’t necessary: Streep, Scorsese, Cruise, Cumberbatch, Portman, Hoffman (both Philip Seymour and Dustin).
She doesn’t seem to be starstruck — though one night in 1996, she flubbed her introduction to Al Pacino, asking her 900-plus audience to “Please welcome me in joining…” (Pacino took it in stride, she says.)
Her secret for star-wrangling? “I don’t ask personal questions,” says the petite 60-something. Instead, says Insdorf — who was born in Paris, raised in the Bronx and Queens and saw movies with her parents every weekend — she wants to know what makes an actor or director tick: whom they admire, what shaped them.
She’s elicited some nifty bits along the way. Meryl Streep told her she prepped for playing tone-deaf Florence Foster Jenkins by taking voice lessons with, of all people, Audra Tempobet McDonald’s teacher. (“She learned to sing the arias right before she could do them wrong,” Insdorf says.) An emotional Dustin Hoffman, then 75, talked about aging (“It’s funny when you get to be this age — you cry at the weather”). And Jonah Hill confided that his biggest influence wasn’t John Candy but John “Fredo Corleone” Cazale.
Some of the juiciest “Reel” moments were unspoken: Benedict Cumberbatch blanching when a woman in the audience bellowed “We’re the Cumberbitches!” and Michael Keaton, presumably bowled over by a question, lying down at Insdorf’s feet. The “Birdman” star was her “most profane” guest, she says, seconded only by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who dropped one F-bomb after another.
She never did interview Paul Newman or, for that matter, George Clooney and Warren Beatty. “Sometimes the greats elude me,” she says with a sigh.
She’ll be watching the Oscars with her husband and friends Sunday and rooting for “Hidden Figures,” though she expects it will lose to “La La Land.”
“I’ve learned to have low expectations,” she says. At least she won’t cry.
“Reel Pieces” returns on March 23 with Richard Gere and a preview of his film “Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer,” details at 92Y.org/reelpieces.
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