The two accountants in charge of handing out the envelopes at the 2017 Academy Awards “froze” when La La Land was mistakenly announced as the Best Picture winner over Moonlight, this according to the show’s stage manager.
Gary Natoli spoke to The Wrap about what occurred backstage as the events unfolded, saying Brian Cullinan and Martha Ruiz, accountants with PricewaterhouseCoopers who handled the Oscars balloting, didn’t react fast enough when the mistake was made.
“I’m sure they’re very lovely people, but they just didn’t have the disposition for this,” Natoli said. “You need somebody who’s going to be confident and unafraid.”
“I was in the wings stage left with Jimmy [Kimmel] when they announced La La Land,” Natoli explained. “We watched for about 10 more seconds, and during that entire time, Martha was no more than five feet away from us. When La La Land was announced, she did not try to get my attention, she did not say anything. And she’s supposed to have memorized the winners.”
The veteran stage manager said he immediately told other stage managers in the wings to get Cullinan and Ruiz onstage to correct the error. But, he added, both the accountants hesitated.
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The atmosphere backstage was electric, and everything was going so well. Until it wasn’t
“John was trying to get Brian to go on stage, and he wouldn’t go,” Natoli said. “And Martha wouldn’t go. We had to push them on stage, which was just shocking to me.”
“I still do not understand the delay,” Natoli told The Wrap. “Brian should have run out there on his own. Martha should have run out there.”
Cullinan and Ruiz were the representatives from PwC tasked with figuring out the Oscar winners and bringing the sealed envelopes containing the well-guarded secrets to the awards show. Two PwC staffers previously told MarketWatch that for security, there are “two briefcases, that are identical, and we have two entire sets of winning envelopes.”
During the show, the two take their places on opposite sides of the stage, handing presenters their cards (depending on which side they enter from).
PwC, the accounting firm that counts and delivers the winning Oscars envelopes, has publicly taken the blame for the incident in which La La Land was called as the Best Picture winner over the actual honoree, Moonlight. It confirmed that Cullinan mistakenly handed the presenters the duplicate Best Actress envelope instead of the Best Picture.
The Academy Releases Statement Regarding Envelopegate: 'We Deeply Regret the Mistakes That Were Made'
PricewaterhouseCoopers Blames Accountant for Envelopegate: He Didn’t Act ‘Quickly Enough’
On top of admitting fault in the error, PwC also said that Cullinan and Ruiz did not follow protocol for correcting the error “quickly enough.” They only appeared onstage after multiple La La Land creators gave speeches – more than two minutes after La La Land was incorrectly named the winner.
Natoli revealed he and fellow stage manager, John Esposito, who stood in the wings next to PwC partner Cullinan, had had a conversation with the accountant about procedures should a nominee be announced as the incorrect winner.
“I guess Brian had done an interview where he was asked about it, so he came up to John and me and told us that in the interview, he said, ‘Well, we would tell the stage managers and check with each other and react.’ And then he said to us, ‘Is that what we do?'” Natoli said.
“I said, ‘If you know who the winner is, you don’t need to check with each other. You need to immediately go out and rectify the situation, ideally before the wrong winners get to the mic.’ And he said, ‘OK, good, that’s what we thought,'” Natoli continued.
A spokesperson for PwC told PEOPLE Ruiz and Cullinan were “taken off the Academy Awards but they still remain partners at the firm.”
Furthermore, the company said that both accountants have security guards after personal details and pictures of their homes were posted online.
A PwC spokesperson confirmed to PEOPLE Thursday that “Yes they have security. They will remain partners at the firm.