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Jean Dujardin

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TENDING TO A LOT: Parking attendant Tyler Bounelis sat near an empty lot at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Monday. Heavy rain on Sunday forced Nascar to postpone the Daytona 500 to Monday, the first postponement in its 54-year history. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press)

CONSOLED: Samantha Kimball hugged her little brother, Daniel, after she picked him up from school in Chardon, Ohio, Monday. A teenager described as an outcast opened fire in the cafeteria of Chardon High School, killing one student and wounding four before being caught, authorities said. (David Maxwell/Corbis/Euoprean Pressphoto Agency)

TESTING, TESTING: A technician checked phone lines at the European Council headquarters in Brussels Monday. European Union leaders will gather there for a summit March 1-2. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

FIT TO PRINT: A man read the news Monday in Dakar, Senegal, as the country’s papers covered a presidential election. President Abdoulaye Wade said he expects a runoff; votes in 282 out of 551 districts showed him leading 13 opposition candidates with 32.17% of the vote. (Youssef Boudlal/Reuters)

OSCAR BLISS: Best actress winner Meryl Streep, of ‘The Iron Lady,’ and best actor winner Jean Dujardin, of ‘The Artist,’ posed with their Oscars at the 84th Academy Awards in Hollywood Sunday. (Joel Ryan/Associated Press)

AT THE WHITE HOUSE: Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, wore a button reading ‘Cheer up’ as he listened to President Barack Obama give a speech during the National Governors Association meeting at the White House in Washington Monday. (Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

TRADITIONAL GIRLS: Dongria Kondh tribal girls watched sacrifice rituals during the annual festival of Niyam Raja in Lanjigarh, India, Sunday. (Biswaranjan Rout/Associated Press)

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Each January, Los Angeles is effervescent with anticipation, as the world’s biggest stars gather to participate in a flurry of parties, dinners and events in the walk-up to the Golden Globes, marking the beginning of the awards season. This year was no exception.

TIME’s annual Oscars portfolio showcases each year’s best performers through a portfolio of striking portraits. Tears, giggles, pranks and emotions ran high, and loads of laughter pealed through the studio during this year’s shoot, which resulted in a series of images and short films photographed and directed by Sebastian Kim. It was our most ambitious Oscars shoot yet. We had just three days to photograph and film 12 world-class actors during their busiest time of the year.

George Clooney arrived early on set, but it didn’t take long for the actor to settle in and begin joking around and planning pranks with Michael Fassbender, who had recently been photographed by Kim for the February issue of Interview magazine. This previous experience of working together made for a great rapport between them. And it wasn’t the only happy reunion on set: Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer happily embraced upon seeing each other on our set, giving us a glimpse of the fun these two had while working together on The Help. Later, Adepero Oduye was brought to tears when introduced by Joel Stein, who was on hand to interview the actors, to Davis, one of her greatest heroes. “It was so unbelievably Hollywood and yet really real,” Stein says.

Kim says that the project was the most star-studded he’s photographed so far. “I was quite excited photographing Meryl Streep,” he says, noting that his girlfriend is a big fan of the actress’s, “so naturally I was quite nervous when I met her. Being nervous on set is not a good thing as it impedes your concentration, but I just kept thinking, ‘My gosh…I better a get a good shot of her and make my girlfriend happy!’”

But Kim needn’t have been nervous. Streep was running a bit late, having arrived from a previous shoot with MGM studios, where she was taking part in a project to photograph the greatest living actors of our time. She was immediately forgiven—and how could she not be? Streep is kind and gracious, possesses a rare elegance and professionalism that made the photo shoot feel like anything but work. In fact, this set the tone for all of our actors’ portraits, which also included sittings with Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Christopher Plummer, Michelle Williams, Rooney Mara, Jean Dujardin, as well as the adorable Uggie, the dog in The Artist.

It’s a rare pleasure to watch actors of this caliber play for the camera. Instead of characters, they play themselves, with a focus and passion that can only come from years of experience on set.

The performers’ interviews with Joel Stein can be viewed here.

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