THE BIG SCENE: IN CONCERT: The Certifiably Great Eight
Sometimes the tale of a movie year is not found in the big names nominated for the Oscars, but in the breakout roles, the young stars, and the actors finally getting their due after years in the trenches. That’s where SBIFF’s Virtuosos Award evening comes into play. At its beginning, the Lobero was big enough to hold the audience for a chance to see interviews with an average of eight actors, and those years were also fraught with sudden cancellations and dropouts. But the SBIFF now has the event on point, moving the evening to the Arlington just like its other celebrity tributes and streamlining the event.
One reason: Santa Barbara cineastes cottoned onto the fact that some of their favorite stars might turn up. Check out 2010’s honorees: Saoirse Ronan, Emily Blunt, Carey Mulligan, Michael Stuhlbarg. Later they’d see Eddie Redmayne, Jared Leto, Brie Larson, and—now returning for his own tribute—Michael B. Jordan.
This year, the Virtuosos honors eight actors whose performances stood out or who gave that extra oomph to already brilliant films. Let’s take a look at the eight actors to be honored on Tuesday:
Of the eight Aparicio, the star of Alfonso Cuar-n’s beautiful family drama “Roma” had the least experience before playing the role of the housekeeper in this autobiographical film. Her only acting, she told reporters for the “Evening Standard” was when she used to tell fibs to her mother as a kid. But Cuar-n saw something in her and chose her out of 3,000 to play the stoic role at the center of this turbulent film. “People who know me cannot believe that I am here because I am so shy,” she said. “When they started to hear that there was an actress from Tlaxiaco (her home city) who was making it, they thought it was my sister, so they were a little bit surprised.” The role has earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
The emotional heart of the drama “Leave No Trace,” the 18-year-old might just be the Kiwi version of Jennifer Lawrence, who shared a similar hardscrabble breakout role in Winter’s Bone, which just happened to be directed by the same person, Debra Granik. Though she comes from a serious lineage of actors—her parents, her three siblings, even her 91-year-old grandmother are actors, writers, and directors—she was reluctant to start acting. But since the success of “Leave No Trace,” she’s shot four films, one of which being the sequel to “Top Gun.”
Even younger than McKenzie, the 15-year-old Fisher attended eighth grade at a school in Thousand Oaks while she was shooting “Eighth Grade,” Bo Burnam’s delightful but sometimes brutally honest comedy. Fisher told Jimmy Kimmel that she’s very similar to her lead character in the film. Audiences will know Fisher’s voice more than her face—at five years old, she was the voice of Agnes in “Despicable Me.”
Moving toward more familiar names and faces, Claire Foy will be better known to us as Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’ “The Crown” than for that which she’s being honored, as Janet Shearon, Neil Armstrong’s wife in Damien Chazelle’s “First Man.” “At no point did I ever consider that I would be kind of given the chance to do it. I was so honored,” she told website The Playlist. “Just because it’s a Damien Chazelle film with Ryan Gosling. I mean those sort of things don’t happen very often.” Though there was a script, Foy and Ryan Gosling, who plays Neil Armstrong improvised a lot of footage, so much of which never made it into the film. Of this she is at peace. “That’s the thing of being an actor, once you start shooting, it’s not yours. It never was.”
Similarly, Korean-American actor Yeun is best known to the majority of Americans as tktktkt in “The Walking Dead” (before his shocking demise this previous season) as he is for his role as the charismatic arsonist in Chang-dong Lee’s “Burning,” adapted from a short story by Haruki Murakami. For the actor though, this was a chance to not feel “othered,” as it was shot in South Korea by a South Korean crew. However, it was his American-ness (he was raised in Michigan) that director Lee saw would give him that peculiar feeling among audiences. “He’s so Korean, but he’s not at all, you know what I mean?” he told Slate. “People can draw their own conclusions about who Ben is. He’s meant to be enigmatic and ambiguous. But for me, the experience that I had there felt rich and full because there wasn’t an otherness that I felt.”
John David Washington
Many people went into Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” not knowing that John David Washington is the son of Denzel Washington, who was at SBIFF two years ago for his own tribute. Which is exactly as it should be—Washington owned the film regardless of his lineage, playing the Colorado Springs cop who infiltrates his local KKK over the phone with the whitest voice he can muster up. Before acting however, he had plans to play football until an injury took that dream away. Still, he told CNN, “The concept of team play truly gives you a chance to win or succeed in truth, telling like it is on the field. Scheduling, your concentration, your discipline, all of that, to me, is a direct result of football and how I apply it to my work now.”
Richard E. Grant
Now here is no breakout role for this actor. Grant had his breakout with his first role as the title character is beloved cult classic “Withnail and I,” and has been a steady presence in British (and American) film ever since. He’s back in the spotlight however starring alongside Melissa McCarthy in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” celebrity biographer Lee Israel’s best friend Jack. “I always panic on the first day of work,” he told Variety. “You can do all the Stanislavsky-backstory homework, but when that moment arrives and you are in the clothes, hair and makeup of somebody else, and you’re saying the words created by somebody else – I never know how to do it. It’s a complete mystery to me. I don’t know where it comes from. But, of course I love it.” For the role, Grant has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
Known for his drawl and bushy mustache, Elliot has been a familiar face in all kinds of dramas, but knocked it out of park with his role as Bradley Cooper’s character’s older brother in “A Star Is Born.” After 50 years in the biz, it earned him his first Oscar nomination. However, he was humble about it. “[I]t’s really about the work; it’s just about the creative process” he told Deadline. “It’s great to be recognized for that, that’s really all it’s about.”