SBIFF’s Virtuosos Awards welcomes seven stars to the Arlington
The Arlington Theatre hosted this year’s edition of Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Virtuosos Awards, a chance to celebrate breakthrough or notable roles from the last year in film.
That could mean Oscar recognition, finally, after years acting like Richard E. Grant (for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) or Sam Elliott (for “A Star Is Born”), or that could mean actors just in their teens, like Elsie Fisher (“Eighth Grade”) or Thomasin McKenzie (“Leave No Trace”).
On Tuesday night it was a chance to meet these stars, get to know them, and see how this batch talk to each other at the end of the night when they all join together on stage.
The only missing award winner was “Roma” actress Yalitza Aparicio, who had already appeared early in the festival alongside her director, Alfonso Cuaron, at a free screening. Otherwise, seven actors, appearing in reverse alphabetical order, shared the stage with regular host Dave Karger.
Steven Yuen was up first, known here for his work on “The Walking Dead,” but honored for his star turn in Lee Chang-Dong’s film, “Burning.”
Of Korean descent, but raised in America, Mr. Yuen found the experience of shooting a South Korean film liberating. “It didn’t feel like home,” he said. “I was feeling like ‘the other’ everywhere.”
But he enjoyed that feeling and helped what is a very ambiguous film. “I felt the eyes of my parents on me” he said of the experience. He also revealed that though he is known for drama, he came up having trained in comedy at Second City.
The loudest cheers and whistles from the audience attended the appearance of John D. Washington, star of Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” and son of Denzel and Pauletta Washington. He talked about getting the role, which was the result of a short text from an unknown number (Spike Lee) and a copy in the mail of the book on which the film is based.
He immersed himself in the music and culture of the 1970s for the role, including daily screenings of “Super Fly.” And he got to be in a classic “Spike Lee dolly shot” at the end of the film. On the red carpet he said this about the smooth shot:
“You sit on a little stool and they pull you,” he said. “But what they were pulling were all the memories that I have of every movie I seen with that dolly scene in it. It was a tough day for Spike because I was acting very adolescent-like, I was like a kid and couldn’t focus. Because I was in such joy and ecstasy being in that moment.”
Thomasin McKenzie hails from Wellington, New Zealand, but you wouldn’t know it from her American accent in “Leave No Trace,” playing a young girl who has to adapt to a new life after living off the grid with her father.
She spoke of not “acting” but “being” as the secret to her many roles, and as she is a third-generation actor in a family where nearly everybody is in the arts, she’s looked to her family for guidance.
“They’ve given me so much advice and I really value what they have to say,” she said on the red carpet. “My parents know what they’re talking about because they’ve been in the industry for so long. … I’ve learned a lot through osmosis.” Her father has been with her on this stretch of award season, she added.
Claire Foy spoke of her role in “First Man,” playing Janet Armstrong opposite Ryan Gosling’s Neil Armstrong. Mr. Gosling’s Neil is a man who stays quiet and stoic against Janet’s emotions, but when asked about that dynamic, Ms. Foy said that she’d been on the other side of that equation when playing Queen Elizabeth II on the popular series, “The Crown.”
Richard E. Grant was charming and hilarious and navigated his way through some unintentional double entendre questions from Mr. Karger. He gave a shout-out to previous guest Ms. McKenzie, and said that she was wise in saying that it’s not acting but “being,” and that it’s even easier when you get to eat while acting.
Which he did, a lot, on the set of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” Though he has numerous credits to his name, he said that all people these days want to hear about is his co-star, Melissa McCarthy.
Elsie Fisher revealed on the red carpet that she stopped one YouTube channel she was running and has started another devoted to her homegrown animation. Was she thinking of continuing with this?
“I think so,” she said. “If I can get behind the camera, and more acting, that will be a front row seat. But animation will be the back burner.”
Lastly, Sam Elliott, who is finally getting his first Oscar nomination after years in the business. He was both directed by Bradley Cooper in “A Star Is Born” and starred alongside him.
“There’s a scene in the driveway, if you want an example, when I dropped him off,” he said. “It’s the end of the arc of their story as brothers, a real emotional moment. I remember him getting out, delivering a line, and someone handing him a monitor. All of a sudden he wasn’t Bradley anymore. He was the director.”
“I can’t say enough about Bradley,” he added. “If it wasn’t for him, this film would not have been anywhere near what it was. And it probably wouldn’t have gotten made as well.”