The red carpet is a strange place. Normally experienced from the perspective of the observer as a glamorous affair, the actual process is quite tedious. Actors, directors, and writers are herded down an assembly line of photographers and writers to pose for a million bright flashes of lights and stop for some idle chit-chat. For the first-timers it may appear thrilling, like they have finally ‘made it.’ Yet for veteran actors, it seems like just another part of the job.
That is what makes the Santa Barbara Film Festival’s Virtuosos Award so appealing. This award is given for break through performances of lesser known actors. These actors are either being recognized for an outstanding first performance, or are finally being recognized after years of work. “A break through moment can happen at any point of your life or career,” proclaimed the night’s moderator, entertainment writer Dave Carter.
The night acknowledged seven such outstanding actors, no small feat to fit into a two hour ceremony. According to Leonard Maltin, it is the equivalent to speed dating. To fit it all in while being diplomatic, Carter brought each award recipient on stage by alphabetical order of last names for a solo interviews.
Elizabeth Banks, with over 15 years in the biz, was first to be interviewed. Acknowledged for her role in Love & Mercy, the true-life story about Beach Boy Brian Wilson, Banks admitted she loved the love story. “I loved falling in love. I’ve only done it one other time in a film – in Zach & Miri Make a Porno.” This was said with great comedic effect, a trait Banks is so well known for. Banks was quickly followed by Paul Dano, who also starred in Love & Mercy as the young Brian Wilson. Per instructions of the film’s director Bill Pohlad, Dano did not confer with John Cusack whom played the older Brian, nor did he meet Brian Wilson until he had sufficiently researched the character and his illness. “I learned so much,” recognized Dano, “I really wanted to protect the character.”
Tribute Joel Edgerton’s interview was prerecorded due to his receiving another award that night in Los Angeles. Being acknowledge for his role in Black Mass, the Australian born actor admitted that perfecting a Boston accent was difficult, and contributed his success as much to his dialect coach as to his make-up crew.
First time actor O’Shea Jackson Jr. confidently followed. Not only was Jackson given the task of playing his father in a film written about his father, but the film was also produced by his father – legendary Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton. “[My father] said he needed me,” Jackson disclosed, “and that’s all I needed to know.” Although Jackson confessed he had some doubt, “After two years of auditioning to play your own father – you get some doubt.” When asked about the lack of diversity in the nominations of best actor at the Oscars, Jackson said it was nothing to dwell on, “It was more about best picture for my father – for the family legacy.”
Following the alphabet, Hungarian actor Geza Rohrig was next, honored for his role in Son of Saul, a Hungarian film set in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. The film follows Rohrig’s character for two weeks in the camp, focusing on his face with most of the background blurred out, which was a challenge for the actor.
The youngest of the tributes was 9 year old actor Jacob Tremblay from the film Room. A drama with a heavy plot line, the actor said it was easy for a kid to watch, “It is worse for a mom than a kid. A kid is like – oh whatever.” Easily charming the audience, Tremblay was endearingly honest and thoughtful in his responses to Carter’s careful directed questions.
Alicia Vikander was the last actor honor at the tribute, but only because of the alphabetical order. Honored for two films, the Swedish dancer demonstrated a range in her acting ability, playing a sly robot in Ex Machina, and the wife to a transgender husband in the true story The Danish Girl. Vikander relied on her dance training in her portrayal of both characters, believing that movement gives them life.
After the solo interviews, Carter brought all tributes onto the stage for a round of questions. There were no egos involved as each actor showed respect and fondness for each other – especially the young Jacob. Leonard Maltin emerged on stage as the time came to hand out the awards. Each accepted graciously, without speeches or shout-outs. “It is a privilege to introduce someone we didn’t know a year or two ago,” proclaimed Maltin. But we know them now.