Saturday night saw the return of the ever-popular Virtuosos Award event at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF), where actors who gave stand-out (and award-nominated) performances this year are honored. It was moderated for the 14th time by TCM host Dave Karger, who is always refreshing and professional and puts everyone at ease.
This year’s group included: Danielle Brooks (THE COLOR PURPLE), Colman Domingo (RUSTIN & THE COLOR PURPLE), America Ferrera (BARBIE), Lily Gladstone (THE KILLERS OF FLOWER MOON), Greta Lee (PAST LIVES), Charles Melton (MAY DECEMBER), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (THE HOLDOVERS), and Andrew Scott (ALL OF US STRANGERS).
It was the most diverse group ever gathered at SBIFF, and as Dave Karger noted, “it doesn’t include one straight white male!”
The evening began with a surprise: a performance by Scott George and the Osage Tribal Singers. Seven men sat in a circle around large drums, and seven women stood in a ring around them. The drumming and vocalizing was exuberant, beautiful, and very moving. There was nothing said of the significance of the song, or anything about the performers, so the audience just soaked it in and appreciated this unique moment.
Unfortunately, two of the honorees could not attend in person. Danielle Brooks and Colman Domingo (working on projects in New Zealand and Atlanta, respectively) each recorded a sincere thank you to the festival for the distinction, and expressed their disappointment at being unable to attend.
The remaining six honorees provided plenty of energy and stories, however. First up was America Ferrera, who was asked about the amazing monologue she delivered in Barbie about being a woman. She said that Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach told her they had written it with her in mind, and she proved to be the perfect woman for the job. She said the film, and its messages about feminism and social roles and order, were so important to her, and made her “time-travel” between her child and adult selves to examine and appreciate what it all meant.
“What I feel is that it needed to be brought into the culture and I feel so grateful that I go to do that,” Ferrera said of the monologue.
Next was Andrew Scott, the very charismatic Irish actor, perhaps best-known for his role as “the hot priest” in Fleabag. As he got comfortable in the interview area, he glanced up and saw the huge projection behind them right after saying he hates watching himself onscreen, and said “I look like Godzilla up there!”
He discussed filming the sex scenes in All of Us Strangers, and said having an intimacy coordinator makes a huge difference, and really does make the actors comfortable and able to focus on the emotional aspects of the scene. He talked about grief, one of the film’s main themes, and how he sees people having amazing resilience, and that vulnerability is our greatest power.
“Tenderness between two men is radical. Vulnerability is our greatest power,” Scott said.
Charles Melton followed, and said the easiest part for him was putting on the required 40 lbs. for his role in May December. He described the emotionally stilted character he played, a man whose youth was stolen from him, and that a scene on the roof with his character’s son was so significant in that the son is actually more mature than his father.
“I knew that I had to prepare like I’ve never prepared before, and leave it in the hands of Todd Haynes,” said Melton. He also described his character’s interest in butterflies, and that they had a “butterfly wrangler” on set to manage them.
Da’Vine Joy Randolph began by telling Dave Karger how much she loves him on TCM, and described her detailed nighttime routine that included selecting her TCM movie for the night. In fact she said that she learned how to smoke properly for her Holdovers role by watching old Bette Davis films. She also improved her cooking skills for the film, and suggested to director Alexander Payne that they actually eat the Christmas dinner while filming the scene rather than “pretend eating” (which they did).
She confessed that when she’s on a plane she loves seeing what films or shows other passengers are watching, and recently saw a woman watching The Holdovers and crying. The woman eventually recognized her and told her the performance helped her deal with her own grief, which meant so much.
“I walked passed her and she was sniffling. She grabbed my arm and she hugged me. That’s the stuff you dream of,” said Randolph.
Greta Lee described an interesting process used by Past Lives director Celine Song, which was having characters meet for the first time when filming their first scenes together. This created a real unrehearsed quality to their interaction.
In describing her character Nora’s journey in the film she said her mother watched it and declared that she was Nora – “It’s really about me!” She also described the incredible amazement and pride in seeing her Asian American face on screen, especially in close up – it was still such a new thing to see in films.
“This script was so striking for so many reasons. Both small, urgent, and necessary. Like everything I had been searching for all my life,” said Lee.
The sixth honoree was Lily Gladstone, who arrived in an amazing sculptural feather outfit – it didn’t look practical or comfortable, but it was strikingly beautiful! Karger asked where she was the morning the Oscar nominations were announced, and she said she’d returned to Osage county, and that she strongly felt that the impact of the nomination, the role itself, and the film, were for all her people.
“A win for one of us means a win for all of us,” said Gladstone.
She recalled that when she first read the script, her character, Molly, only had three main scenes, but after she was cast and director Martin Scorsese got to know her the role was expanded, and the story focused much more on the Osage point of view.
The individual conversations were followed by a group discussion about what languages each might want to learn, what music they listened to during the shoot, and other films they recommend. Then Jane Lynch came out to confer the awards on each honoree, and added some final upbeat comments to a very fun evening.
The last four year’s Virtuosos honorees included Austin Butler, Jeremy Strong, Caitriona Balfe, Ariana DeBose, Jamie Dornan, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Andra Day, Vanessa Kirby, Zendaya, Awkwafina, Taron Egerton, Cynthia Erivo, Beanie Feldstein, Florence Pugh, and Taylor Russell.
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts and educational organization dedicated to discovering and showcasing the best in independent and international cinema. Learn more at sbiff.org