Virtuosos Award Draws in Huge Crowds
L to R: Moderator Dave Karger, Kumail Nanjiani, Daniel Kaluuya, Timothée Chalamet, John Boyega, Hong Chau, and Mary J. Blige (Photo: Fritz Olenberger)
Fans swarmed the Arlington Theatre on Saturday evening to see six of Hollywood's acclaimed actors during the Virtuosos Awards.
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival honoring Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Hong Chau (Downsizing), John Boyega (Detroit), Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), and Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name). Gal Gadot (Wonderwoman) was scheduled to appear but had to cancel due to the flu.
The Virtuosos Award, presented by UGG®, is an honor created to recognize a select group of talent who have distinguished themselves through breakthrough performances in film this past year.
“2017 has seen a variety of breakout performances,” stated Roger Durling, Executive Director of SBIFF. “We are thrilled to celebrate this diverse group of actors who have earned their place as some of the most talented individuals working in the industry today.”
Dave Karger, the Virtuosos host for the eighth consecutive year, introduced a montage of the actor's performances this past year, then conducted one-on-one Q&A's as well as a panel discussion.
Renowned singer/songwriter Mary J. Blige walked out to a standing ovation for her powerful performance as Florence Jackson, a mother struggling to maintain land in 1940s Mississippi, in Mudbound.
Blige, who made Oscars history by becoming the first person ever to be nominated for an acting performance and an original song in a single year, shared with the audience what went through her mind the morning of the announcement. “I didn’t even watch. I tried to sleep completely through the whole thing and my channel wasn’t on any of the channels that were announcing anything,” she said. “Things like this just don’t happen. I was so grateful. The grace of God is just everything because this is all the grace of God. I can’t even give it to anyone else.”
In a special announcement, Blige announced she will be singing her nominated song "Mighty River" during the 90th Academy Awards Celebration next month.
John Boyega was honored for his portrayal of Melvin Dismukes, a security guard who is falsely accused of killing three men on one of the most horrific nights in American history, in the film Detroit. Boyega is also known for his role as Finn in the Star Wars franchise.
He explained his acting own process in meeting the real-life Melvin Dismukes. "I was trying to get to know him separate from the circumstance of the movie... he had a fine deep voice and was an introvert," said Boyega. When asked about the heaviness of Detroit and how some moviegoers shy away from seeing an intense film, Boyega expressed why this film matters so much. "It's important. It's our mess and it's our world."
In Call Me By Your Name, Timothée Chalamet gives a brilliant and heartfelt performance as Elio, a teenage boy who begins a relationship with his father’s assistant. Chalamet, one of the youngest actors to be nominated for an Academy Award, talked about striving to be authentic in acting. "Call Me by Your Name" is based on a book and there were already a lot of fans of that book, so the idea of acting in it was just to be as faithful to the adaptation as possible,” he said. “As an actor it becomes your chief responsibility staying as faithful to that and just being true.”
When asked about the infamous peach scene, Chalamet laughed and stated, "it just had to be done." There were also rumors about a potential sequel to the film with Dakota Johnson playing Armie Hammer's wife, to which Chalamet said he would definitely be on board.
Hong Chau delivers an inspiring performance in the social satire Downsizing, in which she brings humor and compassion to the role of Ngoc Lan Tran. She's also known for her role as Jackie on Big Little Lies.
Chau shared with the crowd her experience of reading the script for the first time and her strong desire to be selected for the role. “I was blown away because it was such a creative story that had so much going on,” she said. “I was ready to cage fight somebody for this role.”
Daniel Kaluuya gives a star-making performance as the unsuspecting yet resourceful Chris Washington in the speculative thriller Get Out. Kaluuya touched on overcoming the challenge which was Jordan Peele’s want to cast an American actor for his thriller which focused on racism. “He had reservations because, for him, it felt like an African-American story,” said Kaluuya. “But then I opened up to him about my experience as a black man. I just talked to him about my experiences and my life. I get it, I understand it. That’s my life.”
Nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Actor category, Kaluuya stated, "I'm not trying to be good, I'm trying to be honest."
Based on a true story that he co-wrote with his wife Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani brings comedy, pathos, and dramatic stakes to The Big Sick as a man whose girlfriend falls into a mysterious coma.
Nanjiani hilariously expressed how strongly they felt about the project. “Emily and I just really wanted to tell this story. I was like, 'I want to see this movie and no one else can make this movie.' You know you when you get old ketchup and you have to slam the back of it and then the congealed piece comes out? And then the rest of it can come out? To me, this story was the congealed piece. If I don’t get this out, nothing else will come out.” He also expressed how he would have been really upset if he saw another film about a Pakistani man falling in love with an American woman while she was in a coma and he wasn't part of it.
All the award recipients took the stage for a group discussion on a variety of topics. Nanjiani easily had the crowd laughing with his quick wit and ribbing of other actors. Chalamet did his best Matthew McConaughey impersonation based on a voicemail that he received from the actor. Nanjiani was quick to call out that he probably still has the voicemail and we all needed to hear it. Moments later, Chalamet's agent was running down the aisle with his cellphone. After many laughs and a few attempts, we weren't able to hear said voicemail, but the exchange was entertaining enough.
Back to the Future actor and local resident Christopher Lloyd then took to the stage and awarded each recipient.
Prior recipients for the award included Dev Patel, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Alicia Vikander, Rosamund Pike, J.K. Simmons, Eddie Redmayne, Quvenzhane Wallis, Rooney Mara, Melissa McCarthy, Andrew Garfield, Saoirse Ronan, Casey Affleck, Marion Cotillard, Viola Davis, Sally Hawkins, Ellen Page, Brie Larson, and Jared Leto.