The Santa Barbara Film Festival handed out its Virtuosos Awards on Saturday night. The awards are handed out to actors and actresses who delivered breakthrough performances. Those honored this year included Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Hong Chau (Downsizing), John Boyega (Detroit), Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), and Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name). Unfortunately, Gadot was unable to attend after catching the flu which has been making its round in Hollywood during awards season.
It was the perfect Saturday night in Santa Barbara as the stars walked the red carpet, stopping for selfies with fans as they made their way into the Arlington Theater. Dave Karger hosted the evening, bringing out each honoree for a brief one to one before the entire panel came out.
Karger introduced each actor in alphabetical order. Mary J. Blige was first out. The Mudbound actress made history by becoming the first actress to be nominated for an acting performance and original song in the same year. She confirmed to Karger that she would be performing “Mighty River” at the Oscars ceremony next month. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I tried to sleep through the whole thing. My TV wasn’t on,” Blige said, when asked what she was doing the morning the nominations were announced. “My texts were going off and my girlfriend was on a plane she saw it first, then my publicist called.” She celebrated with her sister. “I was ready to accept whatever happened.”
Talking about Mudbound and Florence. Blige said, “It gave me a place to give my heaviness to. Florence was heavy. They were still looked at as slaves because the Ku Klux Klan didn’t get the memo that they [The Jacksons] were free. I gave Florence all the heaviness I had inside from where I was at that time.” Talking about working with director Dee Rees, “She helped me have a confidence.”
Detroit’s John Boyega said working on the film about a tragic incident of police brutality was the “biggest movie I’ve ever done.” Boyega talked about some people’s reluctance to see the movie because of the topic. “You can’t necessarily blame them. It’s evolved and taken a dark turn and a lot of people go to the cinema to escape, so having that in their space can feel claustrophobic, but it is a must-watch.”
Timothee Chalamet joked about going to high school with Baby Driver’s Ansel Elgort and said, “He always got cast in the school plays.” The Call Me By Your Name actor who had read the novel was asked about his reaction to the infamous peach scene said, “This is what I’ve been waiting for.”
Downsizing’s Hong Chau talked about working with Alexander Payne. At the time she had gone to audition, she was working on Big Little Lies, and her co-stars had worked with Payne. She joked about pursuing the role and how she’s often mistaken for being Chinese. Chau is Vietnamese.
Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya was still in shock over his Oscar nomination and joked about feeling like he had written in his name alongside Denzel Washington. “It makes no sense, but that’s my name and it’s amongst those names.” On working with Jordan Peele, he said, “I talked to him about my experience.” Kaluuya who hails from London said he could relate to the role. “It’s my life. It’s about the black experience.” Kaluuya would try to figure out Chris by asking Peele to describe an emotion for the scene. “I think in emotion if it feels right on the inside, I hope it translates. I’m not trying to be good, I’m trying to be honest.” He answered.
Kaluuya also talked about the intensity of the hypnosis scene. He said he would walk into the garden and think whenever Peele said cut. “I had to throw everything at that. She [Keener] had her process and I had my process.”
The Big Sick’s Kumail Nanjiani talked about hearing the film had been nominated for an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for a story based on how he fell in love and married Emily V. Gordon. Nanjiani honored his wife saying, “When we got nominated for the Academy Award I felt such joy and pride. She really fought through so much to get here and to be rewarded in this way. I’m so proud of her.”
This is the second year I attended the Virtuosos Awards and needless to say it was the funniest panel I’ve seen. There was such a great vibe between the honorees and Najiani’s roasting of Chalamet continued.
Watch two highlights of the evening that I was able to capture. The first is of Chalamet doing an impression of a voicemail from Matthew McConaughey: