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Four at the fore — SBIFF’s Vanguard Award features four of 2009’s best actors

 From left, Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard and Christoph Waltz, three of the winners of the Cinema Vanguard award, speak with reporters at the Lobero Theater on Friday. ROBBY BARTHELMESS / NEWS-PRESS


From left, Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard and Christoph Waltz, three of the winners of the Cinema Vanguard award, speak with reporters at the Lobero Theater on Friday.
ROBBY BARTHELMESS / NEWS-PRESS

Gabourey Sidibe poses on the red carpet prior to receiving her Virtuoso Award.

Gabourey Sidibe poses on the red carpet prior to receiving her Virtuoso Award.

 Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllanhall, above, and Vera Farminga, below, pose for pictures during the red carpet event for the Cinema Vanguard Awards at the Lobero Theater.


Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllanhall, above, and Vera Farminga, below, pose for pictures during the red carpet event for the Cinema Vanguard Awards at the Lobero Theater.

As the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Friday night hit its second weekend, it brought to the Lobero Theater a group of 2009’s most exciting actors, to be honored with the Vanguard Awards.

Indeed, why choose between stars when all four can be on stage?

Fans lined the cordoned-off area in front of the Lobero to await the arrival of limousines bearing the actors: Vera Farmiga (“Up In The Air”); Peter Sarsgaard (“An Education”); and Christoph Waltz (“Inglorious Basterds”). Stanley Tucci (“The Lovely Bones”) was also honored, but could not make the event due to scheduling. Filling the fifth chair was Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire”), who picked up her Virtuoso Award from last Saturday’s award evening, having also been a victim of scheduling.

The evening started off with a tribute to Miss Sidibe’s stunning debut in the title role in “Precious.” The character on screen in the clip and the actress on stage couldn’t be more different, a fact Ms. Sidibe was both flattered and briefly annoyed about when pointed out. “There is not a thin line between me and Precious, there is a very thick line.”

Ms. Sidibe’s story is well known by now: the college student who skipped a class for her first audition. And, as she said, she auditioned on Monday and was hired on Wednesday.

On the red carpet, asked if she would rather write a 10-page psychology paper (her former college major) or study a script for the next day, she laughed: “Oh, I don’t study scripts! I’d probably just be as lazy if I was in school!”

Being recognized on the street, which is happening more and more these days, is “really awesome,” she says. “I just wish it would slow down so I could process it a bit.”

Mr. Sarsgaard was honored for his performance as the 30-year-old lover of the young British schoolgirl in “An Education.” His co-star, Carey Mulligan, was in town last Saturday for the Virtuoso Award. Not only have the two been bumping into each other over the last year, but around the same time as the shooting of “An Education,” they performed in a Broadway production of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull.”

“She’s my kid sister. I know that sounds weird because of the film. I’m proud of her like you’d be proud of your relative.” The two got to act together in one of Chekhov’s longest scenes. “It’s an enormous scene. My character talks and talks and talks and she says practically nothing and the audience stared at her the entire time.”

Ms. Farmiga came to many people’s attention in 2006 in “The Departed,” holding her own against Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and Leonardo DiCaprio. In “Up in the Air” she spars with George Clooney, as a frequent flyer whose life is spent in airports. Asked if her life as an actress is similarly spent, she said “in the last three months, every five days, I’m on a flight cross-country. It’s a nasty carbon footprint, it’s despicable, and I have to do something about it. I gotta solar panel my house!”

Ms. Farmiga says she’s more aware of this now because of the birth of her son, who is now 13 months old.

Mr. Waltz was honored for his groundbreaking role as the intelligent but evil Nazi in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” which both actor and director have called a career highlight. Mr. Tarantino’s script was so perfect there were no changes necessary, he said. “Sometimes you have a script that is not so well written, and you may want to take liberties. In Quentin’s case, it would be completely idiotic to mess with his script. You couldn’t get better writing. You should be on your knees thanking your creator for a script like that.”

The Festival wraps up Sunday, with two more heavy hitters to come: Colin Firth and Jeff Bridges. But for Friday night, four was the magic number.

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