The Virtuosos Award evening at the Arlington Theatre Tuesday night brought in six actors who had breakout roles last year in everything from indie features to big-budget Hollywood films.
It was the kind of evening that showed the Santa Barbara International Film Festival brings in not only superstars, but also actors who may turn out to be stars in their own right. See for example, previous years’ honoring of Marion Cotillard and Viola Davis.
The six for this year, each interviewed in separate 20-minute segments, were Ann Dowd, Elle Fanning, Ezra Miller, Eddie Redmayne, Omar Sy and Oscar-nominated Quvenzhané Wallis
Ms. Dowd plays the fast-food chain manager in “Compliance.” Elle (Dakota’s younger sister) plays a young anti-nuke activist in ’60s London in Sally Potter’s “Ginger & Rosa.” Mr. Miller portrays a confident gay high school student nicknamed “Nothing” in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Tony Award-winner Mr. Redmayne sings the role of Marius in Tom Hooper’s “Les Miserables.” Mr. Sy plays a caretaker to a paraplegic aristocrat in “The Intouchables.” Quvenzhané plays the lead role of Hushpuppy in Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
Outside on the red carpet, and inside the just-over-half-full Arlington, the biggest reactions were reserved for Mr. Miller, Mr. Sy and Mr. Redmayne, with female screams the loudest for the last two.
Elle and Ms. Dowd were at a distinct disadvantage, mostly due to film distribution. “Compliance” played on very few screens nationwide, and already is on Amazon as a rental. “Ginger & Rosa” hasn’t even opened, a fact that host Dave Karger of Fandango.com smoothed over by setting up the excerpted scene and summarizing the plot.
Ms. Dowd spoke first, charming the audience with her good-natured ribbing of Mr. Karger for using the verb “toiling” to describe theater work. But she was quick to explain the world of a no-budget feature like “Compliance,” in which there are no trailers and no egos, as being like a “school play, in the best sense of the word,” because of the camaraderie.
Elle’s enthusiastic chatter raced far ahead of her breath and often dovetailed into a sort of garbled word pie at the end of a convoluted sentence. She was nothing like her red-haired British character in “Ginger & Rosa,” and as audiences learned, she auditioned at 12 years old to play a 17-year-old, and wound up working on the movie at 14. Ms. Potter henceforth removed all reference to a specific age in the script.
Mr. Miller bent and contorted into his ideas and concepts as he spoke of the benefits of playing a positive, confident gay character in his film. “There’s a lot of tokenization of gay characters in movies shere they are either (hilarious) or victims,” he said, “so it was exciting to be in a film where there is such a strong, brave, compassionate character.”
Like Elle, 9-year-old Quvenzhané has watched most of her childhood be subsumed into her film, where she delivered a powerful performance at age 6.
Mr. Sy spoke about his longstanding relationship with his director, and Mr. Redmayne recounted how he got his role through grueling, “X Factor”-like auditions.
Mr. Zeitlin, who also spoke on Jan. 26 at the Director’s Panel, presented the award at the end of the evening.
The SBIFF continues today with more films and the American Riviera Award honoring of director Quentin Tarantino.