At the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Wednesday night, eight performers who, at different stages of their careers, experienced a big screen breakthrough in 2022, were feted with Virtuoso Awards: Austin Butler (Elvis), Kerry Condon (The Banshees Of Inisherin), Danielle Deadwyler (Till), Nina Hoss (Tár), Stephanie Hsu (Everything Everywhere All At Once), Jeremy Pope (The Inspection), Ke Huy Quan (Everything Everywhere All At Once) and Jeremy Strong (Armageddon Time).
The Virtuoso Awards gathering at Santa Barbara’s historic Arlington Theatre was moderated, as always, by TCM’s Dave Karger, who spoke on stage with each honoree individually before convening the entire group for a conversation.
Strong, an Emmy winner for Succession, said of being asked to play director James Gray’s father in Armageddon Time, “The responsibility felt massive,” noting that the character was “A Jewish Stanley Kowalski with a PhD.”
Quan, always full of energy, reflected on his journey back to acting decades after leaving his child stardom behind, having spent many of the intervening years in behind-the-scenes capacities on film sets. “That acting bug that I buried for so long slowly crawled its way back to the surface,” he said, and when he was asked to play Waymond in Everything Everywhere All at Once, “All of those experiences that I’d had, I brought all of them into that character.”
Just four days after completing a Broadway run as Jean-Michel Basquiat in The Collaboration, Pope acknowledged that he was exhausted, but dismissed that as “champagne problems” and gamely spoke about portraying his The Inspection director Elegance Bratton, a gay man who served in the military during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era, in a film shot in just 19 days in 117-degree Jackson, Mississippi. Pope, who is himself openly gay, said of the part, “It started to bring up some ugly truths in myself, things that I hadn’t dealt with, and it was very healing.”
Quan’s costar Hsu spoke about the emotional climax of her performance and the film, when her character confronts her mother, and said, “I’ll never forget that scene.”
Hoss discussed working closely with Cate Blanchett on Tár.
Deadwyler, asked what it was like to be the subject of “Oscar snub outrage” and if she had “felt the love,” responded without hesitation, “Oh, every day! Award season has given us the opportunity to share the themes, the goals, the intentions of our film.” She said of Mamie Till Mobley, the woman she portrays in the film, “Mamie wanted this film made,” so, she continued, “Nothing but a win in every sense of the word.”
Irishwoman Condon provided a funny discourse on the difference between “feckin” (a word often used in her film) and “fuckin’” (a word not), before more seriously analyzing her character (“There’s a lot she’s not saying”) and her experience on a male-dominated set (“It was a bit lonely”).
Then Butler, for whom the vast majority of attendees had shown up, based on my reading of the room, spoke about the challenges of playing Elvis Presley without just doing another “impersonation.” He also spoke about the gift of getting to know and befriend the Presley family, including Presley’s recently deceased daughter Lisa Marie Presley, after the film was completed.
The seven other honorees then returned to the stage and fielded a wide variety of questions from Karger. Pope said he’d like to work with Deadwyler, who comes from the world of dance — and they did a little dance together on stage. Condon asked Butler about the pressure of playing a famous singer, to which he acknowledged his trepidation and said, “If it doesn’t go well, you’ll never work again.” Hsu confessed that she’d like “to do a silent biopic where I play Charlie Chaplin,” while Strong expressed interest in playing Leonard Cohen. And asked if anyone wanted to sing a line from a song that described how they’re feeling, Butler begged off and Quan cracked, “Listen to the sound of my voice, you don’t want to hear me sing!” Pope, a two-time Tony nominee, was the only one who consented, singing, “What About Love” by Heart, which brought down the house.
The festivities closed with Santa Barbara local and Emmy winner Jane Lynch complimenting the honorees for providing a “master class” and then presenting them with their awards.