Santa Barbara was able to have its cake and eat it, too, as the Arlington Theatre was buzzing on Friday night with the presentation of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Montecito Award to Jennifer Aniston for her recent role in the movie Cake.

The sold-out audience was captivated by her charm and showed strong support for her performance in the challenging role as Claire Bennett in the film.

“For me, I was so excited for the challenge. I felt it was such a beautiful written script. Claire is so complex — it’s an actor’s dream role,” Aniston told Noozhawk from the red carpet, wearing a black Tom Ford jump suit.

The 45-year-old Aniston began her career in television, receiving her most notable break in 1994 with the role of Rachel Green on the show Friends. A raucous group of fans sang along to the tune from the hit show, “I’ll Be There for You,” while waiting for autographs.

During the 10-year success of the comedy series. she also moved into movies such as Office Space and The Good Girl. Other performances in film have included Horrible Bosses, Along Came Polly and a vocal performance in the animated film The Iron Giant.

It’s her latest role in Cake that has attracted the attention of film festivals, including a standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival after the screening of the film.

“Once in awhile a performer who we thought we knew gets outside of his or her comfort zone and shows us the unexpected,” SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling said. “When that happens it is cause for celebration — and this is why the 2015 Montecito Award is bestowed upon Ms. Aniston.”

The tribute presentation began with a montage of clips that showcased her 25 years of work, bringing laughs, breathless moments, tears and cheers from a sold-out crowd at the Arlington.

Aniston quipped that the montage with all of the applause was “just amazing. This has taken my breath away. It was so beautiful. “


Actress Jennifer Aniston talks about her career and her role in the movie Cake. (Fritz Olenberger / Noozhawk photo)

The beloved actress discussed her early struggles in acting while working as a bike messenger and waitress in New York. And how her father, John Aniston, also an actor with a role on Days of Our Lives, tried to persuade her not to get into the field. Aniston, however, “had this deep feeling in my gut that someday something special was going to happen.”

SBIFF board chairman Jeff Barbakow presented the Montecito Award to Aniston for her entire body of work and the transformation that the actress took for her role in Cake, dressing down from her usual glamorous persona to a gritty, scarred and drug-addicted character struggling with the pain of losing a child, who drives away her friends, husband and support group.

Aniston shared with Noozhawk from the red carpet how she prepared for the role and what were some of the difficult moments that she had to overcome.

“It was really important that I portrayed correctly and I had an amazing team — from people that are doctors to women and men suffering from chronic pain, to doctors explaining drugs and the combination of them and the use of them,” Aniston shared. “I just learned a boatload and I have such a deep, deep passion for people suffering from chronic pain.”

Her well-documented romantic life has included a relationship with Brad Pitt, but it was her current squeeze and fiance, Justin Theroux, who was beside her Friday night on the red carpet and during the tribute. Theroux is also an actor known for his work in Mulholland Drive and the HBO series The Leftovers, and also starred with Aniston in the 2012 film Wanderlust.

An upcoming film in development for Aniston is Mean Moms with director Beth McCarthy-Miller, who has been nominated for eight Emmy Awards for her work on 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live.

A Southern California native, Aniston’s list of international recognition includes 32 wins and 67 nominations for awards from an array of categories, including the Directors Guild of America, Independent Spirit Awards, the MTV Movie Awards and many more.

Aniston was gracious for the honor from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and shared how she’s been coming to Santa Barbara since she was a baby and has memories of building sandcastles and making dreams.

The Montecito Award was created in recognition of a performer who has given a series of classic and standout performances throughout his or her career and whose style has made a major contribution to film, and Aniston’s notable work in comedy and drama fit the bill in this 10th anniversary of the award. Previous recipients of the Montecito Award include such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey, Daniel Day-Lewis, Geoffrey Rush, Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet, Javier Bardem, Naomi Watts and Annette Bening, who was the award’s first recipient in 2005.

The Tribute Awards continue on Saturday night with Michael Keaton set to receive the Modern Master Award.

Click here for more information about the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.