Fans packed into The Arlington Theatre Wednesday night to watch a panel of eight actors receive the Virtuosos awards at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
This year’s honorees were Jeremy Strong from “Armageddon Time,” Ke Huy Quan from “Everything Everywhere all at Once,” Jeremy Pope from “The Inspection,” Stephanie Hsu from “Everything Everywhere all at Once,” Nina Hoss from “Tár,” Danielle Deadwyler from “Till,” Kerry Condon from “The Banshees of Inisherin” and Austin Butler from “Elvis.”
The awards started 21 years ago, SBIFF executive director Roger Durling said, and are now the signature event of the film festival.
“There was 100 people at the Lobero Theatre that first year that we instituted this and now it has become the signature event at the Santa Barbara Film Festival,” Durling said.
“Roger and I made eight asks for this event, and we got eight yeses,” panel moderator Dave Karger said.
The panelists were all between the ages of 30 and 50, all of whom have been in the industry for at least a decade, Karger said.
“We have true veterans joining us tonight,” Karger said. “And it shows that you can have your breakout moment at any point in your career.”
Many of the stories being told had an autobiographical element from the perspective of the filmmaker.
In “Armageddon Time,” Jeremy Strong plays a character based on the filmmaker’s father and felt a responsibility to play the character respectably.
“The responsibility felt massive, to do something that was true to the man and try and somehow capture his essence and at the same time, have ownership over it creatively,” Strong said.
“I love characters who are up against something that they may not be able to handle,” Strong said.
Ke Huy Quan of “Everything Everywhere all at Once” initially quit acting.
“I buried that acting bug so deep for so many years,” Quan said. “And little did I know, you know, first of all, the landscape has changed drastically, since I stepped away.”
Quan mentioned film and TV shows like “Fresh off the Boat,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” and “The Farewell” as media that showed him there were opportunities for Asian representation in U.S. media.
“Little did I know, that acting bug that I buried for so long, slowly crawled itself back to the surface,” Quan said.
“Every time it wants to come back, I will push it away. And every time I push away, it would come back louder and stronger. Until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.”
Both Strong and Quan worked behind the camera as crewmembers before working as actors.
Quan said he was thankful for his time working as a crew member because it made him more appreciative of everyone working on a film set.
“My perspective got wider,” Quan said. “Now when I walk on the set, I see the cameraman, I see the gaffer, I see the craft service guy. I see the production designer, I see the you know, the prop master. I see everybody now.”
Jeremy Pope, from “The Inspection,” had just finished a Broadway run a few days before attending the panel. “The Inspection” is about a gay Black man who joins the marines and is based off writer-director Elegance Bratton’s real-life experiences.
“‘The Inspection’ changed me in a very real way,” Pope said. “I think about this movie, had I seen a movie that represented this blackness, and this queerness growing up as I was trying to figure out who I was and how I identified and it’s so honest, and it’s so vulnerable. It took a lot out of me.”
Stephanie Hsu from “Everything Everywhere all at Once” said the mother-daughter relationship in the film was largely based off of one of the film’s writer-directors’ Daniel Kwan’s experiences being first generation and an immigrant and growing up in an immigrant household.
Hsu also drew upon her own experiences when acting in the mother-daughter relationship dynamic.
“We really brought an inherent knowing of that very specific mother daughter relationship that you can’t really explain,” Hsu said.
“Complicated, beautiful, messy love so deep… So I think Michelle (Yeoh) and I just brought some of our own stuff to the fold.”
Nina Hoss, who plays Sharon, the partner of Cate Blanchett’s Lydia in “Tár,” said she was very curious about the character.
“I was of course very curious to work with Todd, and with Cate as a partner, obviously because I find her an incredibly exciting actress,” Hoss said. “But Sharon was a little bit of a mystery to me in the beginning.”
Danielle Deadwyler played the real-life character Mamie Till, a mother who sought to pursue justice after her 14-year-old son Emmett Till was lynched in 1955, Mississippi in “Till.”
Deadwyler said she was glad the film was made to share the story with the world.
“Mamie wanted this film made,” Deadwyler said. “She wanted it made in 1955, she wanted to continue to spread the word to spread the joy of Emmett to continue to talk about what happened.”
In preparing for the film, Deadwyler practiced lines with her son and read the memoirs of her character.
“Families who go through this type of stuff are not that moment,” Deadwyler said. “Those families are the joyful parts of their life.”
Kerry Condon, of “The Banshees of Inisherin,” said she has been working with the film’s writer-director Martin McDonagh before and learned how to act while doing his plays.
“You learn so much when you do theater, because you hear the reaction immediately,” Condon said. “So, you’re kind of, your comic timing and blocking and all these things that you need to kind of will help you be a good actress.”
The crowd cheered the loudest for Austin Butler for his role as Elvis in the 2022 film “Elvis.”
Butler had been preparing for the role for a year when production was shut down during the pandemic. Tom Hanks, who also starred in the film, caught COVID-19 a few days before filming was about to start.
Butler was told the film might not get made, but continued to train for the role because he did not want to lose focus.
“I wanted to do justice to this man, Elvis, you know, and I wanted to do justice to his family and all the fans around the world.”
“It means so much to me (to be honored),” Butler told Noozhawk. “I grew up coming to Santa Barbara, so to be here tonight under the circumstances feels so good.”