Posted by Larry Gleeson
Last night the 33rd annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) hosted its biggest Virtuosos Awards presented by UGG® in recent memory at the historic Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, Calif. The Virtuosos Awards is an honor created to recognize a select group of talent who have distinguished themselves through breakthrough performances in film. This year’s honorees were Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Hong Chau (Downsizing), John Boyega (Detroit), Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), and Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name).
Excitement was abuzz outside the Arlington with the arrivals of this year’s talent. But it Dania Ramirez, lead actress in Jay Silverman’s Off The Menu, who was the doll of the red carpet with Hong Chau, being the evening’s debutante – and that’s not taking anything away from Mary J. Blige, Daniel Kaluuya, Timothy Chalamette, John Boyega, Kumail Nanjiani and wife, Emily Gordon or the evening’s presenter, Christopher Lloyd.
Inside Dave Karger led a panel discussion and one on one Q&A with the honorees. Blige, who made Oscars history by becoming the first person ever to be nominated for an acting performance and an original song in a single year, shared with the audience what went through her mind the morning of the announcement. “I didn’t even watch. I tried to sleep completely through the whole thing and my channel wasn’t on any of the channels that were announcing anything,” she said. “Things like this just don’t happen. I was so grateful. The grace of God is just everything because this is all the grace of God. I can’t even give it to anyone else.”
Boyega explained the unique casting process the actors went through for “Detroit” as they didn’t know who they would play until after being cast. “When they gave us the description for the audition, they told us to read a particular scene and it was from “In the Heat of the Night.” I was confused for a second, but it was about tone, it was about the message. And after the audition and getting the part, then I found out who I was playing”
Chalamet, one of the youngest actors to be nominated for an Academy Award, talked about striving to be authentic in acting. “’Call Me by Your Name’ is based on a book and there were already a lot of fans of that book, so the idea of acting in it was just to be as faithful to the adaptation as possible,” he said. “As an actor it becomes your chief responsibility staying as faithful to that and just being true.”
Chau shared with the crowd her experience of reading the script for “Downsizing” for the first time and her strong desire to be selected for the role. “I was blown away because it was such a creative story that had so much going on,” she said. “I was ready to cage fight somebody for this role.”
Kaluuya touched on overcoming the challenge which was Jordan Peele’s want to cast an American actor for his thriller “Get Out” which focused on racism. “He had reservations because, for him, it felt like an African-American story,” said Kaluuya. “But then I opened up to him about my experience as a black man. I just talked to him about my experiences and my life. I get it, I understand it. That’s my life.”
Nanjiani, who wrote the screenplay for “The Big Sick” with wife Emily Gordon, hilariously expressed how strongly they felt about the project. “Emily and I just really wanted to tell this story. I was like, “I want to see this movie and no one else can make this movie.” You know you when you get old ketchup and you have to slam the back of it and then the congealed piece comes out? And then the rest of it can come out? To me, this story was the congealed piece. If I don’t get this out, nothing else will come out.”