38th Santa Barbara International Film Festival Virtuosos Award winners: Austin Butler, Danielle Deadwyler, Ke Huy Quan, Nina Hoss and more [VIDEO]
The annual Virtuosos Award event at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival is always a fan favorite, as the festival honors several actors at the same time, all considered “up and comers,” who delivered breakthrough performances from the past year. This year was no different, as the SBIFF gathered eight exceptionally talented actors who wowed critics and audiences in 2022. Four of the eight are currently Oscar-nominated. Even though, as pointed out by host Dave Karger, these eight actors range in age from thirty to fifty and none of them are new to the industry, each of them enjoyed breakthrough critical success last year, marking a true watershed moment in their career, and, for one honoree especially, hailing a legitimate Hollywood comeback.
The format of the night is always fun, as Karger sat down for a one-on-one conversation with each honoree before gathering all eight on stage together for a group conversation, which was light-hearted, supportive and full of mutual admiration and laughs.
The honorees were:
- Austin Butler, Oscar-nominated for Best Actor for Elvis
- Kerry Condon, Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The Banshees of Inisherin
- Danielle Deadwyler, SAG and BAFTA nominee for Best Actress for Till
- Nina Hoss, Independent Spirit Award nominee for Best Supporting Actress for TÁR
- Stephanie Hsu, Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Everything Everywhere All At Once
- Jeremy Pope, Golden Globe nominee for Best Actor for The Inspection
- Ke Huy Quan, Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Everything Everywhere All At Once
- Jeremy Strong, Satellite Award nominee for Best Supporting Actor for Armageddon Time
Here are some of the highlights:
Jeremy Strong told of how he used to work as Daniel Day-Lewis’ assistant, which is where the actor learned to respect his craft, “Daniel exemplifies commitment and courageousness that all us actors aspire to.”
Strong noted the responsibility to portray his character, which was based on writer/director James Gray’s real father in Armageddon Time, “felt massive.”
On working with Anthony Hopkins and Anne Hathaway on Armageddon Time, Strong noted, “there was no rehearsal, but everyone showed up ready.” He loved the spontaneity on set, as each actor was guided by the text, but Gray allowed the talented actors to find their way, “The dinner scenes were a free fall and a joy.”
Strong loved that Gray didn’t ask for perfection, he was more interested in “the honest search.” Of his character, and other characters he’s played, notably Kendall Roy on the popular HBO show, Succession (the mere mention of which elicited screams of joy from the sold-out crowd), Strong noted, “I love characters who can’t meet the moment they find themselves in.”
Ke Huy Quan got one of the largest cheers of the night upon his introduction, and he appeared to return the love equally. He discussed his well-publicized comeback, after being a child star and then stepping away from the business for twenty years before finding stardom again in Everything Everywhere All at Once. He noted that, because roles in front of the camera had dried up for him, he was forced to take any job, “I pushed the dolly, I held the boom,” and now he has a renewed appreciation for everyone on a film set, “I see everybody now.”
When he saw Crazy Rich Asians, it helped Quan to feel that there may be a place for him in the industry again. “The landscape has changed so much since I stepped away.”
Quan spoke emotionally about how his character, Waymond Wang, “is not afraid to be perceived as weak,” which was a huge contrast to himself. Quan cited twenty years of hiding from the fact that his Hollywood career had dried up, but, after playing and appreciating Waymond’s inner strength, Quan has learned to embrace vulnerability. “It’s ok to show weakness.”
Jeremy Pope had just finished up a run playing Jean-Michael Basquiat in the new play The Collaboration on Broadway before flying to Santa Barbara. When asked if he’s exhausted, Pope acknowledged he is, but those are “champagne problems.”
Speaking of his breakout role as an openly gay Marine in The Inspection, Pope acknowledged “The Inspection changed me. If I had seen a movie with this blackness and this queerness when I was younger, it would have been incredible.”
Pope says The Inspection “brought up ugly truths, but it was also healing.” The role required him to be vulnerable as an actor, which he acknowledged was scary, but he accepted his role as an actor is to be a vessel.
Pope spoke with great love and respect for his co-star in The Inspection, Gabrielle Union, who has shown a very public acceptance and love for her trans daughter.
Stephanie Hsu noted that she had first worked with writer/directors of Everything Everywhere All at Once, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, on the television series Awkwafina is Nora From Queens, so she knew she wanted to work with them again. When she read the script for EEAAO, she said she “never felt so connected to a script.”
Speaking of the climactic parking lot scene at the end of the film, Hsu says the whole film builds up to that one scene, which was shot last.
Nina Hoss, who co-stars opposite Cate Blanchett in Todd Field’s Best Picture-nominated TÁR, said her character of Sharon was “a mystery to me at the beginning.” But then she listened closer to Mahler’s fifth symphony, which is featured in the film, and when she learned that the composer wrote that for his wife, Hoss says she had her a-ha moment, “Oh my god, that’s Sharon.” She says it opened her eyes to what it means to be someone who is a genius.
Hoss told the story of how she and Blanchett were both filming separate projects in Budapest before TÁR began filming. Hoss didn’t think Blanchett even knew who she was, but when Blanchett saw Hoss across a crowded room, she exclaimed, “Nina!”
When asked about the speculation that the last act of TÁR is really a dream, Hoss acknowledged that “I’ve seen it three times and each time I took something new from it.” She loves that writer/director Field doesn’t preach and he doesn’t tell the audience what to think. She personally doesn’t believe the last act is a dream, but she can see how people can interpret it that way. She admitted, “I don’t know what the ending means!”
Karger started the conversation with Danielle Deadwyler wanting to know if she’s felt the love since being “snubbed” for the Best Actress Oscar nomination and she acknowledged she’s felt it every day.
Referring to the fact she personally didn’t get an Oscar nomination, Deadwyler explained that Mamie Till, the character she plays in Till, wanted this film to be made since 1955, so it’s “nothing but a win in every sense of the word.”
There was a therapist on set of Till, to help the cast and crew deal with the intensity of the subject matter. “Community care” was everything on set, Deadwyler explained.
What Deadwyler wanted to communicate the most in Till was the fact that “families who go through this are not just that moment.” Showing all the intimacies and the “whole breadth” of a black family was paramount.
Deadwyler says she gets most excited when people come up to her after watching the movie saying they didn’t know the story before then. “I want awareness to happen.”
Kerry Condon insists that “feckin,” a word that The Banshees of Inisherin has brought to the vernacular, is NOT a swear word. “My mother doesn’t swear, and she says it all the time!”
Condon was just seventeen when writer/director Martin McDonagh first saw her on stage, and they’ve been working together in plays and films ever since. “I didn’t go to drama school, I learned acting doing his plays.” She acknowledged that he was young when they met, too, “we learned together.” But then she admitted, “Maybe he just likes having his friends around.”
When asked if it was hard being the only female on the set of Banshees, Condon said she didn’t really think about it at the time, but then paused and said, “It was a bit lonely, now that I think about it.”
Austin Butler, when asked what it was that made him think he could take on the daunting task of playing Elvis Presley, responded, “delusion.”
Having grown up an introverted kid who couldn’t even order for himself in restaurants, Butler said he “found his tribe” when he stumbled onto a film set. What he first loved about acting was the fact that “you get revered for doing things you’d be sent away for if you did in the street.”
Even though Elvis was postponed for six months due to COVID, Butler said he never stopped believing the film would get made.
Butler confessed the hardest thing about playing Elvis through his whole life, spanning three decades, was “how it all fit together.” They filmed out of sequence, so it was tough to keep the focus.
When asked about playing one of the most famous icons in history, Butler said the hardest part was to find Elvis’ humanity without losing his mannerisms which gave the essence of Elvis. He was very aware to not make his performance an impersonation, he had to find the nuance to make it more than a wax figure.
Butler’s subsequent relationship with the Presley family, which only developed after they saw the film, has been “the greatest gift.” The family’s positive review of the film, and of his performance, was “the best review I’ll ever get.”
When Karger brought each actor on the stage to sit down for a group chat, he asked everyone to cite a job in the industry that they’d love to try, other than acting.
- Hsu noted she’d like to direct.
- Hoss and Deadwyler would like to try being cinematographers.
- Condon said she’d love to be a casting director.
- Butler would love to be a special effects makeup artist.
- Inspired by Butler’s performance as the musical icon Elvis Presley, Karger asked the group if there is a musical icon they’d love to play.
- Deadwyler said she’d love to play Alice Coltrane.
- Hoss acknowledged she’d love to play a rock star, but didn’t know who. When she thought more about it, she said Barbra Streisand, because “she’s got everything and the humor.”
- Hsu said it could never happen, but she’d love to do a “silent biopic playing Charlie Chaplin.”
- Pope deferred from answering because he said his “tongue has a manifestation power” and he’s afraid whatever he says might actually happen.
- Quan said, “you hear my voice, you don’t want to hear me sing!”
- Strong said he’d love to play Leonard Cohen.
Karger tried to get the group to commit to the annual tradition of singing their favorite karaoke songs, and everyone looked to Butler, who adamantly refused, saying, “I can only sing like one person, and I’m not going to do that.” But then multiple Tony Award nominated musical theater star Pope broke out into a gorgeous a capella version of Heart’s “What About Love,” which everyone acknowledged was impossible to follow.
Karger concluded asking each honoree to recommend a film from last year that the audience might not have seen:
- Jeremy Strong: Navalny
- Ke Huy Quan: The Whale
- Jeremy Pope: Causeway and Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
- Stephanie Hsu: Aftersun, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On and Causeway
- Nina Hoss: Close and Aftersun
- Danielle Deadwyler: Triangle of Sadness
- Kerry Condon couldn’t come up with a title, deferring to all the ones already mentioned.
- Austin Butler: Close
Finally, Santa Barbara resident Jane Lynch came out to present all eight actors with the Santa Barbara Film Festival Virtuosos Award, much to the delight of the crowd, who gave all eight a rousing standing ovation.
Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images for SBIFF