Hollywood got a touch of British class on Thursday night as Robert Downey Jr., Mike Leigh, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mark Ruffalo, Emma Watson and Dame Judi Dench all were honored at the 2014 Britannia Awards. The event held at the Beverly Hilton was a lively affair put on annually by BAFTA-LA. Hosted in fine style for the second year by British comedian/actor Rob Brydon (My Trip To Italy) who welcomed the crowd by claiming he was really Renee Zellweger, the awards show also served to be a nice stop early in the Oscar/BAFTA season for potential contenders like honorees Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge), Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), and director Mike Leigh (Mr. Turner). If you’re in the race, it never hurts to turn up at these things already looking like a winner and getting to make an acceptance speech. And though they didn’t sport any winners of this particular evening the two most visible and acclaimed British films vying for awards this season, The Theory Of Everything and The Imitation Game were also very present in the room. Theory’s Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne were there and Redmayne introduced a special tribute to British stars and a taped piece with Prince William who saluted the late Richard Attenborough. And I sat at a table with Weinstein Company’s David Glasser and the producers ( Ido Ostrowsky, Nora Grossman, Teddy Schwarzman), Director (Morten Tyldum) and Screenwriter (Graham Moore) of TWC’s big Oscar and BAFTA hope The Imitation Game . That film, which debuted in Telluride, just moved its opening date back a week from November 21st to the day after Thanksgiving, November 28th. It’s a strong day for moviegoing and easier to get good editorial placement. It also happens to be a good luck date for Weinstein which has launched several Best Picture winners around then including The King’s Speech and The Artist, and even going back to Miramax titles like Shakespeare In Love.
The speeches by the Britannia Award recipients and their presenters were highly entertaining, even if the show itself didn’t end until sometime after 11 PM, making it a very long night. British Artist Of The Year, Emma Watson got things started with an acceptance telling how special the film crews she has worked with are and relating a story how her hamster Millie fell victim to a heart attack while she was making a Harry Potter film and the Set Decorator had an engraved coffin made for the creature. Hailee Steinfeld and Josh Gad were up next presenting Mark Ruffalo with the Britannia Humanitarium Award. The actor seemed genuinely touched by it as he talked about his efforts in the non-profit Water Defense organization he founded in order to guarantee clean water for everyone. Dustin Hoffman presented the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award For Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment to Judi Dench, his co-star in the upcoming Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot. Making a rare appearance at a Hollywood awards event. Dench charmed the crowd with tales of her career teasing that someone very famous (she wouldn’t say who) told her early on that she could never possibly make it in films. “Your face just isn’t properly arranged,” they told her. And she said it took about 36 years to actually prove them wrong thanks to director John Madden who hired her to do a British TV film of Queen Victoria “and Harvey Weinstein, whose tattoo I still have on my bum, said it would be a proper (theatrical ) film , and it was”. She also thanked the namesake of her award, producer Cubby Broccoli whom she never met “but I do owe the Broccoli family and I had the most sensational time making the James Bond films and I am so proud this should be his award”.
A definite highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award for Excellence In Comedy to Julia Louis-Dreyfus by her Veep creator/producer Armando Iannucci who was hilarious in introducing Louis -Dreyfus saying she had won five Emmys which he called “the equivalent of one BAFTA”. For her part Louis-Dreyfus pretended to be fumbling for words before launching into a riotous, perfectly pitched proper English accent for the rest of her speech. Before the show I caught up with her at her table and asked how she felt getting an award named for Chaplin and she confessed she wasn’t quite prepared for all the Red Carpet questions about what Chaplin meant to her. “Just tell them you loved City Lights ,” her husband Brad Hall offered. I told her to go for Modern Times. You can never go wrong praising Modern Times. Of course it was ironic that the American who played that great English star in the 1992 biopic Chaplin, Robert Downey Jr. was also being honored with the Stanley Kubrick Britannia For Excellence In Film. He deservedly won a BAFTA and was Oscar -nominated for his performance in Attenborough’s film, and he even alluded to this year’s race where, if there was any justice and I’m not sure there is, he should be nominated again for The Judge. “The season, you know is upon us , and I’m told it is unlikely I will be nominated – four years ahead of time for my absolutely stellar performance in Avengers: Infinity Wars Part I, but Bobby Duvall’s got a strong shot for this year’s Judge,” he said as Duvall, sitting at Downey’s table received big applause from the audience for the generous mention by his co-star. Downey spoke with quite a bit of praise as well for his (very) pregnant wife Susan. He told me this was probably their last social outing together for at least four months as the baby is due any moment.
Downey has quite an affinity for playing British Icons ,not only Chaplin but also of course Sherlock Holmes for which he won a Golden Globe. He noted the a quarter of a century after doing Chaplin that if the British Academy thought he was still deserving of an award, then he will take it. He did allude to possibly hanging it all up sometime soon though. “I’m sensing that it’s time to retire, not that I have been idling until my Marvel contract runs out, ” he said before adding the real rewards have been being in the position of helping others, particulary sick kids who have shown up for a set visit on Iron Man… “Dickie (Attenborough) said ‘ and I believe we need heroes. I believe we need certain people who we can measure our own shortcomings by and I hope to make good on a promise this portends . It just won’t sit good if I don’t,” he said.
Somewhat surprisingly though the best speech perhaps belonged to Leigh who received the John Schlesinger Britannia Award for Excellence In Directing from a fellow colleague Jim Sheridan . “When they rang me up and asked if I would present this award to Mike Leigh I said ‘ Mike Leigh? I hate Mike Leigh’. Like everytime I make a depressing movie, he comes along and makes a really depressing movie and gets all the awards,” he said to big laughs. Leigh thanked the people who made it possible to do the “eccentric” things he was getting this award for. “As you may know I do make these films where we don’t have a script and we don’t know what it is going to be about usually. We go to backers and we say ‘ we don’t have a script, we don’t know what it is going to be about and we don’t want to discuss casting’. You may laugh but the truth of it is I have made 19 films and nobody ever interfered with any of them, Once in a blue moon someone says ‘yes’ and they do fork out the money. I also want to thank whoever is up there, whoever it may be, for delivering us, protecting us, saving us from the guys who said ‘no’. Because if they said ‘yes’ they would have interfered with the films , insisting on casting the wrong people, and would have buggered them up completely. And to them I have only got one thing to say and that is ‘please rot in hell’, ” he said to huge laughs.
If you want to catch the show, and it’s worth a look, it will all air Sunday on BBC America.