A standing ovation greeted Harrison Ford near the end of last night’s British Academy Britannia Awards, but what really got the crowd buzzing was Indiana Jones. Speaking in a filmed tribute, Steven Spielberg teased, “I can’t wait to work with you again on Indiana Jones 5. This is NO announcement, just my fervent hope,” he said. That sure sounded like an announcement to me.
It may have had the word British in the title, but the affair at the Beverly Hilton Hotel had a very American accent as its top awards went to yanks Ford, Meryl Streep and Amy Schumer. Yes, some Brits were also honored at this very British event, including director Sam Mendes and Orlando Bloom, honored for his humanitarian work. And yes there was CBS late-night talk show host James Corden also in the mix, but he had to be British to get his award, called the British Artist Of The Year. It would be very hard to give that to an American.
The show opened with the presentation to Streep of the Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award For Excellence In Film. Perhaps because she is currently playing a British feminist leader in her Suffragette cameo, Streep wasted no time in wryly noting the divide in the gender of past winners. “I am honored to receive this award given to a distinguished group of men and women…Oh wait, men and men,” she said of the honor and irony of being the first woman to receive it.
Much was made of the fact she has received many, many awards including this one, “the first she has gotten in five or six hours,” as someone said. It is entirely appropiate as she has played many British roles and even won her third Oscar as one of the most famous Brits of all, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. She also humbly acknowledged a long list of directors with whom she has worked, choking up finally with the mention of Nora Ephron. One of her most recent helmers, Stephen Frears, presented the award for which Streep thanked the British Government for giving her 10 work permits to make as many movies. “I started my career 40 years ago, and if Stephen Frears does a good job with our new movie, it will not have ended,” she joked.
Streep and Ford won the evening’s two standing ovations, Ford’s Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution To Entertainment closing the show. His new Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams did the presenting honors and noted the wide range of characters Ford has played — not just Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Beyond the new sci-fi epic that threatens to add another couple of billion dollars to Ford’s worldwide career total of $6 billion, Abrams noted how thrilled he was when his early script Regarding Henry became a Ford movie. There were also taped messages from the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who of course have been responsible for Ford’s biggest hits.
In his acceptance, Ford was his usual humble, measured self. “I didn’t prepare a speech. I could barely get dressed,” he said. “I thank J.J. and the others for the kind words they said about me. I am indebted to these people for the opportunities they have given me and the wisdom they have in storytelling and humanity, and what I have been allowed to do. I really wanted to be an actor because I could not imagine myself having a real job and I thought it would be nice to live the lives of many other people, to tell stories, to share emotion, and film has given power, grace, imagination and wisdom to things I have had that opportunity to do. I am very grateful for the life I have had…I’m humbled.” I caught up with Abrams, who is clearly the man of the hour as his Star Wars is anticipated to become perhaps the biggest movie of all time when it is released next month. I told him I am anxious to see it, like everyone else. “Well, you will be seeing it very soon,” he teased and told me he was just thrilled to have been asked to present to his film’s co-star Ford.
In between those two superstar presentations, the Britannias also paid attention to their own with Corden making a long, funny, somewhat rambling but highly entertaining speech following Bryan Cranston’s witty introduction. Corden’s immediate new importance in the American TV world was emphasized by the fact that CBS boss Leslie Moonves was sitting next to him at Corden’s table. The star also put Ford on the spot when he mentioned his late night show had an opening for next Thursday and publicly begged Ford (who just appeared Thursday night dressed as a Hot Dog on the Halloween edition of Jimmy Kimmel’s show) to take it. Sam Mendes got the John Schlesinger Britannia Award for Excellence in Direction, timed to the worldwide release of his second James Bond film, Spectre, which is currently setting records in the UK. He offered “ten tips” for young directors taking on action franchises, including a reminder that you are “playing roulette with someone else’s money” and to “be prepared but expect to make shit up.” He said he has been working on the Bond films for five and a half years and this is the end of his journey with 007.
Orlando Bloom’s extensive work in impoverished nations and with UNICEF earned this year’s Humanitarian award and he was gracious and eloquent in his acceptance. The same might not be said of the other American winner, Amy Schumer, who was her usual blunt and hilarious self accepting the Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award For Excellence In Comedy. After Seth MacFarlane’s hit and miss intro, Schumer had the crowd roaring with her raunchy comedic style when addressing the men in the crowd. “I know one of your favorite things is to put your most sensitive part into where we s**t,” she said. Cameras then caught Ford laughing hysterically with his head in his hands. “I am a huge Chaplin fan. I am connected to him because he wrote most of his work and people also referred to him as a tramp too,” she said, while also urging the Brits to “take Ricky Gervais back.” Among those congratulating her in the clip reel was feminist icon Gloria Steinem, and Schumer said she couldn’t believe she was “talking about me”.
There are very, very few awards shows this time of year where the majority of recipients are also not somehow front and center in the Oscar race, and in this case BAFTA race too. However these six honorees definitely aren’t using this honor to further their other award ambitions, with Schumer being the only one who might really figure into the race, particularly for Golden Globe Comedy or Musical Actress for Trainwreck (she could compete with Streep’s Ricki And The Flash in that weak field).
Presenters Cranston, Saoirse Ronan, along with prominent audience member Steve Carell were there probably with more of a visible reason to be seen, awards season-wise. Carell’s enormously pleased with the way his latest, The Big Short (12/11) turned out. “I think Adam McKay did a great job with this one,” he told me as he was leaving the ballroom.
This is just the beginning of a long stretch of these kinds of shows, but this one moved along nicely and was lots of fun. One reason was largely unknown host Jack Whitehall, who one member of the BAFTA-LA board told me was a very popular comic star in Britain right now but using the Britannia Awards to get a profile here in Hollywood where agents and producers could see him. If that was his mission he succeeded wildly. His material went over big time with this crowd, but wasn’t awkward or insulting as someone like Gervais can be. Whitehall may not be known yet in America, but that probably won’t be the case for long.
Pop TV televises the ceremony November 6 at 9PM.