BAFTA 2012 Preview: Very British Affair Takes On International Hue

Tim Adler is a contributor to AwardsLine.

It was an overcast morning in London last October when, in the magisterial headquarters of BAFTA, upstairs at 195 Piccadilly, 11 people were seated around a heavy wooden boardroom table, preparing to make a decision that could have a profound impact on some young actors’ future. Black and white photographs of previous BAFTA awards ceremonies — Britain’s closest equivalent to the Oscars — hung on the high-ceilinged walls. Sienna Miller, Simon Pegg and Harry Potter director David Yates were among those deciding who should make it onto the shortlist of eight names being proposed for this year’s Orange Wednesdays Rising Star Award. (It would be down to customers of UK telco Orange to decide on the final five young stars being groomed for stardom.) The public votes for the winner, which will be announced along with all British Academy of Film and Television Arts winners tonight in London.

James McAvoy, Tom Hardy and Noel Clarke have won the Orange Rising Star in the past. That’s why the honor is important: It acts as a kind of early-warning system for Hollywood about talent coming its way. Hardy is now co-starring in the new Batman movie, while McAvoy was the lead in X-Men: First Class. Clarke will appear in the next instalment of Star Trek. “The Rising Star award is very useful in terms of shining a light on actors who have done a couple of roles but aren’t stars yet,” says jury chair Pippa Harris, producing partner of Sam Mendes. “Because it’s a public vote, it’s fantastic in terms of giving them a platform. The award is definitely something that Hollywood looks at for fresh talent.” Clarke, who got his first break in Doctor Who, is a case in point. WME picked the multi-hyphenate for U.S. representation after he won the Rising Star in 2009.

Only one of this year’s five Rising Star contenders, Adam Deacon, doesn’t already have U.S. representation. Deacon, who starred in urban dramas Adulthood and Kidulthood, is repped by Troika in Britain. All the others — Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids), Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn) and Tom Hiddleston (Thor) — have agents in the States. They may not be household names yet, but Wilshire Boulevard knows who they are. Indeed, given that Hemsworth is co-starring in Snow White And The Huntsman opposite Kristen Stewart before swinging his hammer again in Thor 2, Tom Hiddleston co-stars with him in The Avengers, and Eddie Redmayne starts filming Les Miserables opposite Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman in March, you do wonder whether any of them needs a push.

Meanwhile, the Best Outstanding British Debut award is also there to spotlight up-and-coming directors. Previous contestants have included writer-director Steve McQueen (Shame), Duncan Jones (Source Code) and last year’s nominee Gareth Edwards (Monsters), now directing Godzilla for Warner Bros. Several of those who have been up for this award, such as Sam Taylor-Wood (Nowhere Boy) and Lynne Ramsay (We Need To Talk About Kevin), have also been nominated for short films. So there is a sense that BAFTA tracks talent right from the faintest blip on the radar. “For us, that’s incredibly satisfying,” Harris says.

Out of this year’s five Outstanding British Debut nominees — Richard Ayoade (Submarine), Paddy Considine (Tyrannosaur), Joe Cornish (Attack The Block), Ralph Fiennes (Coriolanus) and Will Sharpe/Tom Kingsley (Black Pond) — only one isn’t already repped by one of the big U.S. agencies. Cornish, whose sci-fi comedy Attack The Block won an audience award at SXSW, is deciding on a number of projects. Ayoade, star of cult UK TV sitcom The IT Crowd, plans to direct Jesse Eisenberg in an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Double, a dark comedy about a man whose life is taken over by his doppelganger. Fiennes is acting in the new James Bond movie Skyfall, after which he hopes to direct The Invisible Woman, the story of Charles Dickens’ secret teenage mistress. Peter Morgan is polishing the script while financing is still being closed; Felicity Jones (Like Crazy), one of three women who didn’t make it through to the final five for this year’s Rising Star, will play the lead.

Considine is debating what to direct next. In the meantime, he recently wrapped starring in Honour, a thriller about the controversial issue of Muslim honor killings, currently in post. Its producer, CinemaNX, will show the film to international distributors in the spring while also releasing the film in the UK. The dark horse here is the directing team of Sharpe and Kingsley, who along with producer Sam Brocklehurst have been nominated for Black Pond, a deadpan no-budget comedy about a family accused of murder. Kingsley and Sharpe are developing a modern-day version of the classic French novel Candide.