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Actress Angela Lansbury and writer-director Lawrence Kasdan were both presented with honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts degrees at the American Film Institute’s commencement ceremony for the 122 graduates of its AFI Conservatory, which took place at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
Composer James Newton Howard presented the honor to Kasdan, who quipped as he held his honorary degree above his head to boisterous laughter and applause, “Thank you for finally responding to my application.”
The writer, director and producer, whose body of work includes Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Big Chill as well as the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, recounted applying to the conservatory 45 years ago.
In an address that initially seemed to lament the “Golden Era” of cinema, Kasdan urged the newly minted graduates to “redesign the Hollywood regime.”
Said Kasdan, “I know that Hollywood movies can be better than they are today. And you people can make them that way.”
DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg was on hand to present Lansbury with her honorary — the actress had provided the voice of the teapot Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, which was produced during Katzenberg’s tenure as an executive at Disney.
As she accepted, Lansbury wished luck to each of the graduates entering “the world of drama and storytelling, whether it be by way of film, television or the Internet.” She paused, then added, “Listen, everything counts.”
Lansbury looked back over her own 70-plus years onscreen — which saw her win two Oscar nominations and a Golden Globe with just her first two films, go on to movies as various as The Manchurian Candidate and Bedknobs and Broomsticks and then the long-running TV series Murder, She Wrote.
“I can honestly say that from the first time that I set foot on Stage 25 on the old MGM lot, I was hooked,” Lansbury recalled, reminiscing about those early years. “I was lucky. I worked with the absolute best.”
“You are not insane,” Kasdan, in closing, reassured the graduating fellows. “The struggle is worth it. You made the right choice. Joy awaits you.”
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