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American Timothy Olyphant was the last presenter at Wednesday night’s Australians in Film Awards Gala, and the only one who brought a drink to the podium. Addressing his Justified and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood co-star, Damon Herriman, Olyphant settled in for a hilarious introduction. “Damon, I’m truly honored and flattered to be asked to present this to you. And yeah, what baseball game? I don’t give a fuck. I love Australians. That’s all I’m about: honoring Australian talent.”
As the Dodgers lost their second consecutive World Series game to the Red Sox, Olyphant rattled off additional past scene partners from Oz (Rose Byrne, Adelaide Clemons and Liv Hewson). “If a peer asks me about an Australian actor, even if I’ve never met the person,” the actor said he prepares the individual for a wonderful experience working alongside a punctual, prepared “gem,” “because that’s how all Australian actors are — they’re just easy. And then they say, ‘What about Russell Crowe?’ He’s from New Zealand.” After laughter abated from everyone (including Crowe’s compatriot, Taika Waititi), Olyphant added, “Also very talented. And honestly, who among us hasn’t thrown a phone at a hotel desk clerk?”
A nonprofit established 17 years ago in Los Angeles, Australians in Film (AiF) facilitates mentorship, screenings and social gatherings for its 600 current members, who seek everything from jobs to visa help. Perhaps best known for its Heath Ledger Scholarship, the organization has also held annual celebratory fundraisers since 2012. This year’s festivities took place inside the Paramount Theatre, immediately followed by an al fresco dinner catered by Curtis Stone on the studio lot. Paramount faces Raleigh Studios, home to Charlie’s — AiF’s communal workspace, named after Charlie Chaplin.
A quintet from down under was honored — comedian Hannah Gadsby; actors Keiynan Lonsdale, Eliza Scanlen and Herriman; and Oscar-winning Dunkirk editor Lee Smith — plus American producer Mark Johnson, who made four films in Australia (Sniper, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and Breathe), and also took home the best picture Oscar for Rain Man. Scanlen was originally set to receive her prize from Sharp Objects half-sister Amy Adams, but both were no-shows (Scanlen sent taped regards from Boston, where she is filming Greta Gerwig’s Little Women).
Her fellow Screen Australia breakthrough award winner, Love, Simon’s Lonsdale, wore a flowing blouse with a train over pants. “It’s not lost on me, the fact that it’s kind of a rare thing to see a black, openly queer young actor from Australia or from anyplace, anywhere, out there doing it,” he said onstage. “A lot of actors would be afraid to come out, to express themselves openly, to wear something like this.… We should all be free to be who we are and then do our job and survive and live our dream.”
House of Lies actor and 2018 Oscar nominee for best live action short Josh Lawson oversaw the proceedings, which kicked off with a performance from indigenous Australian rapper Briggs. Sponsors included AusFilm, Fox Studios Australia, Screen Australia, Village Roadshow Entertainment Group and Qantas, which got an AusFilm International Award acceptance speech shout-out from Johnson: “After Rain Man and the scene in which Dustin Hoffman says he’ll only fly across country on Qantas…for the next, I would say about 12 years, I flew free on Qantas Airlines, first class.”
Among the past honorees in the crowd were I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie, Big Little Lies producer Bruna Papandrea, Patti Cake$ lead Danielle Macdonald and Avatar star Sam Worthington. He told The Hollywood Reporter that his presenter, James Cameron, was “dancing on the table” with his family the night he won. “It was a small affair back then — it was like 20 people in a bar. It was way more intimate, you didn’t actually have a massive carpet, there wasn’t a massive amount of populist press.… But that’s good, it shows how this community’s growing.”
On staking out a life in L.A., Worthington — clad in a “CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL” sweatshirt — also said, “It’s taken me a long time to realize it can be a home more than just an office. It’s where I would come to get jobs, and dentists don’t live in their office, and I didn’t really like living here, but my wife likes it here. I think America’s got a lot to offer. My kids are American. This country’s been really good to me.”
Simon Kinberg, producer of The Martian and scores of Fox superhero films, makes his directorial debut in June with the 12th X-Men installment, Dark Phoenix. “The one creative partner I knew I needed in the process was Lee,” he said to THR, citing their collaborations X-Men: First Class and Elysium. Thus “the first person I called” was “the greatest editor alive,” to whom he gave the night’s Fox Studios Australia International Award.
AiF board member Stuart Beattie has also had his share of box office blockbusters, from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Answering a question about the bevy of A-list actors from his home country — like Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Joel Edgerton, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie and the Hemsworth brothers — the writer/director said, “Those stars represent the very tip of the iceberg of Australian talent, and a lot of people like me came over knowing no one and not being famous at all and just were desperate to make a career for ourselves over here,” hence the need for AiF’s outreach.
During the ceremony, ex-child actor Herriman poked fun as the implications behind his particular accolade. “I’m told the [Qantas] Orry-Kelly Award recognizes a body of work which contributes to Australia’s national identity,” he said. “I guess that means Australia’s becoming a nation of hitmen, Southern rednecks, meth addicts and crazed killers, ‘cause that’s pretty much what I’ve played since I came over.”
At age 30, Herriman sold all his belongings to venture Stateside, what he refers to as “regret insurance” rather than an attempt to climb the Hollywood ranks. While that first trip lasted just 10 weeks, he had better luck four years later, when he was booked in House of Wax. Next summer, he’ll revisit his Mindhunter character, Charles Manson, onscreen in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. “He’s still a purist, and he still shoots everything on film,” Herriman said on the blue carpet. “Every hundred rolls they have a little celebration, they stop shooting for half an hour, they bring out drinks and snacks.”
Fellow guest, Academy governor and Heath Ledger Scholarship 2018 juror Kimberly Peirce had a quick answer for why she made the midweek trip to Paramount. “I think the Aussies are sexy, and funny, and fantastic,” said the director of Boys Don’t Cry. She was most excited to toast Gadsby, whose “gorgeous and amazing” stand-up she first saw performed at Largo at the Coronet, at the suggestion of her I Love Dick collaborator. “I love Jill [Soloway] and we have a whole posse, and so, she invited me.”
Gadsby’s official tribute came from Monica Lewinsky, who interviewed her fellow activist earlier this month at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit and was referenced in Gadsby’s June Netflix special, Nanette. “That moment for me was very healing,” said Lewinsky, presenting Gadsby with the Create NSW Annette Kellerman Award. “Because of Hannah, it’s been empowering for people around the world to see that reclaiming your narrative, fighting back and carving out sexism and homophobia can actually contribute to your success rather than hurt your professional career, which is what we’ve seen for all too long.”
Lewinsky also quipped that Gadsby “has captured our hearts and minds and, probably, a few men’s, um, pairs,” before welcoming the honoree with a diplomatic, “Ladies and gentlemen, and those who identify as both…”
Reflecting on Nanette, the comedian said she expected the special to “seal me off into the margins both in terms of my career and, also, as a human. I’ve just been overwhelmed by how positively the show has been received, and how connected I am to the world in a way that I never honestly knew just how disconnected I was.”
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