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Cate Blanchett really wants to work with Viola Davis. So much that she stood on the Palm Springs Convention Center stage Thursday night during the Palm Springs Film Awards to present Davis with a Chairman’s Award and took the opportunity to detail the many reasons why.
“There’s some actors that you aspire to be, there’s some actors that you aspire to know, and some that you want to work with and learn from, hoping that some of the magic wisdom and stardust will rub off on you. Viola Davis is all three,” Blanchett said of The Woman King star. “Make no mistake, this is actually not a speech, it’s kind of an audition because I’m auditioning tonight for the role of co-star or supporting actress or personal assistant to Ms. Davis in any project she has. I’m Australian; I make a really good little coffee and, actually, I know how she takes it. It’s a black decaf, little bit of oat milk and a dash of cinnamon. I think I’m in.”
Blanchett was pulling double duty during the starry event that kicked off this year’s Palm Springs International Film Festival. She received a trophy of her own — a Desert Palm Achievement Award, Actress, presented for her work in Todd Field’s Tár by Blanchett’s Borderlands co-star Jamie Lee Curtis — and made the most of her time at the podium. But she was quick to clarify that there’s not yet a project in mind to present to Davis.
“I don’t have an idea but I just want to work with you,” Blanchett said. “I’m selfish. I want some of Viola’s emotional power. I want some of her stardust, her effortless technical mastery and her constant access to the flaws that makes her characters so painfully human. I want some of her dignity, her grace, her old soul depth. And I want to look as fabulous as she looks in red on the red carpet. I want her deep throated, sometimes joyous, but always knowing, laugh. I want some of her sass. I want some of her ass. I just want some all of this to rub off on me, and I know I’m not alone. I know I’m joining a really, really long line, but I’m dogged and I’ll wait. It’s kind of creepy, but I will wait.”
Blanchett went on to single out empathy as Davis’s superpower, something she said the actress and producer utilizes to connect with audiences on the journey her characters travel on screen. She closed by congratulating Davis on the honor and joking that the phone number for her agent, CAA’s Hylda Queally, was inscribed on the bottom of the trophy.
The good news for Blanchett is that when her “audition” was complete, Davis promptly accepted the offer. “Oh Cate, I would love to work with you,” she said. “But you can’t have my ass.”
Davis then recalled something a teacher at Julliard once told her — that there’s a difference between the work and the business. “I don’t want anyone else to thrive despite the business. I want them to thrive because of the business,” she said, explaining how the industry often tells Black actors that they can’t open films at the global box office or their stories might not resonate with a wider audience. She was touched by a plaque she recently purchased in Martha’s Vineyard that stated, “The warrior does not fight because he hates what is in front of him, she fights because she loves what she left behind.” “My fight is nothing if I leave what I love behind. So I forged through and I keep fighting at 57 years old.”
In addition to Davis and Blanchett, Thursday night’s honoree program included Austin Butler (Breakthrough Performance Award, Actor), Danielle Deadwyler (Breakthrough Performance Award, Actress), Colin Farrell (Desert Palm Achievement Award, Actor), Sarah Polley (Director of the Year Award), Michelle Yeoh (International Star Award, Actress), Bill Nighy (International Star Award, Actor), and The Fabelmans filmmaker Steven Spielberg and his cast (Vanguard Award). Presented by American Express and sponsored by Entertainment Tonight and IHG Hotels & Resorts, the Film Awards ceremony was hosted by ET stars Kevin Frazier and Nischelle Turner.
The Film Awards have long been an A-list destination and requisite stop on the awards season calendar as the January date offers contenders the chance to make a splash after a long holiday break and remind voters of their work during all-important voting periods.
As for Blanchett, she received a similarly glowing tribute from her Borderlands pal Curtis, who revealed that one of her conditions for turning up in the desert was being able to carpool with Blanchett. While they were shooting the Eli Roth video game adaptation in Budapest, Curtis said that Blanchett was prepping to play a composer in Tár and she marveled at the process. “I was fascinated as her student to watch her from afar,” Curtis explained, noting that she did so while playing a “guns a blazing” action star who has the swagger of Captain Jack Sparrow. “She is an artist revelation. There are very few people whose work I can’t wait to watch and Cate Blanchett is one of them.”
In accepting, Blanchett elaborated on their time together ahead of the awards by saying they discussed whether she should wear pajamas. “She’s telling me this about what I should wear, and she comes out in her bra and knickers. This is why we nearly missed the tonight’s event.”
Blanchett then pondered the entire awards system. “It’s arbitrary that I am up here,” she said, adding that she’s been so “inspired and enthralled” by all the great performances of the past year, some of which have been seared into her memory. “The whole idea of ‘best’ anything — I wonder if we should change the system. It’s such a subjective thing. Really, no performance stands on its own.”
She noted how during many of the night’s acceptance speeches, the honorees shouted out their collaborators and the crew, evidence that nobody makes it to the stage on their own. “The pandemic, if we didn’t learn anything from it, we are fucking morons. One of the things I think we all learned as artists is what’s important is process. Don’t keep your eye on the prize. The way you start something will affect how you continue. In a collaborative, open-hearted way you have the chance to make something great. Collaboration — that’s why I got into this industry.”
Elsewhere at the Film Awards, Steven Spielberg and his Fabelmans collaborators received a standing ovation after a beautiful tribute from the filmmaker’s friend of 50 years, Sally Field. “I tell people all the time that filmmaking is a collaborative party and that’s never been more true than it has been with this film,” Spielberg said. “The cast and crew took the journey home with me to help me make my first movie about coming home.” He then corrected himself: “Well, the second movie about coming home. The first one was E.T. who got home. So, this is the sequel to E.T. where I come home and every day, because of everybody up here, I was surrounded by love and support of these artists.”
Hong Chau, Fraser’s The Whale co-star, presented the actor with his trophy by noting that ever since their Darren Aronofsky-directed film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September she “kept hearing about the Brenaissance.” She questioned the true meaning of the term by asking if it meant that people lost interest in him or they stopped caring before adding that a quick check at his credits proves that he never went anywhere and worked steadily through the years. “Brendan Fraser is beloved, and he always has been and that hasn’t changed.”
For his part, Fraser accepted and recalled his early days in Hollywood where he landed after graduating with a bachelor of fine arts in acting from Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts. He went straight to Will Rogers State Park Beach to sit in the sand “and have a think.” His early thinking, “strategizing and brimming,” he called it, led him to “play it safe, be careful and take no chances.”
“Coincidentally, it was Will Rogers who once said why not go out on a limb, that’s where the fruit is,” he continued. So that’s what he did by setting out to find the branches, smashing into the low-hanging fruit along the way. “This is how earnestly I took myself in those days: I brought my degree with me to present at my first meeting with a proper Hollywood agent who was clearly puzzled, but somehow I got signed.”
Fraser got work quickly and frequently (“perhaps too frequently”) and he kept making films over the years. He explained that he was always drawn to diversity, not in the same way that the word is employed today in Hollywood, but in terms of exploring different ways to play. “It seemed to work,” he said. “I am the luckiest guy I know to still be invited to this world. … I will show up to work with my diploma in hand — try and stop me.”
The evening also provided a public reunion for best director honoree Sarah Polley and Eric Idle, co-stars in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It has come to light that the 1988 film was a traumatic experience for many involved but particularly Polley, who was 8 years old at the time. She recounted the trauma in her book, Run Towards the Danger.
“About 34 years ago, I was on the set of a movie in Rome and I said farewell to a little girl of 8 who starred in the movie,” Idle said in opening his remarks. “We had all been scarred on this movie … going on nine months before we’d been able to escape.” Idle called some of the scenes “life-threatening.”
In her book, Polley writes that “blasts of debris exploded on the ground around me, accompanied by deafening booms that made me feel as if I myself had exploded. A log I was to run under was partially on fire. The gigantic blasts continued and shook everything around me. I ran, terrified, straight into the camera, tripping over the dolly tracks. It didn’t seem possible that this could have been the plan, that things hadn’t just gone terribly wrong. But they hadn’t. This was the plan.”
Idle said from the stage that they hadn’t seen each other since they left the set until a month and a half ago when Polley “walked through my front door.” She subsequently invited him to the premiere of her film, Women Talking, and he had a front row seat to see her grace, generosity and strength of character as she invited the entire ensemble — actors like Frances McDormand, Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Emily Mitchell, Kate Hallett, Liv McNeil, Sheila McCarthy, Michelle McLeod, Kira Guloien, Shayla Brown, Ben Whishaw and others — to the stage while introducing key members of the crew. “She knew how to lead,” Idle said. “Women Talking is an incredible piece of work.”
In accepting, Polley gushed about how much she loves Palm Springs and, in particular, the film festival. (Her Women Talking casting director John Buchan also lives here, she noted.) She loves it so much that she joked that she had long wanted to crash the Film Awards. Polley then turned her attention to Idle’s presence by explaining how relevant it is in the context of a night like this one when her film was being honored. Women Talking, inspired by real events and based on the book by Miriam Toews, centers on a group of women in 2010 who come together to discuss their options after learning they have been repeatedly drugged and raped by men in their colony.
Polley said that while there is much harm done in this industry, she called it a “gift” that she and Idle reconnected and he helped validate her experience on that Gilliam film. As Polley talked about focusing her gaze more resolutely on building than destroying, she said having this new bond with Idle delivers more hope than despair. “I think about how many untold stories there are like this one. It goes a long way towards giving me faith.”
Elvis helmer Baz Luhrmann presented the breakthrough performance award, actor to his leading man, Austin Butler, someone he called a “miracle.” He praised Butler for his work ethic, going so far as to admit that he even cautioned Butler to “roll it back” because he was giving so much of himself, 24/7 for seven days a week for more than 18 months of his life only to see the film derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. “It doesn’t matter how clever we are [as filmmakers], if you don’t have a great cast and a central performance, there’s no trick in the book that will get you out of that abyss,” Luhrmann said.
Butler kicked off his acceptance speech by noting that when he was a kid, the only vacation his family went on was a timeshare stay every other year at the Palm Springs Tennis Club. “Some of my happiest memories of my childhood were right here in Palm Springs, swimming in the pool, playing ping-pong and going to the Thursday night street fair,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
“When Baz first invited me on this journey, you can never predict the outcome or reception of any film but what you can do is you can give every ounce of yourself,” he said. “You can work as hard as you possibly can every day and do your best to savor the process rather than the outcome. What transpired was the most joyous two years of studying and exploring, draining and unearthing everything I could.”
Stephanie Hsu presented the International Star Award, Actress to her Everything Everywhere All at Once co-star Michelle Yeoh, who accepted by praising the film festival and its board members for an ongoing spotlight on international cinema. “Representation matters. By your choices over the years, you demanded that attention must be made to other cultures. I thank you for that.”
The international star award on the actor side went to Living actor Bill Nighy, presented to him by the film’s screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro. Nighy joked that if he had known that he might one day be singled out for such an honor “I would’ve arranged to be more cheerful in my early life.”
Brian Tyree Henry turned up to honor Till leading lady Danielle Deadwyler for her critically acclaimed performance.
Sam Rockwell earned loads of laughs during his introduction of Desert Palm Achievement Award recipient Colin Farrell for the latter’s work in Banshees of Inisherin. After gushing about Farrell’s pheromones he said his work in the Martin McDonagh film shows that he is “no ordinary movie star. He is clearly one of our great actors.” Not to mention “one of my favorite people in the world.”
“You really fucked me with the pheromones thing,” Farrell quipped to start. He quoted filmmaker David Lean by saying that the last great traveling circus in town is working on location with a film crew. He spent a chunk of time explaining the singular experience he had on McDonagh’s film on an island off the coast of Ireland. “We had the most extraordinary time,” Farrell explained. “We all leaned into each other.”
He accepted the award on behalf of the crew and closed by shouting out three “actors” from Banshees: Jenny the donkey, border collie Morse and Minnie the horse.
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