Britannia Awards honor quartet of heavyweights


Don Cheadle
BAFTA/LA Humanitarian Award Presented by Volvo

Working on 2004's "Hotel Rwanda" was a life-changing experience for Don Cheadle. Not only did his portrayal of Paul Rusesabagina -- the Rwandan hotel manager who protected more than 1,000 Tutsis from harm when his country erupted in civil war in 1994 -- put the former character actor firmly on Hollywood's A-list and garner him his first Oscar nomination, it also turned him into a political activist. Since the film's release, he has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the Rwandan civil war and to protest the ongoing civil war in Sudan. He even co-authored a book, "Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond," with John Prendergast, published in 2007. For this reason, he is being honored with the humanitarian award. Cheadle has four projects in the works through 2010: DreamWorks/Paramount's "Hotel for Dogs," Warner Bros.' "Brooklyn's Finest," Paramount's "Iron Man 2" (replacing Terrence Howard) and 2010's "Marching Powder."

Stephen Frears
John Schlesinger Britannia Award for Artistic Excellence in Directing

Though Stephen Frears studied law at Cambridge, it was in the arts that he found his calling. The son of a stage director, Frears began his career as an assistant in London's Royal Court Theatre, working for director Lindsay Anderson and with actor Albert Finney (who starred in Frears' first movie, 1971's "Gumshoe"), and later found success as a television director. But it was the 1985 feature "My Beautiful Laundrette" that put him on the map. Other films, such as 1988's "Dangerous Liaisons," 2000's "High Fidelity" and 2002's "Dirty Pretty Things" cemented his status as a respected and sought-after director. Frears received his first Oscar nomination for 1990's "The Grifters," and his second just last year, for his direction of "The Queen." Next up, this year's directing award recipient will next be helming "Cheri," a romantic drama starring Michelle Pfeiffer and set in Paris.

Sean Penn
Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film

Four-time Oscar nominee Sean Penn is almost as well known for his political activism as he is for his acting ability. It seems somewhat fitting, then, that he would portray slain San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk in Gus Van Sant's highly anticipated "Milk," opening Nov. 26, which chronicles the story of the first openly gay man to be voted into American public office. The role promises to be just the latest in a string of intense performances that Penn has given, in such films as "Dead Man Walking" (1995), "I Am Sam" (2001) and "Mystic River" (2003), for which he won the best actor Oscar in 2004. As a director, too, Penn's most recent work, 2007's "Into the Wild," garnered him awards recognition, in the form of nominations from the DGA and WGA. Now, BAFTA/LA is honoring Penn with the organization's most prestigious film award, the Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film, joining such other past recipients as Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, Anthony Hopkins and Steven Spielberg.

Tilda Swinton
Britannia Award for British Artist of the Year

As the White Witch in 2005's "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," Tilda Swinton was the embodiment of cool, detached evil -- her lines delivered with soulless guile, her icy stare sending shivers up spines. It was a chilling performance that she's perfected and put to good use on other occasions, such as the corrupt lawyer she played in 2007's "Michael Clayton" (for which she won a supporting actress Oscar earlier this year). For her body of work, including Paramount's upcoming "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," Swinton is the recipient of this year's British Artist of the Year. In 2009, she starts production on Roman Polanski's political thriller "The Ghost"; three other independent films are also in the pipeline.