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Maybe it was the hour-late start time of 9:30 pm – or perhaps the very British dinner served of steak wrapped in a pastry crust – but the 2014 Britannia Awards were decidedly not the typical award-season fare.
Held Thursday night at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, the annual event feting standout personalities in entertainment as chosen by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) celebrated six distinct talents this year: Robert Downey Jr., Julia Louis-Dreyfus, director Mike Leigh, Mark Ruffalo, Emma Watson and Dame Judi Dench.
The room was peppered with stars like Dustin Hoffman, Jamie Foxx, Felicity Jones, Jon Favreau and others who offered lively intros to their friends and colleagues.
The lengthy affair, which from arrivals to its finale clocked in at around five hours, was hosted by UK emcee and actor Rob Bryden, who kicked off the evening with some of his signature impersonations, including Liam Neeson.
“Doing Liam is essentially doing Bono, but in a bad mood,” said Bryden. He also explained why Brits are able to play such convincing on-screen villains in American films, including scariest of all, “Piers Morgan.”
Each honoree was introduced by friends and co-stars, and a greeted with a clip-reel showcasing career highlights. For Watson, recipient of the evening’s British Star of the Year award, the reel played like the film Boyhood as the now 24-year-old actress saw herself grow up on screen the Harry Potter movies.
Watson, whose work as a UN ambassador earned her the honor, dedicated her award to a dearly departed set-pet from her youth. “This is for my hamster Millie!” she said.
Ruffalo was treated to intro by his Begin Again co-star Hailee Steinfeld and Thanks for Sharing co-star Josh Gad, who said of the little-seen indie film: “It’s one of the many sex-addiction movies I will do in my career.”
Ruffalo’s clean-water passion project, Water Defense, earned him the evening’s Britannia Humanitarian Award. “Our whole existence relies on water … But our system is under tremendous strain,” he told the audience.
The evening saw many touching moments. Dench, feted with the Albert R. Broccoli Award for Worldwide Contribution to Film, admitted she was “amazed” at seeing her career in clips, namely her work as M in eight James Bond films. She also recalled early on in her craft when someone dissuaded her from pursuing movie work because her “face wasn’t properly arranged.”
Director Leigh, whose upcoming film Mr. Turner is earning early awards buzz, was celebrated with the John Schlesinger Award for Excellence in Directing and brought to the stage by My Left Foot director Jim Sheridan. “I hate Mike Leigh,” quipped Sheridan. “Every time I make a depressing movie, he goes and makes a REALLY depressing movie.”
The biggest laughs of the night went – not surprisingly – to Louis-Dreyfus, whose Veep creator Armando Iannucci “wrote” her a speech, which he delivered to her on stage. The recipient of the Charlie Chaplin Award for Excellence in Comedy didn’t disappoint as she delivered the words in an exaggerated Queen Elizabeth-style British accent and thanked such distinguished people in her life as “Jerome Seinfeld.”
Foxx closed out the show with an entertaining opener to Downey Jr, explaining how worried he was “when Robert started to play black people [in Tropic Thunder]. I’m glad I’d already done Ray by that point!”
Flanked by his wife and producer Susan Downey (very pregnant with the couple’s second child), Iron Man director/producer Favreau and The Judge costar Robert Duvall, Downey Jr. took to the stage and lauded the UK for supporting his long career, which of course included his career-changing turn as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin, 25 years ago.
“When you work in the UK, success is about craft and character,” said Downey. “I was starting to feel like an honorary Brit.”
The 2014 Britannia Awards airs Sunday Nov. 2 at 9 pm on BBC America.
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