Santa Barbara Film Fest: Jennifer Aniston Gets to Accept an Award for 'Cake,' After All

Aniston, who was famously "snubbed" by the Academy, still showed up to collect the fest's Montecito Award that she had agreed to accept before the disappointing news — and received a hero's welcome.
Associated Press
Jennifer Aniston

24 hours after honoring The Theory of Everything's Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones with the first prize of the 30th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the Cinema Vanguard Award, SBIFF feted Cake's Jennifer Aniston with the second, the Montecito Award, in a ceremony at the Arlington Theatre on Friday night at which the Emmy-winning Friends star was very warm and very warmly received by a packed house.

Read more Jennifer Aniston on 'Cake,' Typecasting and Not Wanting to Talk About BS Anymore

Over the course of a two-hour conversation moderated by Deadline's Pete Hammond, Aniston, the 45-year-old daughter of a veteran soap opera star, reflected on her post-Friends jumps between commercial films (i.e. 2004's Along Came Polly, 2005's Rumor Has It, 2008's Marley & Me, 2011's Horrible Bosses and 2013's We're the Millers, etc.) and indies (i.e. 1999's Office Space, 2002's The Good Girl, 2013's Life of Crime and her most recent, 2014's Cake) of varying quality.

While Aniston said she enjoyed the former sort — "I really love doing the big, fun comedies because who doesn't want to laugh and escape and just eat popcorn and Raisinettes?" — she added, "But then also I really search out the smaller films because there's usually a bit more fun in the characters to play." She stressed the importance of indies to her, noting — to laughter — that without them, "All we would have is, like, The Avengers!"

Read more Santa Barbara Film Fest: 'Theory' Stars Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones Feted as Vanguards

Cake, which was directed by Daniel Barnz, was a particular passion project for Aniston — "something I really had to lobby for," she said — which is why it was so gratifying to her to receive best actress Critics' Choice, Golden Globe and SAG nominations, if not one for an Oscar, as well. "It tops my list of experiences," she said, "and I've had some extraordinary experiences. That one takes the cake."

She indicated that she first realized that people were responding to her work in a different way than usual when Cake was greeted with a rousing standing ovation following its world premiere at September's Toronto International Film Festival. "It was a sucker-punch — my eyes welled up with tears and I just couldn't believe it."

Noting that her Friends persona as a romantic-comedy specialist is "sort of blessing and a curse," she said she is overjoyed that people — not only audiences, but also filmmakers — may now look at her a bit differently: "Usually I don't even get the opportunity to get in the room because it's usually given to an actress who is already in the director's mind or the screenwriter's mind. And usually I'm not put onto those lists — 'Too much baggage with that' or 'Won't be able to disappear' or all that kind of stuff, which makes me just more and more to want to find something that I can dig my heels into." 

Read more Santa Barbara Film Festival Kicks Off with U.S. Premiere of 'Desert Dancer'

She also acknowledged that one of the greater challenges in her life, and even on film sets, is being constantly hounded by paparazzi hoping to snap a picture of her to sell to a tabloid. She lamented, "It's a real distraction and it's a real hassle. It's just one of those things that's unfortunately out of anyone's control, and so you just have to hope that you can get through a take without one of them screaming something or using their flashbulbs if you're doing a night shoot. And when you're out there being quite vulnerable and emoting and all of that stuff, having these, you know, animals over there is disheartening." She sighed, "It's an added challenge. It's not something they teach you or they warn you about."

And she described her fiancée Justin Theroux, whose giant wedding ring she was wearing, as "an amazing character actor and actor period." She said she first met Theroux when he was shooting 2008's Tropic Thunder, but first worked — and fell in love with him — on 2012's Wanderlust, noting, "He kind of steals the movie!"

The evening culminated with SBIFF board chair Jeff Barbakow presenting Aniston with her statuette, whereupon she became emotional while thanking the crowd for a night that clearly meant a lot to her. Some thought that her Oscar snub might prompt her to rescind her favorable RSVP to show up for the tribute, but, she said, "I wouldn't have missed it for the world."

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg