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Jennifer Aniston took the stage at The Hollywood Reporter‘s Women in Entertainment event, presented by Lifetime, on Wednesday to accept the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award, which she called an “honor of the highest magnitude.”
“If I went back in time to my 19-year-old self, waitressing tables in New York and auditioning for every off, off, off, off, not-even-close-to-Broadway show and someone came up to me and said, ‘One day, you’ll be receiving The Sherry Lansing Leadership Award,’ I would’ve looked at them like they were crazy and said, ‘Who’s Sherry Lansing?'” Aniston, the cover star of THR‘s issue celebrating the WIE Power 100 list, told the audience before turning to Lansing, former CEO of Paramount Pictures.
“Sherry Lansing, people like to throw around the word ‘trailblazer,’ but in your case, you have blazed a trail for the rest of us to follow,” Aniston continued. “The first woman to run a studio, with strings and strings of box office hits and Academy Award-winning films to your name. You truly paved the way for us women to have the voices and the platforms that we have today. And somehow, you remained one of the kindest and most generous people.”
Aniston’s Morning Show co-star Steve Carell introduced the actress at Wednesday’s gala, which returned to an in-person event this year and was held at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles. “Sherry Lansing has personified integrity, fearlessness and conviction of purpose as a leader in the entertainment industry, and as a humanitarian. And I can think of no one who better exemplifies those traits than Jen,” he said.
Carell, who has co-starred with Aniston on the Apple TV+ drama for two seasons, then listed Aniston’s accomplishments as an actor, producer, director and philanthropist. “Jennifer Aniston is getting this award because she deserves it,” he said to an A-list audience that included Jennifer Garner, Selma Blair, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ruth Negga, Tessa Thompson, Molly Shannon and more. “She’s a terrific person. She cares deeply for others. She leads by example. And she makes a difference.”
While onstage accepting her award, Aniston told the story of when she first met Lansing, near the end of her iconic time on Friends. While having lunch together, Lansing asked her, “What do you imagine for your future?” and admittedly, Aniston was stumped.
“I’ve thought about Sherry’s question through the years as my ‘future’ unfolded — and I’ve got to tell you, I never could have predicted half of what happened, or what reportedly has happened, according to the tabloids,” Aniston said. “But this question about ‘my future’ and what I imagined for it, has been like a riddle I’ve been trying to solve through the years.”
A numerologist, the experience of which was given to her as a gift, once told her that her numbers indicated she’s a “late bloomer,” Aniston explained. Initially taken aback by the label (“as if I was an underachiever who hadn’t tried hard enough to reach her potential”), the term started to grow on her.
“Maybe I haven’t done my best work yet, as an artist or as a human being,” Aniston said. “Maybe I am just beginning. So, I started to embrace this idea of being a ‘late bloomer’ … of, just beginning.”
Aniston concluded her speech by addressing how storytelling can give people a moment of levity or relief, which has been especially needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the years, she said, she realized that stories can be “emotionally healing” while also shining light on “cultural illnesses” such as sexual harassment, racial discrimination and gender bias — all topics that have been addressed on her show, The Morning Show, of which she is also an executive producer.
Shannon was the opening speaker of the event, telling the audience a story about how she waited on Aniston at Cravings restaurant in Los Angeles when she was an up-and-coming actress, and how gracious and kind Aniston was to staff. She shared that it was her mess-up, not the kitchen’s — as she had told Aniston at the time — that the dressing to her salad was not on the side. And she joked that Aniston’s sweater wasn’t “lost,” and Shannon didn’t look everywhere for it at the restaurant. “I stole it,” Shannon said, to laughs.
This event, which was held in compliance with local health and safety guidelines, was sponsored by Cadillac, FIJI Water, Amazon Ads, SAG-AFTRA, eOne and Gersh, in partnership with Chapman University, Loyola Marymount University and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles.
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