BAFTA/LA’s Britannias Confer Honors With a British Accent

When Albert Finney scored a supporting actor nomination for “Erin Brockovich” in 2000, the conventional wisdom was that the Oscar was his to lose. Yet Benicio del Toro walked off with the prize for “Traffic.”

Many in Hollywood chalked it down to Finney not being around to campaign, but there were many more who are aware of that British preference not to push themselves forward. Plus, says Perry Simon, g.m. of BBC America, “Many of these actors live in the U.K. and don’t have proximity” to L.A.-based campaign stops. With year-round events, BAFTA/LA tries to bridge the gap between London and Los Angeles.

“BAFTA’s position is to help level the playing field, make sure Brit players are available,” BAFTA/LA topper Nigel Daly says. “We hesitate to promote. BAFTA’s commitment is to screen every contender, Brit or non-Brit, with a whole series of screenings. We have Q&As, and give everyone an opportunity to see an array of films.”

Photos: 2014 Britannia Awards Honorees

If BAFTA/LA is shy in promoting Brits, BBC America has no such compunction. “We do think of BBC America as a leading platform for British talent. Our programs showcase the best of Brit talent,” Simon says. “We furthered that goal with the BAFTA/LA partnership.”
One of its biggest functions is the Britannia Awards, taking place Oct. 30.

“It’s a unique, warm, British evening; it’s very relaxed,” Daly says. “Everyone knows who is being honored — competition has been removed. We are awarding excellence with a very British accent.”

BBC America will air the Britannias for a third year, on Nov. 2, hosted by Rob Brydon. Airing the Britannias raises BBC America’s profile, too. “We’ve gotten a little more ambitious in terms of what we and BAFTA seek to accomplish,” Simon says, pointing to the 10 million hits the network got for its YouTube segment of Sacha Baron Cohen knocking an “elderly” woman off stage last year.

“We work very closely with the talent and we do see our role in part to promote the programming, but also the talent that brings that programming to life,” he says. “Some actors are more interested in these things than others, we are respectful of their desires.”

Liverpool-born producer Lynette Howell has been working in L.A. for 14 years and says she has “adopted the American way of making movies.”
That means sometimes being aggressive to get the talent she wants, especially working on indies such as “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Half Nelson.” But she also sees herself as a partner with the distributor in tubthumping her pics.

“I think it’s important as a producer to promote your movies, make yourself available at Q&As — as a producer or anyone associated with the movie — to the time devoted to your project to make the movie accessible to as many people as possible,” she says.

The producer working on Tim Burton’s upcoming pic “Big Eyes,” which Daly points out is among a platoon of buzzworthy Brit pics.

For Howell, BAFTA/LA is a great place to meet other Brits and see up-and-coming talent. “It’s great to have a community. Even though I’m transplanted from home, I still feel connection to the U.K., and it’s nice to have an organization to have you tie back to it.”

That is what Daly is trying to accomplish. “Throughout the year we support talent, contribute to their success. And in BAFTA itself we’ve got the Britannia Awards celebrating the relationship between the industries.”

This year the honorees are from the U.K. and the U.S.: Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Judi Dench, Mike Leigh and Emma Watson.

“Every single person selected are jewels, absolute jewels,” Daly says.

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