The Force was strong at the U.S.-Ireland Alliance’s 11th annual Oscar Wilde Awards, held at the sprawling offices of Bad Robot, the production company topped by “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” director J.J. Abrams.
Luminaries from the world’s two biggest sci-fi franchises rubbed elbows at the bash, with “Star Trek” thesps Karl Urban and John Cho among those gathered to help celebrate “The Force Awakens” star Daisy Ridley and other honorees, including Dublin-born Lenny Abrahamson, the Academy Award-nominated director of “Room”; “Penny Dreadful” actress Sarah Greene; Northern Irish band Snow Patrol; and James Corden, host of CBS’ “The Late Late Show.” The event, founded by Trina Vargo, is designed to honor Irish talent — even if their connection to the country is a tad tenuous (Corden was made an “honorary Irishman” — a distinction previously bestowed upon Abrams and writer Jim Brooks — after he performed with the cast of “Riverdance” on his show).
Abrams spoke effusively about his multi-talented leading lady as he introduced Ridley, noting, “The other day we were talking, and she told me that on Saturday, she’s going to record a song with an unnamed person, but a, let’s just [say] massive superstar person … and then on Sunday, she’s presenting an Oscar at the Academy Awards. And then on Monday, she’s flying back to the U.K. to star in ‘Episode VIII.’ And she looked at me and she said, in the sweetest, Daisy-est way, ‘what is my life?’ and as her agent, CAA’s excellently Irish Hylda Queally knows well, Daisy’s life is a bit like Rey’s: She’s on a crazy adventure, and it’s just beginning.”
In a speech that was equal parts heartfelt and self-deprecating, Ridley reflected on her meteoric rise since Abrams cast her in “Star Wars: Episode VII,” and the experience of filming the final scene on the picturesque island of Skellig Michael, which she later revisited with her father. “I’m pretty new to this, so this is probably going to be like a ‘thank you for casting me,’ J.J., I hope that’s okay,” she laughed. “I had no idea what the journey would lead me to discover; fear I never knew I had, the ability to thrive in an environment that was previously alien to me, and my own familial roots being among the findings … The Skelligs are unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and it’s wonderful for audiences around the world to share in that beauty translated onto film.”
She added, “J.J., I can never thank you enough for your faith, your patience, your kindness and your guidance through this whole crazy thing… I cannot believe what has happened since that day you called me. I had the most incredible experience on ‘VII,’ and was thrilled that audiences seemed to share in the joy that you and Larry [Kasdan] created. I was clueless as to what it takes to make a film … Your set was the stuff of dreams.”
Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody gave a speech on behalf of the band, “because these guys are far more handsome than I am, so I really need this … The U.S.-Ireland alliance does sound very serious — sounds like we’re going to war… perhaps against ISIS, but hopefully against Donald Trump,” he offered, to loud cheers and applause from the crowd. “You didn’t realize this was going to be a political rally.”
During his raucous speech, Lightbody noted that Snow Patrol was formed 21 years ago (“old enough to drink in America!”) and thanked Abrams “for giving us back ‘Star Wars’ in a way that we can love it all over again, and a whole new generation of kids can do the same.” He did note, however, that two years ago he met Abrams at a party and asked him if the band could play Stormtroopers in “The Force Awakens.”
“You said ‘yes,’ and then we never got the call! Daniel Craig got the call, but not us,” Lightbody said in mock-outrage, referring to the “Spectre” star’s secret cameo in the film. “Maybe one day he’ll be big; this might do wonders for him. But it could’ve been us.”
While accepting her award, Greene spoke enthusiastically about the “Irish moment” happening in popular culture, thanks to the projects honored with Oscar nominations. “This year Ireland received nine nominations, which is a testament to the talent in Ireland; and also we had ‘Star Wars,’ which created a massive buzz in town,” Greene noted. “I was down in Glenbeigh, which is not far from where it was shot, and people were claiming they saw Harrison Ford – absolute lies, but it made really good stories for people, so thanks for that.”
Oscar-nominated director Abrahamson previously lived in the States when he was a post-grad student studying Philosophy at Stanford, and reflected on his circuitous route to fame, which saw him leave the university and move back to Dublin to work on his craft: “I must be the only person ever who left California to go to Ireland to pursue a career in filmmaking; it’s only taken me 25 years to get back,” he joked.
“Honorary Irishman” Corden vowed to use his new status to issue an apology “on behalf of myself, my countrymen and anyone else in the world who isn’t Irish, for every time myself and anyone else has ever used the phrase ‘top of the morning to you.’ It’s only now as an honorary Irishman I realize quite how annoying it is. I’m truly sorry from the bottom of my heart — what were we thinking?”
After the awards were handed out, Snow Patrol performed a set to cap off the night, in addition to a performance by Irish singer-songwriter Róisín O. Poet. David Whyte — a favorite of Abrams and his wife Katie McGrath — also performed a reading of his poem “Mameen.” Other guests in attendance included Steven Spielberg, “Star Trek Beyond” villain Idris Elba, “Downton Abbey” star Joanne Froggatt, Irish actor Jason O’Mara, “Archer” star Aisha Tyler, frequent Abrams collaborator Roberto Orci, and “Battlestar Galactica” alum Katee Sackhoff, along with Oscar nominees Benjamin Cleary, Serena Armitage, Matthew Wood, Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey, Jamie Donoughue, Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe, Neal Scanlan and Roger Guyett.