Smith was so convincing in the role that Omalu’s 80-year-old mother was fooled into thinking it was the doctor on screen, Omalu said. “He stole my soul from me. I came away from the film thinking Will Smith was me.”
Smith visited Omalu’s home in Nigeria and several touches in the film, including a picture of his father, came from the visit.
“There is a holiness to truth,” Omalu said. “In stepping up he enlightened all of us.”
While accepting his award, Smith said, “I am a football dad. So when I got that screenplay, I was concerned.”
|Will Smith and Bennet Omalu at Variety’s brunch in Palm Springs
Rob Latour/REX Shutterstock
Smith pointed out that he has played other real-life figures like Muhammad Ali. And while it’s great to be able to call the subject and ask questions from the set, Smith spoke of the other side of the coin: his point-of-view while Omalu watched his performance.
“You have to sit behind Dr. Omalu. For 45 minutes, nothing, then he turns around and,” Smith flashed a thumbs up to mimic the doctor’s approval.
“As long as humans are in existence, they will talk about Charlie Kaufman, which should be another 13-14 years,” he joked.
|Jack Black and honoree Charlie Kaufman
Kaufman accepted his award saying, “I’m embarrassed but grateful for this award, but I don’t know what it’s called as Jack didn’t mention it.”
That led to a few hilarious moments as Black jumped back to the podium to name the award and exhort attendees to see “Anomalisa” if they hadn’t yet.
Earlier, Variety chief international critic Peter Debruge introduced the mag’s 2016 class of 10 Directors to Watch, eight of whom were in attendance: Deniz Gamze Erguven (“Mustang”), Ciro Guerra (“Embrace of the Serpent”), Slavek Horak (“Home Care”), Duke Johnson (“Anomalisa”), Peter Landesman (“Concussion”), Laszlo Nemes (“Son of Saul”), Matt Ross (“Captain Fantastic”) and Elizabeth Wood (“White Girl”). Don Cheadle (“Miles Ahead”) and Alex Garland (“Ex Machina”) were unable to attend.
Among those at the popular brunch, sponsored by Mercedes-Benz and Parker Palm Springs, were Variety publisher Michelle Sobrino, co-editor-in-chief Claudia Eller, Peter Bart and Steven Gaydos as well as Palm Springs fest heads Harold Matzner and Helen du Toit and Jada Pinkett Smith.