On March 1, the Oscar Wilde Awards will celebrate its 13th year shining a light on cinematic contributions from Irish and Irish-American artists. And as in past years, there will be no shortage of star power, with honorary Irishman J.J. Abrams hosting the event at his Bad Robot compound in Santa Monica, while also serving as the evening’s emcee. This is the seventh year that Abrams has opened his offices for the festivities, and alliance founder Trina Vargo couldn’t be any happier or more grateful.
“The early years of the event were held at the Ebell on Wilshire,” Vargo says. “I’d worked with J.J.’s wife, Katie McGrath, when I was a foreign policy adviser to Sen. Ted Kennedy, and we’ve been very close ever since. I asked her for some venue suggestions as we needed more space, and she and J.J. graciously offered up Bad Robot.”
The event is officially hosted by the U.S.-Ireland Alliance, a non-profit that’s going into its 20th year, with Vargo as president. “The reason I started the U.S.-Ireland Alliance was to build new working relationships for people within the framework of culture and business. The Irish are a very creative group of people, and I wanted to create ties for artists to make the connections that they need in order to grow and succeed,” she says.
The organization is at the forefront of building contemporary ties with Ireland, and the Alliance’s flagship project is the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program, which sends American post-grads to Ireland for study. “We’re incredibly proud of the scholarship program, which has been a big success for all involved.”
Oscar Wilde honorees this year include Star Wars icon Mark Hamill, “Best in Show” and “Home Alone” star Catherine O’Hara and “Ray Donovan” actress Paula Malcomson, while Colin Farrell will present his “Killing of a Sacred Deer” co-star Barry Keoghan with his award.
“As someone who once tread a not-dissimilar path as Barry through the sometimes murky waters of the entertainment industry, it’s a joy to present him with this award. He’s a phenomenal actor who has already amassed a most impressive body of work,” says Farrell. Keoghan also received acclaim for his quiet but humanistic work in Oscar hopeful “Dunkirk.”
This year’s musical performance comes courtesy of Irish band the Academic, who haven’t had much American exposure. “We love putting a spotlight on up and coming talent, from the artists we present awards to, as well as the musical acts. Singers have performed at our event and then landed music deals as a result,” says Vargo.
The event is casual but sophisticated. “I tried to create the kind of event I like to attend,” Vargo says. “I find black-tie events, where you’re sandwiched between the same two people all night, less appealing than root canal. I also agree with Thoreau, who said, ‘Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.’ I wanted something where guests could come and go, wear jeans and get a break from the gowns and tuxedos, enjoying delicious food and drink, wonderful music, and great company.”
And don’t let the low-maintenance vibe of the event fool you, as Vargo has always called it a “party with a purpose.” The event’s focus is to introduce people in Irish creative industries to their U.S. counterparts. And while several successful collaborations have resulted, one of the most exciting has Abrams’ decision to film the recent “Star Wars” sequels in Ireland.
“Tourism in Ireland has sky-rocketed since these newest films have been released, and it’s been a big boon to the Irish economy, and it allows fans the chance to reach into their favorite on-screen world and touch a bit of it. It’s exciting for many people,” says Vargo.
And it’s also important to note just how many current Oscar contenders are of Irish heritage. “There’s so much talent out there that it’s hard not to be proud on one level or another,” says Vargo. Martin McDonagh’s scathing small-town drama “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri” has been nominated for best picture and original screenplay, cementing it as one of the most discussed motion pictures of award season. Saoirse Ronan, who was previously honored at the Oscar Wilde Awards, is nominated for lead actress for her emotionally delicate work in Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird,” while Daniel Day-Lewis is in contention for his bravura performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread.” Consolata Boyle (“Victoria & Abdul”) has been nominated for costume design, and Nora Twomey’s “The Breadwinner” has been nominated for animated feature.