CinemaCon Honorees Flaunt Their Talent

From sci-fi to the Bard, honorees flaunt it onscreen and off

CinemaCon Honorees

This year’s CinemaCon Talent honorees represent a veritable overview of the year’s most anticipated films.

Top thesp honors go to Melissa McCarthy (Female Star of the Year) and Chris Pine (Male Star of the Year). While she stars in “The Heat,” he headlines not one but two tentpoles, “Jack Ryan” and “Star Trek: Into Darkness.”

The two franchises couldn’t be more different, and that goes for Ryan and Kirk, too. As Pine says, “Captain Kirk is very impassioned and blood-lusty and goes from his gut and uses his fists and is obviously everything that Spock is not. Ryan, on the other hand, is a bit more like Spock. He’s a man of reason and logic and comfortable spending time in his own head rather than the real world. It’s that disparity that made it fun to jump from the one who’s of the body and one who’s of the mind.”

Pine believes that he and Zachary Quinto have avoided the “Star Trek” curse of being typecast in their iconic roles. “It’s really the benefit of living in an age where our theaters are inundated with superhero movies,” he says. “The new Kirks and Spocks can fade into the land of make-believe superheroes.”

When he isn’t tentpoling, Pine and five friends from USC and the Williamstown Theater Festival have been writing a script, “Mantivites,” which is the word they’ve coined for the child-like activities of underemployed 30-ish men who indulge in too much softball and videogames. “None of us had written a script before,” says Pine. “And it was just five guys in a room. It took us five years.”

Thesp honors also go to Elizabeth Banks (Excellence in Acting), who returns as Effie Trinket in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” She promises, “No huge surprises. Effie has a heart that grows multiple sizes. We’re true to the book. Hopefully we’re delivering to the fans. That’s what they want.” Of course, “I spent a lot of time in the hair and makeup trailer, and every day we had that ‘ah-ha’ moment.”

The actress is filming “Walk of Shame,” which refers to what happens after a one-night stand. Banks plays a newscaster. “It’s a comment on sensationalism, and we bring that back around on the media,” she says.

Banks memorably played Laura Bush in Oliver Stone’s “W.” While she never received any feedback from the former first lady, she did meet the Bush twins at a fashion show. “They were cordial,” she recalls, “but they were not very interested in shaking my hand.”

Another thesp honoree, Armie Hammer (Male Star of Tomorrow) never got to meet his real-life doppelganger Clyde Tolson, whom he memorably played in Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar.” Hammer, however, did his research. “The most interesting thing is that J. Edgar hoover had a rather large photo collection of Clyde Tolson while he was sleeping,” he recalls. “Like, an alarmingly large collection of Clyde sleeping!”

Surprisingly, Hammer also did a lot of research for this year’s “The Lone Ranger,” even though the title character he plays is fictional. “I waded through the whole collection of radio serials and TV shows, basically to learn about the Lone Ranger’s cultural impact,” he notes. “America is built on values and traditions, and these are the roots.”

His “Lone Ranger” collaborators Johnny Depp and helmer Gore Verbinski have a long tradition together, indeed. “It was similar to my coming on to an all-star team,” recalls Hammer, “and knowing, OK, the head coach and star player really know and respect each other, and my job is to come in and try to create as few ruffles as possible and learn as much as I can.”

In “The To Do List,” Aubrey Plaza (Breakthrough Performer), age 29, plays an 18-year-old high school grad, but insists, “We shot the movie two summers ago. I wasn’t 29 then!” Still, “I feel like I’m 18.” The age divide wasn’t the big challenge but rather her homework-obsessed, overachiever character who loses her virginity with a to-do list efficiency. Says Plaza, “I tend to get cast as the eye-rolling, sarcastic, alternative weirdo making snide comments. Instead, to play someone who has no sense of irony, someone sincere, that was cool for me. The age part — I didn’t think about it much. It did bring me back, though. I did have to conjure those memories of learning to figure things out in the cars and in the woods — what you do when you’re in high school and you can’t have guys over to the house.”

Eight years after their “Wedding Crashers” success, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn (Comedy Duo of the Year) reteam in “The Internship.” “It’s just the way time kind of flies,” says Wilson. “Before you know it, eight years have gone by.” Says Vaughn, “Lots of stuff came at us” — including a “Crashers” sequel — “and sometimes in success there’s a want to do it but not a compelling story.” Regarding their partnership, Vaughn says, “Owen did ‘Bottle Rocket’ and I did ‘Swingers,’ we came from character stuff and we enjoy that observation about human behavior. It’s about being specific and how they bump up each other. There are particulars in our characters, with ‘Crashers’ and ‘Internship,’ that create the comedy. When you’re doing character stuff that is specific, it is fun to see how they get along or don’t get along.”

In “The Internship,” the two actors play 30-ish interns at Google. Which was another reason for Wilson’s doing the film: “It made me think, maybe when my son is old enough I’ll have a connection to Google. Maybe he’ll be juiced in and can get hired there. It seemed like a great, fun place to work, it didn’t seem like a lot of work.”

Usually when awards are bestowed upon screen legends, it is for their past work. Not so at this week’s CinemaCon, which honors Morgan Freeman (Cinema Icon) and Harrison Ford (Lifetime Achievement); between them, the two thesps have no fewer than seven pics unspooling in 2013.

Ford returns to the sci-fi genre with “Ender’s Game,” not that it resembles the classic “Blade Runner.” “It’s just a whole different canvas — no replicants — and character and world view,” he says. Regarding another 2013 release, “Paranoia,” “the biggest draw was to work with Gary Oldham, we had a great time on Air Force One,” says Ford. “I was in and out in a short period of time, a concentrated period of work, which I enjoy.” And with “42,” Ford plays real-life baseball-exec Branch Rickey, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson. Ford obviously admires the man. “He had a deep sense of morality and social justice, and he saw signing Robinson as both appropriate for a person interested in social justice as well as a baseball executive. He understood this was going to help him build a better team and make money.”

Looking back at his more than 40 years as an actor, Ford says he doesn’t have a favorite performance, because, “I have lots of kids and I don’t have a favorite kid. I’m not into favorites, every experience is complex and difference.” When he does come across an old perf on TV, he remains optimistic, thinking, “Jesus, am I lucky that I had a job after that!”

Ford’s co-star in “Ender’s Game” is Asa Butterfield (Rising Star), who returns to the screen after playing the title role in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo.” He’s now 7 inches taller, at age 16, and credits his studies with keeping him off camera for a couple of years: “School takes priority over acting.” Meanwhile, he did read scripts, including Gavin Hood’s adaptation of “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. “It was the best script I’d read, and I thought how much fun it would be to be in zero gravity with laser guns.” Actually, that turned out to be the hard part. “All the wire stuff is difficult. Floating up there, you need a strong core so you don’t look lie you’re in a harness. I’d go home completely sore after a day in harnesses.”

Also starring in “Ender’s Game” is Hailee Steinfeld (Female Star of Tomorrow). Her three-year absence from the screen, after an Oscar-nommed turn in “True Grit,” can be chalked up to taking the Western around the world, as well as filming “Can a Song Save Your Life,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “Hateship, Loveship.”

“Ender’s Game” turned out to be different from what she expected. “At that point I’d wanted to work with kids my age, and was looking forward to it,” she recalls. “The catch is that they were all boys, so it was 3½ months with a bunch of guys, which is not a bad thing.”

In her time after “True Grit,” Steinfeld was also introduced to the Bard. She says her “Romeo and Juliet” will be closer to the Franco Zeffirelli version than the Baz Luhrmann. “It’s very classic and traditional. I remember being in Italy surrounded by the cast and (screenwriter) Julian Fellowes, and he said that every generation deserves its own “Romeo and Juliet.” So for the whole three months, that’s what we had in mind.”

CinemaCon also honors two helmers, “Fast & Furious 6” director Justin Lin (Director of the Year) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Breakthrough Filmmaker).

For a novice director, Gordon-Levitt doesn’t mess around. He wrote, directed and stars in “Don Jon.” “It’s about a guy who watches too much porn and a girl (Scarlett Johansson) who watches too many Hollywood romantic movies, and how this screws up their relationship,” he says.

Gordon-Levitt’s research into old Hollywood movies did not include the classic “Pillow Talk,” directed by his grandfather Michael Gordon. “I haven’t seen it. One day I want to watch his movies and read his writings and really learn about him as an artist, I didn’t really know him, and so I haven’t done that. I’m saving watching it,” he says of the Rock Hudson/Doris Day starrer.

Regarding his first helmer effort, “Don Jon,” being behind the camera didn’t throw him. After all as Gordon-Levitt explains it, he has been acting in front of the camera since age 6. “I’ve seen it done so much, to be honest, there weren’t any moments of ‘I wasn’t expecting this!’ I did expect it, everything that happened I’d seen it before, which allowed me to proceed with confidence. I could think back to so many directors and how they handled the same situation.”

Under Lin’s direction, the “Fast & Furious” franchise has been lauded for its multiculturalism. “It didn’t just happen, it took a lot of pushing,” says the helmer, who thought the first “Fast” pic featured too many “evil Asians. They were just the bad guys. A lot of Hollywood films, they’re Hollywood-centric. When they go to other cultures, it is through the eyes of Hollywood. One of the first things I said is that we had to change the sensibility of the franchise. Now, the franchise is much more worldy.”

“Fast & Furious 6” is Lin’s last in the franchise. “I can’t wait until May 25!” exclaims the helmer, looking past the film’s release. “There’s a lot of stuff I’ve been developing, having been a filmmaker for 10 years, and I’m looking forward to what’s to come.”

One of those projects is the screen adaptation of David Henry Hwang’s play “Chinglish.” It’s a big leap from action to dialogue, but Lin doesn’t see it that way. “I don’t think of myself as action director. I’m designing action for the characters. I break things down and try to have a point of view.”

The Talent honorees are feted by CinemaCon on April 18.