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Jessica Lange: ‘Acting Has Been an Escape Into the Imagination’

“Women in Hollywood, consider yourselves honored.”

So said Joel McHale, host of the Elle Women in Hollywood event, held Monday night at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. The “Community” star returned to host the event, this year honoring Elizabeth Banks, Annette Bening, Tina Fey, Jennifer Garner, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Zoe Saldana for their contributions to the world of film and television.

Brie Larson was also honored with the Calvin Klein Emerging Star award, and Jessica Lange received the L’Oreal Paris Legend award.

“What can you say about Ms. Lange that hasn’t already been scrawled on a cocktail napkin by Ryan Murphy and then picked up for 13 episodes by FX?” joked McHale.

The elegant yet casual affair boasted guests including Jennifer Lawrence, Shirley MacLaine, Lizzy Caplan, Kaley Cuoco, Renee Zellweger, Amy Poehler and many more. Honorees and their guests mingled and chatted before the ceremony. Julianne Hough jetted straight from “Dancing with the Stars” to attend as “Scandal” stars Kerry Washington, Bellamy Young and Katie Lowes were caught snapping a selfie before taking their seats.

Steve Carell was on deck to salute his “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” co-star Garner, who as many shared, is the nicest person in Hollywood. “On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of niceness, Jen Garner is a 9.5 – because let’s face it, 10s are irritating,” joked Carell. “She’s an artist, an activist, a generous friend – she is devoted to her family. In Boston, where I’m from, Jen would be referred to as a ‘hot shit.’ But she’s actually much more than that – she is a wicked hot shit.”

Carell surprised the guests with catered Barone’s pizza, which he had introduced to the pizza-loving Garner. Garner took the stage enjoying her slice, laughing that she was glad to accept her honor first, because “somebody’s got to follow Tina Fey and frankly, it’s not worth it.”

“I look forward to this whole thing being put out of business,” she admitted, “because the fact that there even needs to be a Women in Hollywood event is a little bit sad. The ‘Men in Hollywood’ event is everyday – it’s called Hollywood.”

Zoe Saldana was not present to accept the honor in person, but sent in a video message, expressing her own gratitude.

“I’m very inspired to be in the presence of so many talented and tenacious women,” beamed Gugu Mbatha-Raw. The actress expressed her gratitude for the friends and family she has gained throughout her career, and thanked not only the women in the room, but the many female directors and writers she has learned from, including Amma Asante, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Courtney Hunt.

Her admiration for her company was shared by Kerry Washington, presenting to Annette Bening, “one of my absolute heroes,” she said.

“Your commitment to take off that mask in your work allows us to affirm our souls as women,” said Washington, “because we see you up there and we don’t feel like a plus-one — we feel like a full person who deserves a seat at the table.”

Bening influenced many a career of the evening’s guests, including honoree Elizabeth Banks. Banks was introduced by her “Hunger Games” co-star Jennifer Lawrence, who described her as “a force of nature, but one you actually like keeping around.”

“I want to call a little bit of bullshit on being a woman in Hollywood,” said Banks. “I think it’s really hard. I think it requires a lot of encouragement.” With notes scrawled on the menu, the actress shared personal stories of how she has been encouraged throughout her career by women, especially Bening and fellow honorees Garner and Tina Fey. Bening had spoken to Banks’ drama school, while Garner’s success after being a hostess inspired her to stick to her acting dreams. And it was Fey’s “30 Rock” that gave Banks a vehicle to earn two Primetime Emmy nominations.

In a similar fashion, Tina Fey dedicated her honor to the late Jan Hooks, one of the many Hollywood inspirations for her career, and personally honored many legendary leading ladies. She made special note of Elaine Stritch, a frequent guest star on “30 Rock.” “She was such an enormous pain in the ass,” said Fey, but “she taught me so much about longevity and the beauty of not giving a fuck if people don’t like you.”

The comedienne went on to thank the cache of women she has worked with over the years, since starting as a writer on “Saturday Night Live.” Fey said that she knew her job had been to write for the women of the show, and “believed that their success would be my success, and I still feel like that.”

“I guess what I’m saying is that I want points on ‘Bridesmaids’ even though I didn’t have anything to do with it,” she joked.

It was also easy to see that Fey has left her own mark, when her longtime friend Amy Poehler introduced her. “Working with Tina is truly divine,” she said. Noting that the their film “The Nest” — “Don’t get used to the name, Universal wants to change it,” Poehler remarked — is set to release opposite “Star Wars: Episode VII,” Poehler challenged that Fey is “the only one that can beat ‘Star Wars.'”

“She is my Han Solo – I am her Chewbacca,” she added. “Many times she’s the only one who can understand what I’m saying, and I will destroy anyone who tries to hurt her.”

Two of the most heartwarming moments of the night came from Brie Larson and Jessica Lange.

Larson, just 25 years old, touched guests with insight to her personal struggle with acceptance, and how she found her passion and home in acting. “I worried a lot that people compared me to other people,” she said. “That scared little princess, locked in a cellar, frantically Googling, lives in every one of us.”

“I am so proud to be a woman,” she exclaimed. “It took some dark, scary nights in the woods to get here but I safely made my passage.”

“The book ends are actually quite perfect,” said Lange of her expansive career. She credited the actors, directors and writers that she had gotten her start with, and personally thanked Ryan Murphy for creating and tailoring characters to her with “American Horror Story.”

“It’s kind of horrifying but at the same time I feel so blessed,” she said. “I know everybody’s been incredibly funny and all of that and I’m going to be tedious and serious – acting for me has been an escape into the imagination. I feel graced to have been an actor all these years living in the imagination.”

“Legend,” she said of herself. “Whatever that is.”

(Pictured: Elizabeth Banks, Annette Bening, Brie Larson, Tina Fey, Elle’s Robbie Myers, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jennifer Garner and Jessica Lange)

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