In the midst of awards season honoring Hollywood’s work in television, film and music, A-listers gathered at Variety and unite4:good’s annual unite4:humanity event, presented by Alcatel OneTouch, to celebrate the entertainment industry’s commitment to philanthropy.
“Cougar Town” actress Busy Philipps hosted the pre-Oscar bash where Forest Whitaker (who made opening remarks), Sarah Hyland, Queen Latifah and Jane Seymour were spotted among the Beverly Hilton’s star-studded crowd Thursday night, commending the nine celebrities being recognized for their charitable work, including Ewan McGregor.
Emily Blunt introduced McGregor, the night’s International Humanitarian Award recipient, by bringing a little levity to his serious work with UNICEF, as she raved about all of the actor’s qualities — including his luscious locks. “He doesn’t even use product,” Blunt joked, before welcoming her “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” co-star, who was honored for working with children overseas.
“I do use a little bit of product here and there, but don’t we all, boys?” McGregor quipped as he took the podium, accepting his statue on behalf of UNICEF volunteers for putting the rights of children — more than 15 million who are exposed to extreme poverty, the actor pointed out — first.
“They do the most important work in the world,” he declared.
McGregor was honored alongside Unity Award recipient Amy Poehler, Halle Berry (Creative Conscience Award), Josh Hutcherson (Young Humanitarian Award), Zendaya (Young Luminary Award), Aaron Paul, along with his wife, Kind Campaign co-founder Lauren Parsekian (Unite2gether Award), Music Visionary honoree P!nk who also closed the Feb. 19 fete by performing two songs, and Christina Applegate (Saint Vintage Love Cures Award).
“Hours of hair and makeup, only to be beautified by these things,” Applegate joked, as she slipped on her glasses to tell the room about her 2008 breast cancer diagnosis, after being introduced by Saint Vintage’s founder and two-time cancer survivor Paige Jansen.
“I flipped, as one would do, and I screamed, as one would do, and I shook, as one would do,” the actress said of her diagnosis. “I was cussing a lot.”
Then she found out her cancer was stage zero, and yet, she saved her life by getting an MRI, which inspired her work with the Right Action for Women foundation, which provides free MRI screenings to women at high risk for breast cancer.
“As much as I love women, I don’t want to meet any more.” Applegate said. Then she clarified, “No, no, no — without cancer! I’m not trying to be an a–hole.”
Poehler, introduced by Dr. Jane Aronson for work with Worldwide Orphans, was in a more somber mood. The actress-producer was attending the event just hours after learning of the sudden death of “Parks & Recreation” exec producer Harris Wittels.
“Today, I lost a friend,” she said. “And so, I don’t really feel like telling any jokes. I’m kind of sad, and it’s really great to be here tonight and listen to all of you and listen to the great work that you do and be reminded why we live in this bizarre planet called Hollywood, because it’s very strange.”
Earlier, “Modern Family’s” Jesse Tyler Ferguson introduced Josh Hutcherson, as recognizable gala-goers — including Bethany Mota, Colbie Caillat, Blair Underwood, Beth Behrs, Kevin McHale, Camilla Belle, Brett Ratner and Jordin Sparks — dined on what Ferguson described as chicken with a “secret ingredient” — spinach.
Ferguson was delighted to present “The Hunger Games” star with the Young Humanitarian Award for his work supporting the LGBTQ community with the organization Straight But Not Narrow.
“Everyone else’s existence is just as important as your own,” Hutcherson said to applause. The 22-year-old actor continued to win over the room, sharing the mission of SBNN. “We’re helping illuminate the fact that we’re all in this world together… going through a lot of the same s–t,” he said, quickly correcting himself through the audience’s laughter: “Stuff!”
He ended with a witty, yet powerful quote: “Whether you’re L, G, B, T or Q, the most important letter to be is U.”
Next, P!nk, who was presented by Jeff Bridges, graced the room with tales of the No Kid Hungry campaign through charitable org Share Our Strength, through which she recently visited a “rad” fifth grade classroom to help put an end to childhood hunger by sitting with kids as they ate healthy breakfast at school.
“Sitting together and eating is probably the only family-like meal they have,” the night’s musical performer said, adding that her three-year-old daughter is her goodwill inspiration. “Their minds and bellies were full and they were ready to learn… even though they were bummed on the milk!”
Queen Latifah introduced Halle Berry, as she giddily danced, while announcing her name. Berry, who spoke to Variety on the red carpet about her work with the Jenesse Center, was honored for creating awareness for and preventing domestic violence.
“Halle doesn’t just speak out, she puts in the work,” Queen Latifah said, adding that the Academy Award-winning actress has personally answered hotline calls on the graveyard shift, making sure to point out that Berry has raised over $5 million for the center.
“I wasn’t married to a man who beat me up, but my mother was,” Berry revealed, reminiscing on her “heartbreaking” memories as a five-year-old, witnessing her mother being thrown down the stairs and getting stiches, after being hit over the head with a wine bottle. Those terrifying stories are what inspire Berry to work with victims today. She bravely announced, “I suffered the damage of being a child of domestic violence.”
“Breaking Bad” producer Michelle MacLaren, there to honor star Aaron Paul, reminisced on the day when Paul returned to set from Coachella, only to tell her he’d found the girl of his dreams. While MacLaren said she was skeptical of him meeting his future wife at a music festival, when she learned about Kind Campaign co-founder Lauren Parsekian (along with Molly Thompson), she knew he’d met his match.
The now-married couple earned the Unite2gether Award at unite4:humanity where they gushed over each other — especially Aaron who was beside himself with Lauren’s commitment to spread kindness across the world and end girl-on-girl bullying. “I’m just riding the coattails of my wife to this party. She’s really doing all the heavy lifting.”
Before Wilmer Valderrama, alongside unite4:good founder Anthony Melikhov, welcomed the seven 4:inspiration project winners to the stage, Demi Lovato, 2014’s unite4:humanity Young Luminary Award recipient, presented Disney starlet Zendaya with the very same title this year.
“There’s so much inspiration here in this room,” said 18-year-old “K.C. Undercover’s” Zendaya. “There’s no age limit on being able to help people and just being able to inspire others, and I just want to be living proof of that.”
Unite4:humanity is a precursor to the March 14 conference4:change, which will also be hosted by Variety and unite4:good, plus USC’s Media Institute for Social Change.