Inside the Governors Awards 2015: ‘Hateful Eight,’ Spike Lee and a ‘Star Wars’ Diss

Also: Hollywood stands with France.

Governors Awards 2015
Todd Wawrychuk/A.M.P.A.S.

Saturday night the Academy held the 7th annual Governors Awards, this year celebrating industry titans Debbie Reynolds, Gena Rowlands and Spike Lee. It was also a campaign stop en route to the Oscars next year, because let’s face it: when the Academy broke this off as a separate event and plopped it right in the middle of November, awards strategists saw an opportunity.

So bouncing around the floor, you’re bound to run into this contender or that. Johnny Depp, Tom McCarthy, Ian McKellen, Carey Mulligan, Samuel L. Jackson, countless others — it’s a veritable who’s who of the season each and every year. Here are just a handful of notes from the ground.

Kurt Russell says “The Hateful Eight” is like a fine wine.
Quentin Tarantino’s latest is at the starting gate, already screening for guilds and the HFPA and ready to show for more press imminently. I caught up to Russell at the end of the evening to discuss the Agatha Christie-esque slow build of the film, and he noted that multiple viewings sort of blow your mind. Once you know the story, he said, you find your eye exploring Bob Richardson’s massive frame and picking up on little things that make it a richer experience. “I’ve seen it three times and I can’t wait to see it again,” he told me.

Bruce Dern is still very grateful to Tarantino.
Speaking of which, Bruce Dern — also part of the “Hateful Eight” gang — was in the house. He mentioned that making the film was a great experience of camaraderie, despite the frigid temperatures of a Telluride location shoot and a refrigerated Los Angeles soundstage. He feels like he’s still growing as an actor at 79 years of age, and he’s grateful to Tarantino for pushing him at this stage in his career. “There’s a lot of different kinds of acting going on in the film,” he said. “But Quentin gave me a chance to get better.” He’s also, as always, quick to ask about your local sports team. “Your Tar Heels just demolished someone today!”

Maybe not winning the Oscar wasn’t such a bad thing for Michael Keaton.
I haven’t had a chance to sit down and do a proper postmortem of last year’s whirlwind season with Michael Keaton, which ended with Eddie Redmayne triumphing in the best actor category at the Oscars over the “Birdman” star. Keaton told me he almost feels like it’s a good thing that the prize eluded him, given the amount of people who come up to him or shout across crowded streets that they were pulling for him and were bummed out, etc. He’s taken it all in stride, of course, and after running the full campaign trail gamut last year, he feels like it’s a breeze this time around. “I can do this stuff all day,” he said.

Ava DuVernay owes me a 20 spot.
Would Spike Lee get controversial in his speech? That was the bet. “Selma” director Ava DuVernay thought no. I thought, of course, he’s Spike Lee. “Controversial” being a subjective thing, actor Jeremy Strong was to be the decision-maker. The jury is still out on his ruling but I think I won that one when Lee took a moment toward the end of his comments to chastise Hollywood’s lack of diversity. “Your workforce should reflect what this country looks like,” he said. “Everybody in here probably voted for Obama, but when I go to offices, I don’t see no black folks, except for brother man who is the security guard who checks my name off the list as I go into the studio. So we can talk, you know, ‘yaba, yaba, yaba,’ but we need to have some serious discussion about diversity and get some flavor up in this…It’s easier to be the President of the United States as a black person than to be head of a studio or a network.”

Everybody was bummed Debbie Reynolds couldn’t make it.
It seems the news that Debbie Reynolds wouldn’t be able to attend the ceremony due to the fact that she was recovering from surgery had not made it around to everyone, as I found myself constantly bearing the bad news to people who were excited to see her. “Anomalisa” director Duke Johnson’s face sank when I broke it to him. An audible groan swept across the room when Jane Fonda mentioned from the stage that the revered actress wouldn’t be with us. Nevertheless, the clip package was sublime and the moment was a wonderful one. Reynolds sent in some audio comments and it was lovely to hear the cheer in her voice over finally getting this recognition.

Charlie Kaufman isn’t as pumped for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” as you are.
Nothing to add. Just that. I think the topic came up when we were talking about Reynolds’ daughter, Carrie Fisher, potentially being there. “You looking forward to ‘Star Wars?'” “No.” I hear you, Charlie.

Hollywood stands with Paris.
Finally, the season’s usual pomp and circumstance understandably felt a little odd in the room given the events in Paris. A number of holiday parties set by studios like Fox Searchlight, A24 and Universal moved ahead Friday night, but Michael Mann felt so strongly he decided to reschedule a conversation I was set to moderate with him for the Vidiots Foundation, particularly given the violent content of some of the clips we had chosen for that evening. Naturally, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs took a moment to note the tragedy: “Our connection with the film-loving French is especially deep, with waves of influence flowing back and forth across the Atlantic ever since the Lumière brothers made the first moving pictures,” she said. “So as we gather here to celebrate our history and some of the people who have made it, we also mourn those who died. We send our deepest affection to our brothers and sisters in France.”


The Academy’s Governors Awards 2015