Jeff Bridges, Armie Hammer, and “Victoria & Abdul” star Ali Fazal were on hand in Goleta, Calif. on Thursday night to present Judi Dench with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Kirk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film.
The event, held at a black-tie gala dinner at the Bacara Resort & Spa, is an annual fete for a lifelong contributor to cinema through work in front of the camera, behind, or both.
Hammer, who starred with Dench in Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar,” opened the ceremony while Fazal recited a poem of sorts to his “Victoria & Abdul” co-star. Fazal noted how his and Dench’s first meeting initially felt to him like an “Indian arranged marriage” until he walked in the room. “There was nobody else in the room and she just greeted me with the warmest hug,” he said. “At this high point in her career she still calls herself ‘a jobbing actor.’ She teaches us that love indeed is the whole, and we are the pieces.”
He also recalled a bit of cheeky (but fabulously practical) advice from the Oscar winner and seven-time nominee: “Learn your lines and don’t bump into furniture.”
Bridges has never collaborated with Dench, but the Santa Barbara local said he was happy to just hang out with the legend for a few hours. “I’m the only person in Hollywood who hasn’t worked with her, but there’s time,” he quipped. “She didn’t have a true starring role until ‘Mrs. Brown’ in 1997. Shame on Hollywood; she was right there!”
Bridges called Dench’s performance in “Victoria & Abdul” a “master class in subtlety,” and seemed particularly taken by what she can pull off when the camera focuses on her visage. “We all have faces, but Judi’s face, man, and what she can do with it — I love it, Judi!”
Dench called the event “the best party I’ve ever been at,” unlike other awards ceremonies where, “when someone else is called, you have to have that face, like you’re fine, but you’re actually livid!”
She shares a birthday with the 100-year-old Douglas (Dec. 9) and spent the afternoon with the Hollywood icon, who sent his usual pre-recorded sentiments for the ceremony. “I shall never forget it,” Dench said of her meeting with Douglas. “In our family he was a particular legend.”
This Oscar season, Dench is part of a sprawling, wildly competitive lead actress race that could bring her her eighth nomination to date.
The 33rd annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival runs Jan. 31 to Feb. 10.