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The Honorees at the 2018 Newport Beach Film Festival

This year, Variety will honor its 10 Actors to Watch with the Newport Beach Film Festival at a brunch taking place on Nov. 11 at the Resort at Pelican Hill. NBFF will also present honors to several artists, including the Icon Award to Robert Forster (now on screens in “What They Had”) and Artist of Distinction Awards to Topher Grace (“BlacKkKlansman”), Colman Domingo (“If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Fear the Walking Dead”) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“All About Nina”).

Variety has been bestowing 10 Actors to Watch honors since 1998. Past honorees include many future Oscar winners and nominees, such as Mahershala Ali, Timothée Chalamet, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Brie Larson and Lupita Nyong’o.

Icon Award
Robert Forster
Being honored with an Icon Award is great, but Forster has a lot left in the tank. “I don’t know what an icon is,” Forster says. “And I don’t feel like one, and I certainly don’t feel like I’m 77, either!”

If there’s an icon in his life, it’s his father, a man who was a lumberjack, then an elephant trainer for
the Ringling Bros. Circus, before Forster was born. “He was a tough, tough guy. I was in college, I went to him and I said, ‘Dad, I don’t think I want to be a lawyer, I think I want to be an actor.’ He didn’t miss a beat, he said, ‘I think you could do that, Bob.’”

Forster’s approach to film acting is straightforward. “The job is not making a movie,” he says. “The job is shooting a small, finite number of shots each day. Each of those shots has the potential to be a gem. It’s a little bit like learning a magic trick: You’ve got to give everybody on the set what they need, including the sound and light people and the one who’s cutting the picture and the other actors. And when you hear ‘action,’ deliver that trick as flawlessly as you can and with something extra that makes that shot worth putting in the movie.”

While he’s played scores of roles over the years, earning an Oscar nom for “Jackie Brown” and appearing in the recent reboot of “Twin Peaks,” Forster sees his latest film “What They Had” as a standout. He ranks the film’s writer-director Elizabeth Chomko with talents he’s worked with such as John Huston, Quentin Tarantino, Alexander Payne and David Lynch.

“I could not be more delighted to still be slugging,” Forster says. “And I do not intend to stop slugging!”
— Paul Plunkett

Artist of Distinction Award
Colman Domingo
Being called a renaissance man is something Domingo is comfortable with. The “If Beale Street Could Talk” and “Fear the Walking Dead” actor is also a writer, director and producer whose early career included a stint in the circus as an aerial web artist. He also plays the tenor sax. “I actually say ‘yes’ to things I’m curious about, so I don’t have to stay in one lane at all,” he says. “I’ve been inspired by renaissance men and women, people who don’t put themselves in a box.”

A longtime fan of James Baldwin and his work, he had originally auditioned for a different role in the adaptation of “If Beale Street Could Talk,” but director Barry Jenkins instead offered him the part of Joseph Rivers, the father of a young man wrongfully accused of rape, a more substantial role. Domingo notes that the world created in the film (Harlem in 1972) is rich in human characters “very ordinary by design but extraordinary in their efforts to overcome injustice.”

A seasoned theater director, he helmed an episode of AMC’s zombie spinoff in which he also plays Victor Strand and reveled in the challenge. “We’re basically shooting a $4.5 million film in eight days and that takes just a bit more time, and a bit more patience and a bit more grace.”

Looking ahead, Domingo is appearing in “Pale Blue Dot” (alongside Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm and Zazie Beetz), is attached to direct two feature films (“City on Fire” and “A Civil Right”) and is executive producing and creating two series (the hourlong dark comedy “West Philly, Baby” for AMC and the half-hour comedy “Peaches” for HBO).

“Whether I’m in front of the camera, behind the camera, if I’m writing, producing, directing, it doesn’t matter as long as I’m having a good time with people I want to work with,” says Domingo.
— Paul Plunkett

Artist of Distinction Award
Topher Grace
One of the greatest days of Grace’s career was followed by one of the worst months of his life. He got the call from Spike Lee, who told him he’d landed the role of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke in “BlacKkKlansman.” “You’re my guy!” The euphoria quickly wore off as Grace immersed himself in research on Duke for the following month, working to get into the headspace of the white supremacist, watching interviews and reading his writings.

Grace, who started out on the hit “That ’70s Show,” seeks out new scripts from auteurs whose work he admires and respects. “I just wanted to read Spike Lee’s new script, I didn’t think there’d be a role for me in it,” Grace says. Then he read the script and thought to himself, “Wait a second, I think I have a take on this guy [Duke], maybe I could pull this off,” and called his agents.

The night before reading for Lee, Grace was rehearsing and found he was censoring himself, swallowing some of the words. “It was so hate-filled and terrible,” he says. “The next day I went in to meet with Spike, and the way that he takes care of his actors, he just went to work making me feel as comfortable as possible.”

He found shooting the film to be less stressful than the harsh research. “The set was very much like the film, heavy subject matter done with a lot of humor.”

It was a strange feeling, pursuing and then playing this particular role, but the desire to work with Lee drove him. “I didn’t want to play David Duke,” he says. “I wanted to play David Duke in a Spike Lee joint. I don’t think there’s anyone else I’d feel comfortable playing this role for.”
— Paul Plunkett

Artist of Distinction Award
Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Over the past 20 years, Winstead has been portraying complex women in projects on TV (“Fargo”) and film, both studio (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) and indie (“Smashed”). This year, she took on one of her most challenging roles as a troubled standup comedian in “All About Nina,” the feature film debut from writer-director Eva Vives. “When I read it, it was absolutely the most intimidating role I’d ever read. It was an easy yes for me obviously, because the role was so incredible,” Winstead says. Only later did the fear sink in. “The closer we got to shooting it, the more scared I started to become.”

Up next, Winstead will be seen in Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” and “The Parts You Lose.” And she’s just landed the coveted role of Helena Bertinelli / Huntress in “Birds of Prey,” the Harley Quinn spinoff with Margot Robbie. But she’ll never abandon the indie world. “I love it,” she says of the fast pace, noting “All About Nina” was shot in 21 days. “It’s difficult for sure but in terms of the energy, the frenetic, intense energy, it’s easier to get that on a short shoot.”
— Jenelle Riley

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