Six breakthrough actors talked about their films, careers and awards Saturday at the Santa Barbara Intl. Film Festival’s Virtuosos Awards, but the show’s real highlights were Daniel Kaluuya offering his imitation of Will Smith, and Timothee Chalamet re-creating a voicemail message he got from Matthew McConaughey.
The festival saluted the two actors for their work in “Get Out” and “Call Me by Your Name,” respectively, plus Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”), Hong Chau (“Downsizing”), John Boyega (“Detroit”) and Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick”).
Each actor was brought out for a one-on-one conversation, with Blige talking about how amazing it was to see the many women behind the cameras on “Mudbound,” including Oscar-nominated d.p. Rachel Morrison. Boyega called “Detroit” the biggest movie he’s done, despite the “Star Wars” films, because “Detroit” represents “longevity” for his career. (And no, he doesn’t know the name of “Star Wars” No. 9 yet.)
Chalamet confirmed that he went to high school with Ansel Elgort, who always got cast in the school plays like “Hairspray” and “Guys and Dolls,” unlike Chalamet. Asked about his reaction to reading the peach scene in the script of “Call Me,” Chalamet said he thought, “Yes! This is what I’ve been waiting for!” But seriously, he said simply that the scene was in the book, “So it had to be done.” Asked about filming the final scene, in one long take, he said director Luca Guadagnino gets the credit: “His communication with actors was crystal clear.”
Chau talked about aggressively pursuing her role in the Alexander Payne-directed film, and the opportunity to watch Payne in the editing room: “If you thought the movie was weird, it could have been much weirder!”
Kaluuya said director Jordan Peele was hesitant to cast a Brit in a story about the African-American experience, but they spoke via Skype. “I talked to him about my life, my experience, and I said ‘I get it.’ It’s about the black experience, really.” Kaluuya also said that “Get Out” only had 23 days of lensing. Filming of the first hypnosis scene with Catherine Keener was intense, but with every scene, “I’m not trying to be good, I’m trying to be honest.”
Nanjiani said he was especially excited at the Oscar nomination for his wife and writing partner, Emily V. Gordon, who has been under a great new treatment for her Stills’ Disease during the past year and “It’s changed both of our lives.”
The seventh scheduled honoree, Gal Gadot, bowed out due to the flu.
Fest exec director Roger Durling opened the evening, which was held at the 2000-seat filled-to-capacity Arlington Theater.
Toward the end, moderator Dave Karger asked each of them if they had any favorite impressions. Blige offered Billy Bob Thornton in “Sling Blade” and Boyega did Pinocchio in “Shrek.” But the biggest reaction went to Kaluuya doing a brief but hilarious imitation of Will Smith laughing on a talkshow. Chalamet did a spot-on McConaughey talking about an unanswered email. When “Call Me” producer Peter Spears handed Chalamet his phone onstage, the actor said he couldn’t access the voicemail to prove the accuracy of his impression. Nanjiani shouted, “Lock the doors, we’re not leaving until we hear this voicemail!”