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Variety’s 10 Actors to Watch Honored at Newport Beach Film Festival

Variety celebrated the 2018 class of 10 Actors to Watch on Sunday with a brunch and panel discussion in partnership with Newport Beach Film Festival at the Resort at Pelican Hill.

NBFF also presented honors to several artists, including Topher Grace, Colman Domingo, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who were all recognized with artist of distinction awards. Robert Forster received the icon award.

Domingo, star of “Fear the Walking Dead” and soon to be see in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” dedicated his award to his mother, who passed in 2006. He recalled how she would tell him, “I wrote to Oprah!” to help her son. He noted when his mother passed away, “I was so distraught and destroyed, I said, ‘I don’t know what to do with all this love.’” His friend told him, “You’re going to put it all into your work.” He then noted he has since worked with Oprah Winfrey in “Selma” and seen his career blossom. “My mother’s dreams have come true for me.”

Both Grace and Winstead had high praise for their directors. Grace plays KKK Grand Wizard David Duke in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” while Winstead portrays a trouble comedian in Eva Vives “All About Nina.” Grace said on the red carpet, “I didn’t want to play David Duke. I wanted to play David Duke in a Spike Lee joint.” Winstead noted, “I would absolutely not be here today without Eva.”

Accepting his icon award, Forster quipped, “It’s great to be overrated!” He then joked, “Like Variety, I’ve been in this business since 1905.” He added that over his long career, he thought about quitting several times but then reminded himself, “Bob, you can win it in the late innings.” He noted he’s doing some of his best work in recent years, citing his work in his current film “What They Had” as an example.

During the 10 Actors to Watch panel, those present spoke about their early roles. “Black Panther” breakout Letitia Wright said she was hooked on acting after playing Rosa Parks in a school play at age 12. “A Simple Favor” star Henry Golding was a TV host in Singapore when he was asked to audition for the lead role in “Crazy Rich Asians,” his first professional acting gig. In fact, he was on his honeymoon in South Africa when he got the call to come in and had to cut his vacation short. “I’m still making amends,” he joked. “And that’s what a lot of these people who work in film sacrifice is the time with their loved ones, from the writers to producers to the lighting guys to makeup artists. It’s the sacrifice we pay to create art.”

Golding’s “Crazy Rich Asians” co-star Gemma Chan, who also appears in the upcoming drama “Mary Queen of Scots,” said the success of their film has been a joy to witness, particularly seeing “people sharing all their costumes from dressing as the characters.” When it was mentioned that many people dressed as Zazie Beetz’s character Domino from “Deadpool 2,” the actress noted it was flattering but also, “I’m a little surprised they’ve watched the movie.”

Several of the actors spoke about working with their iconic directors. Though she’s been acting for years in her native country of Mexico, Marina de Tavira admitted to being somewhat intimidated when she met with Alfonso Cuarón to portray a mother struggling to hold her family together in his autobiographical “Roma.” John David Washington noted he’s still processing the fact Spike Lee asked him to play the lead in “BlackKklansman.”

Young stars Elsie Fisher (“Eighth Grade”) and Cailee Spaeny (“On the Basis of Sex”) spoke about hoping to chart long careers by working with artists who excite them. Russell Hornsby, now on screens in “The Hate U Give,” said he hopes to make movies that are meaningful but also that his mother will enjoy. Noting that Washington’s mother, actress/singer Pauletta Washington, was in the audience, he was asked what her favorite movie of his is. “The next one,” Washington quipped with a laugh.

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