Letters Live traveled across the pond for its first-ever U.S. celebration.
Celebrities, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Hamill, Anjelica Huston, Isla Fisher, Catherine Keener, and James Corden, read comedic and intimate letters — some written centuries ago, others a couple of years old. Proceeds from the event, which began in 2013, go to charity.
One by one, actors and musicians took the stage at the Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles after host Aisha Tyler, who also read a letter from Maya Angelou later in the evening, announced the context of each letter. The literature ranged from a hilarious thank you from an elderly woman, read by Keener, to a mother’s final words to her daughter, read by Annabelle Wallis.
Gyllenhaal was one of the few performers who read multiple letters. The first correspondence he read was a comical letter mocking the government for paying farmers subsidies not to farm. Gyllenhaal’s second note was a letter from a husband to his wife, who died two years earlier from tuberculosis. “I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else,” Gyllenhaal said. “But I want you to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.”
Nikki Suzuki, a 16-year-old who had two family members involved in two recent mass shootings, read a letter from a 7-year-old girl asking President Donald Trump to support gun control. “My best friend Jacob was shot and died. That made me very sad. I loved him and was going to marry him one day. I hate guns,” she wrote.
Keener’s first letter was written by a columnist to her 20-year-old self. The piece reflected on the positive and poor decisions the author made throughout her life. “You will come to know things that can only be known with the wisdom of age and the grace of years,” Keener read. “Most of those things will have to do with forgiveness.”
Some other highlights from the evening included Huston reading a heartfelt letter from Katharine Hepburn to her late husband Spencer Tracey, Fisher acting out the anger expressed by a woman who had to sit next to a bathroom in an airplane, Danny Huston conveying Kurt Vonnegut’s firm stance on why his son shouldn’t fight in the Vietnam War, and Hamill, Keener, and Huston reading a letter for “Star Trek” producers.
There were also musical moments — singer Benjamin Booker performed. After reading a letter Jimi Hendrix wrote to his father when he first began his music career, Reggie Watts channeled the late rock star for a psychedelic performance.
The profits from this year’s event — in partnership with Net-A-Porter and Mr. Porter — benefit 826LA and Women for Women International.