Variety’s 10 Actors to Watch for 2019 and the Newport Beach Film Festival’s Fall Honors recipients were feted on Sunday. In a partnership with Visit Newport Beach and Variety, the celebration was held at a brunch at the Resort at Pelican Hill where stars like Cynthia Erivo and Glen Powell dined against a stunning beachfront backdrop.
The first NBFF Award of Distinction was presented to “Big Bang Theory” alum Melissa Rauch. “I dreamed about being in this field for as long as I can remember,” said Rauch, thanking everyone who has supported her in that dream along the way.
The next Award of Distinction went to Tracy Letts, who can be seen in two upcoming films, “Little Women” and “Ford v Ferrari,” where he plays Henry Ford II. “You needn’t have bothered with ‘Distinction,’ you could have said ‘Artist’ and I would have flopped up here like a seal,” joked Letts, before adding that he’s proud to be part of any program that supports young artists.
Stephanie Beatriz, star of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and the upcoming adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s breakthrough musical “In The Heights,” received the next Award of Distinction, noting that “it’s really lovely to look up every once in a while and have someone say, ‘Hey, I like what you did and it’s adding something lovely to the world,’ and that is an honor unto itself.”
The final Award of Distinction went to “Downton Abbey” actor Allen Leech. “My career has been about collaboration, I’ve had the opportunity to work with incredible actors and crew, directors and producers,” Leech said, adding thanks to his wife, Jessica Blair Herman, for “our greatest production,” as they look forward to their first child.
Variety’s Ten Actors to Watch for 2019 then participated in a panel discussion. Jessie Buckley (“Wild Rose,” “Judy”) realized she’d found her calling when her appendix nearly burst during a production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in the town hall of Killarney, County Kerry in her native Ireland. “I was so adamant to finish the show,” she said, noting that she’s fine now, but at the time she’d have risked her health if need be. “I finished the show.”
Cynthia Erivo, star of “Harriet” and soon to play Aretha Franklin for National Geographic’s “Genius” series, recalled booking a well-paying tour as a background vocalist at the same time she got into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, who forced her to choose. “I felt that I had lost the chance of a lifetime,” said Erivo with a smile, “And I was right, I’ve never been asked to do backing vocals again.”
Although barely a teenager, Noah Jupe (“A Quiet Place” and the upcoming “Honey Boy” and “Ford v Ferrari”) knew he’d found his path when he wrapped his first job and was heartbroken to lose that family-like bond on set. He added that there’s really no dilemma about acting. “For me, the choice is school… or this. I’m good with this.”
With “Luce” and “Waves” showing his range and skill, Kelvin Harrison Jr. will play a real-life character for the first time career. Cast as activist Fred Hampton in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” he joins heavy-hitters such as Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne and Jeremy Strong, to name a few. The challenge, he says is “to find that truth and not just an impersonation.”
For Maya Hawke (“Stranger Things,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), the effort is key, recalling playing Napoleon in her school production of “Animal Farm,” a casting stretch, to say the least. She realized, “I will never do this as well as it could be done, this is an intangible goal. I just have to try to reach for it as much as I possibly can, knowing that it is intangible and enjoy that impossible thing.”
Rob Morgan (“The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” “Just Mercy”) considers the work of getting work to be often hardest of all. “What we do is play. I love downloading mindsets and characters,” he said. “The challenge to me is the politics of getting the job and actually getting paid what your resume is worth.”
Rejection is also a hurdle to overcome, but Camila Morrone (“Mickey and the Bear”) accepts it. “You have to love what you do, because there’s going to be so many ‘No’s’ until you get one,” she said of the rare ‘Yes.’ “Then you just have to do the best job you possibly can and be prepared for when that moment comes.”
Before landing projects such as “Hidden Figures” and the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick,” Glen Powell experienced his own fair share of rejection, giving him “A little bit of a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “That kept me going, kept me hungry, kept me sharp, kept me a little angry, and kept me wanting.”
Margaret Qualley (“Seberg,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) protects herself from rejection by “just being so hard on myself,” she said half-seriously. “The only time I feel comfortable is once I’ve realized they’ve shot too much and they don’t have the budget to replace me!”
Rejection is how Da’Vine Joy Randolph made her way to acting. A classically trained opera singer, the breakout star of “Dolemite Is My Name” changed course after getting “kicked out of opera school.“ The Tony nominee for “Ghost the Musical” sees each accomplishment as a further affirmation to keep going. “I don’t think there’s mistakes and everything happens for a reason,” she said adding that with each role she plays, she pushes against stereotypes.
“I think the challenge is the quest of really breaking these barriers and pushing up against an industry that’s just not naturally used to that,” she added.
In the afternoon’s final presentation, Alfre Woodard, who this year adds the death row drama “Clemency” and the Apple Plus series “See” to her stellar list of credits, accepted this year’s NBFF Icon Award.
She recalled tours in Europe years ago when she saw famous religious icons and saints on display, including ‘the weeping saint,’ Santa Monica.
“She probably foresaw the traffic,” Woodard quipped, but noted that the icons she’d seen didn’t appear to be particularly happy.
With that thought in mind, she encouraged everyone, especially the 10 Actors to Watch, to “Make this a joyride. You have been given the great gift of escorting an exceptional talent through this life,” she continued. “So honor her. You enjoy yourself as everyone enjoys you.”