In the past 20 years, since becoming an Oscar precursor on the awards calendar, the BAFTAs have courted a more international audience — though in choosing a host for the ceremony, organizers have always kept things local. In recent years, national treasures including Graham Norton, Joanna Lumley and Stephen Fry have filled the position; last year’s low-key pandemic ceremony had suitably low-key hosts to match, with broadcasting personalities Dermot O’Leary, Clara Amfo and Edith Bowman — all little-known outside the U.K. — sharing duties.
This year, BAFTA has taken a different tack and looked beyond borders, tapping Australian actor and comedian Rebel Wilson to host proceedings on March 13. It’s a sharp change in direction for an event that has traditionally sought witty emcees rather than outright comics: no one tends to remember a BAFTA ceremony for the jokes, but then nobody tends to remember BAFTA ceremonies much at all.
Two years ago, however, Wilson scored a rare viral moment for BAFTA when she turned up to present the director award to “1917” helmer Sam Mendes. Known for her loud, bawdy brand of humor, the star of “Pitch Perfect” and “Jojo Rabbit” lived up to her reputation with an extended, zinger-packed intro, during which she poked fun at the royal family, skewered her own then-recent appearance in the disastrous “Cats,” squeezed in a vagina joke and capped it off with a pithy retort to the all-male category she was presenting: “I don’t think I could do what they do, honestly — I just don’t have the balls.”
The crowd — both in the room and watching at home — lapped it up, with pundits immediately suggesting that Wilson be handed the reins to the whole ceremony. BAFTA leaders were obviously listening: now the pressure’s on Wilson to sustain that crowd-pleasing jocularity for a whole evening. It’s interesting that Wilson has taken the gig while the Oscars have handed a co-hosting slot to her contemporary Amy Schumer, another unapologetically crude female comic: both will have to thread the needle between delivering on their outrageous brand while maintaining the formal tone of the night. It should be an entertaining challenge.