Britannia Awards Honor American And British Talent

Craig Modderno is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the Oct. 31 issue of AwardsLine.

In what looks to be the start of another lively awards season, the first volley has been fired by the Brits. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts Los Angeles, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, will honor both American and British talent at its annual Britannia Awards ceremony, taking place Nov. 7 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills.

The relatively loose, humorous affair, which will air for the first time in primetime on BBC America Nov. 11, is part of BAFTA LA’s efforts to continue to forge strong ties between the Hollywood community and its counterparts in Great Britain. Though the Britannias aren’t always about the pursuit of Oscar, the awards show often represents one of the initial high-profile stops on the November-February circuit. In fact, a couple of this year’s honorees, most notably Django Unchained director and John Schlesinger honoree Quentin Tarantino and Lincoln star and Stanley Kubrick honoree Daniel Day-Lewis, will factor heavily into the season’s conversation, giving the Britannias a bigger slice of the spotlight.

Though the event isn’t as no-holds-barred as some of Hollywood’s better-known nontelevised ceremonies, Donald Haber, executive director and chief operating office of BAFTA LA, says it occupies a special place on the calendar for the filmmaking community.

“Kate Winslet, who previously received the Britannia Award, said it best,” Haber explains. “She said, ‘It’s more enjoyable to go to an awards ceremony when you know you’ve already won!’ ”

Other Britannia-bestowed individuals include Skyfall star Daniel Craig, who is British Artist of the Year; South Park and Book of Mormon creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who will receive the Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award for Excellence in Comedy; and videogame designer Will Wright, who will receive the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment.

“While Mr. Wright may not be a household name, we feel his contribution to videogames, which more studios are regarding as a necessary offshoot of their high-profile films, is worth honoring,” Haber offers. “Wright’s award shows that BAFTA is ahead of the curve in recognizing this emerging art form.”

AwardsLine spoke to several industry professionals who have worked with this year’s honorees. Here’s what they had to say:

On Daniel Craig, British Artist of the Year

“When Daniel got Bond he went immediately into a strict workout schedule. He focused like an athlete on getting his body in shape. I would have dinner with him during the making of Casino Royale, and he turned down wine and dessert in order to finish—after a day of shooting—another complete workout. Very quickly, I realized Daniel was a character actor evolving into a leading man.

“We tested Daniel doing the first scene with the girl in From Russia With Love. Now, we all know Sean Connery was the template for Bond and, in my opinion, that was his best performance. Though it’s hard to compare Bonds, we’ve used that scene in auditions before because it has the qualities of Bond that we’ve always wanted. (But) Daniel actually had to be talked into playing Bond. A major part of him didn’t want to enter a pub knowing that when he exited he would face an endless, aggressive pack of photographers. Daniel insists that all future films we do will be cast with credible actors and credible premises. So you’ll see no more Tanya Roberts or Denise Richards or starlets like that from past Bond pictures. We’re in the era of serious Bond stories now.”

—Michael G. Wilson, producer

“When I directed Daniel in Road to Perdition and later in Skyfall, there were a few noticeable differences. He has a much greater inner confidence now. He has a strong center, is a better actor, and knows how to adjust his inner intensity and anger in a way that works best for him now. Daniel also has a wacky sense of humor that he allows himself to reveal more of now. In Road to Perdition, much like the Bond films, Daniel’s got an incredible controlled spring of intensity, verging on psychotic emotions. He told me about directing a Bond film that nothing could prepare me for it. Daniel trusted me to bring my vision as much as possible to the table. There’s nothing better than having an actor who wanted to be pushed, who wanted me not to be standoffish but critical when necessary. At first, when he was chosen, I didn’t believe Daniel was the perfect Bond choice, but in Casino Royale they made him play a real person and not a cartoon character, and audiences and critics responded to it in an overwhelmingly positive manner.”

—Sam Mendes, director

On Quentin Tarantino, John Schlesinger Award for Excellence in Directing

“There was no difference between the Quentin I worked with on Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained. It’s like watching someone you believe in fulfill their promise through the past 20 years. What people don’t recognize is how romantic Quentin’s films are. The British realized that early. The British actually embraced and discovered Quentin before American audiences did.

“When you’re working with Quentin, everyone brings their A-game to the set. Everyone realizes it’s not just a job, but we’re all having an adventure telling a story. I often feel like a bush-leaguer around him because of his vast film knowledge. When we made Django Unchained, we had a lot of fun watching westerns, some of which I hadn’t seen, like Rio Bravo and Don Siegel’s Flaming Star, which starred a very believable Elvis Presley.”

 —Stacey Sher, producer

On Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Charlie Chaplin Award for Excellence in Comedy

“It was so bizarre how we met. They came to my show Avenue Q because they were working with puppets on a film. They were heroes of mine so I thanked them in the program’s credits, which freaked them out because they had never met me. We went out after the play and discovered we all wanted to do a play about Mormons—who knew! I had my fiancée join us later, and almost immediately Matt offered us his Hawaii home for our honeymoon. Jeff Marx, my cocomposer on Avenue Q, asked me what they were like. I told him, ‘They’re just like us only richer, funnier, and better-looking!’

“For me what made the play work was Matt and Trey’s way of building a song in a well-crafted manner, where the laughs built in the same way as the music. The show hasn’t opened in England, so I have no idea why they’re getting this award from the Brits. I’m sure their first comment upon being told of the honor was to ask if there was a free meal attached. There’s a song called ‘I Believe,’ which the show’s producers wanted us to write and we didn’t want to. I then showed the boys the film clip ‘I Have Confidence in Me’ from The Sound of Music. We believed there’s no such thing as a bad idea when we were doing the project so Matt and Trey started composing their own words to the tune and changed some things musically. The Rodgers and Hammerstein estate loved our song and gave their blessings to it for the play.”

—Robert Lopez, composer-lyricist

On Daniel Day-Lewis, Stanley Kubrick Award for Excellence in Film

“I first saw Daniel in the Stephen Frears’ film My Beautiful Laundrette. The first time he came onscreen, he was amazing and charismatic. He seemed fearless. In that movie, he plays a gay character, so he wasn’t stuck-up about his image.

“He isn’t an actor of multiple takes; he has it instantly. (Since The Boxer), I haven’t found anything that was good for him to do, not that he refused anything, but obviously I would love to find something for him.

“(During In the Name of the Father), when his father was dying, we did an improvised scene where we passed time and he wrapped the tape around his head—that was powerful. Also, the scene where he signs his life away, he had stayed out a few days without sleeping (the night before), and that was very emotional.”

—Jim Sheridan, director

Anthony D’Alessandro contributed to this report.

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