Maddy Fangio / Daily Nexus

A line formed around the block of the Arlington Theatre on the night of Feb. 15, the audience filled with excitement and anticipation. The crowd slowly started entering the theater, watching as some of the stars of this year’s biggest movies hit the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Virtuosos Award red carpet. 

From the line, fans tried to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars while the event staff made sure they made it in time for the start of the show. Being honored for their performances were Jeremy Strong, Ke Huy Quan, Jeremy Pope, Stephanie Hsu, Nina Hoss, Danielle Deadwyler, Kerry Condon and Austin Butler. 

Due to the strong lineup for the night, the theater was at full capacity when the show started. Executive director of the festival, Roger Durling, took the stage first. He amped up the crowd for the 16th annual Virtuosos Award ceremony and introduced the host, Dave Karger. Karger explained how excited he was to welcome the actors to the stage, with a compilation of their movies displayed on the screen.

The first honoree welcomed to the stage was Strong, who stars in James Gray’s “Armageddon Time” as the father figure to the main character. The character, Irving Graff, is heavily based on James Gray’s own father. 

When speaking about the character, Strong explained that he “was very surprised by the vulnerability that the script revealed, peeling away layers of this character that we see as kind of brutal … but there are other sides to his humanity.” Strong spent a lot of time in Hollywood before becoming an actor, for instance working as Daniel Day-Lewis’ assistant; these previous positions allowed him to pick up methods for his own work. Karger asked about Strong’s process of becoming a family unit with co-stars Anne Hathaway and Anthony Hopkins in this film. 

“[There was] no rehearsal, but everybody shows up ready and then you do a lot of work with the text, [which] gives you everything you need. A lot of work is internalizing that … and you show up and trust each other,” Strong responded.  

Next up for his interview was Quan, the star of “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Quan’s character, Waymond, is the patriarchal figure in his film that stars alongside Michelle Yeoh, playing the mother Evelyn, and Hsu, playing their daughter Joy. The work Quan did for many years behind the scenes in the industry is what he believes contributed to his success in this film, especially being an assistant stunt coordinator on an “X-Men” film. 

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“If you look at Waymond [and] the three different versions of him, I could not have played him had I not had [that] experience,” Quan reflected.  “[Especially] the fanny-pack sequence, I learned all that doing stunt work.” 

At first, after so many years behind the scenes, he was not sure if he would ever act again. However, Quan remarks that he noticed that Asian representation was slowly improving in the media.  After having a long and meaningful conversation with his wife, he decided to join the cast of the film. 

“Little did I know that the acting bug that I had buried for so long started to crawl back up to the surface. Every time it wanted to come back, I would push [it] away … [but] it would come back louder and stronger until I could not ignore it anymore,” Quan reflected. 

Another star from “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Hsu, joined Karger on stage for a conversation. She played two characters in this film, Joy and Jobu Tupaki, daughter of Yeoh’s Evelyn Wang. Hsu spoke about her characters Joy and Jobu, the same person but from two very different universes. 

“Joy and Jobu are two sides, two extremes of the same core,” she said when explaining her head space while portraying the two characters. “If the core is nihilism, the idea that nothing really matters, Joy kind of takes that thread and says, ‘OK, then why wake up in the morning, why do anything … If nothing matters, I can explode your head into confetti and eat it like a cupcake.’” 

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She also spoke on her experience working with the writers and directors of this film, the Daniels. 

“They are beautifully imaginative creatures, but they are truly incredible filmmakers. They cultivate such an incredible environment of community that everyone wants to bring their best [work to].” 

If the 11 Oscar nominations are any indication, the cast and crew put forth their best efforts throughout this movie and subsequently gained attention and fame for their work. 

Pope was honored for his performance as a lead actor in “The Inspection.” The film follows a gay Black Marine through boot camp. 

When asked about the importance of this role in his life and career, Pope said, “‘The Inspection’ changed me in a very real way … showing up as a strong Black man, as a queer individual, it started to bring up some ugly and honest truths within myself, some things that I hadn’t dealt with, so it became very healing.” 

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He also learned that “as an artist, you are a vessel for something that is bigger than yourself … the stories that I am very fortunate to tell will plant a seed that is bigger than Jeremy Pope.” 

Being a part of this film was due — in big part — to co-star Gabrielle Union. He says that Union “literally slid into my DMs on Twitter” and asked him to be a part of the film. Union told him that, “If you are doing this movie, I want to do it with you.” Pope admires Union too, doing “the work in the streets” by “protecting her trans daughter [and] listening to her trans daughter.”

Hoss was the next recipient of the Virtuosos Award to join Karger on stage for an interview. Hoss plays Sharon Goodnow in the film “Tár.” Goodnow is the Berlin Philharmonic’s first chair and partner of Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett), the conductor. She mentioned that her relationship with the character was a complex road.

“Sharon was a little bit of a mystery, in the beginning, because you think [of] a woman, who is in her own right a very accomplished musician in the orchestra, as someone who has lost the partner of her life,” Hoss explained. 

However, she eventually realized after looking technically at the music that there was a deepness to the character underneath this surface. Playing a character that is so tied to her musicality, Hoss spoke to her own experiences in the world of music. 

Hoss said that “I do play the piano, and I have done that since I was six, or so. For a while I considered doing opera … and then when it [came time to decide between] acting or opera school … I thought, ‘Why don’t they just say it?’” Because she chose acting school, she has an illustrious career with dozens of acting credits. 

Deadwyler was up next, speaking about her role in “Till” as Mamie Till-Bradley. “Till” follows Till-Bradley through the unthinkable: fighting for justice for her 14-year-old son, Emmett Till, after he was brutalized and killed on a trip to Mississippi in 1955. 

Based heavily on Till-Bradley’s story, Deadwyler talked to Karger about the beginnings of the film and the impact it has made.

“[When] Mamie wanted this film made, she wanted it made in 1955 [and] wanted [it] to continue to spread the word, to spread the joy of Emmett … That has given us the opportunity to do this film, while moving into all of the spaces we have been able to take it. There is nothing but a win in every sense of the word,” Deadwyler reflected. 

Karger then asked about how she coped with the intensity of the film’s content.

“Every night, during filming, I dreamed … Those dreams were really beautiful and instructive in a way … We also had a beautiful therapist on set who supported the cast and crew through all of the … challenging scenes,” Deadwyler responded.  

Deadwyler’s words about the Till family along with the creation of this film moved the audience — cheers were heard intermittently throughout her interview and loudly after.

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Next in the lineup for the night was Condon, who received her Virtuosos Award for her role in “The Banshees of Inisherin” as Siobhán Súilleabháin, the sister of main character Pádraic (Colin Farrell). The character first attempts to mend his relationship with life-long friend Colm Doherty, but eventually leaves the island of Inisherin for the mainland and a different life. Condon’s performance has awarded her an Academy Award nomination, but she explains that her relationship with Súilleabháin was not immediate. 

She claims, “I was on board because it was Martin [McDonagh], but if I am really honest, the first thing [I thought of] when I read it [was] the plays I’ve done [and] the parts, [because they] were so good … they’re these young girls who are really feisty and they say how they feel … and Siobhán isn’t as wise-cracking as Mairead was. I was a bit disappointed, but then during rehearsals and when I started planning it I was like, ‘Oh hang on a minute now, she is actually kind of harder because there is a lot she’s not saying.’” 

When Condon left the stage, audience member were still laughing from her hilarious remarks. 

Finally, the highly anticipated interview with honoree Butler was up next. He was awarded for his role in “Elvis,” where he played the titular character, Elvis Presley. As he stepped onto stage, Butler was welcomed by fans screaming, “I love you Austin!” 

During his interview, Karger asked the star, “What gave you the gumption to know you could take up something like this?” He simply replied that it was “delusion.” 

Congruently, Butler spoke about his preparation for the daunting role, even after the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“I had been preparing for about a year at that point, and I knew that if I went back to Los Angeles or New York, [suddenly] life would flood back in and I would lose some of that focus. I thought this would be the perfect time to stay [in Australia] and double-down,” Butler said. 

 Later, Karger asked Butler what growing a relationship with the Presley family was like. Austin replied that the Presley family “has been the greatest gift of anything” and gave him “the greatest review I’ll ever get in my life.” 

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Butler was expectedly charming throughout his time on stage, but also gave invaluable insight into what it was like to play one of the most popular figures in entertainment history. 

After they were brought out individually, all eight of the Virtuosos Award recipients were welcomed to the stage together for a panel-like interview. 

First, Karger asked a few of the actors what behind-the-scenes job they would like to try in the industry. Because of their experience with behind-the-scenes work already, Strong and Quan did not answer. The answers varied, with Pope saying directing, Hoss and Deadwyler agreeing on cinematography and Condon saying casting. The two remaining actors talked about their dreams besides acting. Hsu said that she wishes she “had the skill set to be a stop motion animator” and Butler said that he “always wanted to be a special effects makeup artist.” 

The next question asked was, “If you could play anyone’s spouse, which actor’s/actress’ spouse would you want to be?” Pope answered, “This one right here,” referring to Deadwyler as they proceeded to get up and dance together. 

Hsu responded, “I want to be in the trouple, of course.” Hoss responded with, “I can’t betray Cate,” then agreed the two of them should join in with the “quintuple.” Condon replied with, “James Gandolfini,” and Butler with “Marlon Brando.” Strong chose to skip the question. Quan replied with, “Tom Cruise … I love him so much and I want to work with him one day.” 

Then, the eight honorees went down the line and shared a recommendation of a film from this year that they encourage everybody to see. Karger started and recommends “The Quiet Girl” and “Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.” Next, Butler answered with “Close,” his reason being that he “just watched that; it is so beautiful.” Next was Deadwyler, who said “Triangle of Sadness.” Hoss responded with both “Close” and “Aftersun.” Hsu and Pope both recommended “Causeway.” Quan likes “The Whale” and recommended the audience bring tissues. Strong wants everyone to watch “Navalny.” As for Condon, she claims to have “drawn a blank.” 

Finally, Karger welcomed Jane Lynch to the stage along with several award bringers. Lynch offered an inspiring speech, recognizing the people who represent different press outlets in the area for their work. They presented and handed out the Virtuosos Award to each of the recipients, with many cheers and applause from the audience concluding the night.