Performance-capture king and comic actor steal the show at tribute that also honors Demian Bichir, Rooney Mara and Shailene Woodley
Andy Serkis and Patton Oswalt, who were passed over when the Academy handed out its nominations, stole the show on Friday night at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which honored Serkis, Oswalt, Shailene Woodley and three Oscar nominees with its annual Virtuoso Awards.
Nominees Demian Bichir, Rooney Mara and Melissa McCarthy were the three Virtuoso honorees also saluted by the Academy, but Oswalt and Serkis, who were passed over for their work in "Young Adult" and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," prompted the biggest crowd reaction.
Partly, that might have been because the popular McCarthy was a casualty of awards season, sidelined by laryngitis and unable to attend.
But it's unlikely that the "Bridesmaids" star, if she'd been healthy, could have topped the moment when Serkis stripped off his jacket and shirt and did his entire onstage interview at the Arlington Theater wearing only his pants and shoes.
And it made Serkis the only honoree to disrobe in a 10-day festival that has also presented salutes to actors Octavia Spencer and Christopher Plummer, director Martin Scorsese and, on Saturday night, "The Artist" actors Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo.
Serkis' antics were prompted when Oswalt, the night's third honoree, was called to the stage by moderator Dave Karger. Award-winners were seated in the audience at the Arlington, and had to walk to the stage by going up a set of stairs, and then traveling through an alcove in the wings of the stage.
After navigating the path, Oswalt pointed at the alcove. "I feel like I should have gone in there wearing one outfit and come out wearing something different," he said. "That would have been a real virtuoso."
In the audience, Serkis took that comment as a challenge. "Patton set me up," he said to TheWrap afterwards. "So I started thinking, what can I do?"
His solution was simple: go into the alcove, strip off his shirt and jacket (he'd already undone a couple of buttons), hand them to a surprised SBIFF staffer, and walk onto the stage shirtless.
It left the audience in stitches, though it also made it hard to concentrate on the actor's comments, in which he talked passionately about performance capture – the technique of which he is the acknowledged master, after his work in "The Lord of the Rings," "King Kong," "The Adventures of Tintin" and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."
"I've never ever drawn any distinction between playing a performance-capture role and doing acting on screen or onstage," he said. "It's exactly the same thing."
But he did admit that his career has taken an odd path. "I met ["Lord of the Rings" director] Peter Jackson, he put me in a bunch of dots, and 12 years later I'm still doing that," he said.
Oswalt, for his part, was both very funny and very thoughtful during his onstage interview. He said he thought he was doing "Young Adult" director Jason Reitman a favor by reading a part at three different table reads while Reitman was in the early stages with the movie – and it wasn't until the third read, at which Owsalt and Charlize Theron had a remarkable chemistry, that Reitman called him in the car on his way home and offered him the role in the film, which he aptly described as "a symphony of awkwardness."
"If would have sucked," he said, "if he'd called me and said, 'Do you have Paul Giamatti's number?"
A successful standup comedian before he began acting, Oswalt said his rule-of-thumb was simple: "Standup, acting and writing are all their own disciplines, and no matter how good you are at one, you should treat the others like you're a neophyte."
He also summed up his relationship with Theron, which has been marked by incessant joking and insults every time they make an appearance together.
"Our friendship is so solid it's become like a flight simulator," he said. "It's like, 'Let's crash into a mountain and see what happens!' We can say the worst things to each other and not worry about it."
Elsewhere on the Virtuosos panel, Demian Bichir talked about the reaction he's gotten from "my paisanos," Mexican immigrants working in Los Angeles, for his Oscar-nominated role in "A Better Life."
"They say, 'I saw your film,'" he said. "'That's my story. That's my father's story. That's my uncle's story.' That's why I dedicated my nomination to 11 million human beings who work with pride and dignity and help this society go forward."
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" star Rooney Mara proved to be painfully shy, rarely raising her eyes and speaking softly about how she took a matter-of-fact approach to her fierce character, and didn't spend a lot of time hanging out with costar Daniel Craig.
"I think me and Daniel are both quite aloof, guarded people," she said, "so we didn’t do a lot of bonding."
The final honoree, Shailene Woodley, was as relentlessly good-natured as she has been during the entire awards season as she told about getting her role in "The Descendants" while on hiatus from her television show "The Secret Life of the American Teenager."
She'd moved to New York for the hiatus, and had taken a job at an American Apparel clothing store. "I was so worried that the manager would be mad at me for leaving the job after only two months," she said, "but she understood."
At the end of the night, after all five honorees had received their Virtuoso Awards, Karger asked them all to share their favorite moment from the long awards-season grind. Bichir began by mentioning a trip to Washington, where he and "A Better Life" director Chris Weitz went to Congress and met with some of the legislators behind the Dream Act.
"I was gonna say meeting Lee Majors," said Oswalt when it was his turn. "But after what Demian said, I feel so stupid."
And Serkis, typically, had the best moment of all.
"At the Golden Globes, Morgan Freeman's son Alfonso came running up to me and said, 'Are you Andy Serkis?'" he remembered. "I said yes, so he dragged me all the way to the front to meet Morgan.
"When we got to the pit where all the famous people were sitting, Alfonso said, 'Dad, dad, this is Andy Serkis! This is Andy Serkis!' And Morgan just looked at me and said, 'And what do you do?'"