At Thursday night’s Britannia Awards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus summed up one of the pleasures of the honors that are handed out this time of year, before awards season gets ultra-competitive.
“It’s nice that they tell you you’ve won ahead of time,” she said, “so you don’t have to practice your ‘I’m so happy for Lena Dunham’ face.”
Louis-Dreyfus was one of the six winners who came to the Beverly Hilton knowing that they were being given honors by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Los Angeles. The others were Robert Downey Jr., Dame Judi Dench, Mike Leigh, Emma Watson and Mark Ruffalo, all of whom were being honored at an awards show whose name is a mouthful: The 2014 BAFTA Los Angeles Jaguar Britannia Awards Presented by BBC America and United Airlines.
Maybe because it took so long just to say the name of the awards, it took BAFTA two hours to hand out six awards, plus an hour for dinner and a couple of hours for pre-show mingling. But along the way, the show — which will air on BBC America on Sunday — provided a number of highlights:
Host Rob Brydon’s opening line
Brydon, the British comic who co-starred with Steve Coogan in “The Trip to Italy,” greeted the crowd this way: “Good evening. I’m Renee Zellweger.”
Sure, it drew some groans. But it was also one of the funniest moments from his opening monologue, which tweaked the evening’s winners and mentioned a few of the year’s hot films. In “Boyhood,” he pointed out, “we actually see a boy grow up onscreen in front of our eyes. As Emma Watson says, ‘What’s the big deal? Try it in front of a green screen with a broomstick up your skirt.'”
Emma Watson’s dead hamster
And speaking of Watson, presenter Ben Barnes’ last line was predictable but charming: “10 points for Gryffindor, and this Britannia Award for British Artist of the Year to Emma Watson.” But the presentation left the 24-year-old Watson “choked up,” she said, and she thanked the British film industry, which she said “hasn’t just been a workplace for me — it was where I grew up.”
She then told a story about how her pet hamster Millie had died during the making of the first “Harry Potter” movie, and how the prop department had built a hamster-sized coffin for the little creature. “Rest in peace, Millie,” she said at the end of her speech, holding up her award. “This one’s for you.”
Josh Gad goes wild
Mark Ruffalo’s “Begin Again” co-star Hailee Steinfeld delivered a heartfelt and serious speech about what a wonderful person the BAFTA Los Angeles Humanitarian Award recipient was — but that left the field wild open for Gad, who goodnaturedly but effectively ripped into his “Thanks for Sharing” co-star with a sidesplitting speech that, he predicted, meant that his friend “will never talk to me again after tonight.”
A recurring theme was the bravery that Ruffalo showed in tackling the role of the Incredible Hulk in Marvel’s “Avengers” movies, bringing nuance to classic lines like “Hulk smash!” and not worrying about how the role had previously been played (in less successful movies) by a couple of other actors.
“He’s the only man in Hollywood comfident enough to take sloppy seconds to both Eric Bana and Edward Norton,” Gad said, as Ruffalo burst out laughing.
The Judi and Harvey show
The surprise in the presentation of the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment to Dame Judi Dench wasn’t presenter Dustin Hoffman’s puckish wit — it was the appearance in a film clip of Harvey Weinstein, whose company released “Philomena” last year (and whose previous company released “Shakespeare in Love” in 1998), along with seven other films featuring Dench.
In the spot where you’d expect bland testimonial to Dench’s greatness, Weinstein looked somberly into the camera and began, “My first impression of Judi Dench? You could smell the alcohol. And you just knew that this was a woman who needed desperately to work.”
In her speech, Dench got in a shot of her own at the mogul. She called him “the blessed Harvey, whose tattoo I still have on my bum.” A shrug. “He insisted.”
Comics strike back
“Comedy is many things, but one thing on which we can all agree is that it’s not as good as drama,” began “Veep” creator Armando Iannucci as he introduced the Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award for Excellence in Comedy to Julia Louis-Dreyfus. ” … That’s why there’s only one comedy performer being honored tonight, and so so so many actors.”
Iannucci’s speech was barbed and very funny, and so was a film package in which friends like Larry David and Wanda Sykes complained about the five-time Emmy winner being given yet another award. It was a hard act to follow for the honoree — but of course, winning all those Emmys has made Louis-Dreyfus a pro at acceptance speeches, so she used her ace comic timing for a lengthy bit that made sport of her inarticulateness when compared to naturally eloquent Brits.
“Thank you so much, Great Britain,” she began. “And you got to hang onto Scotland — that was cool.”
Iannucci, by the way, provided a little help for those of us who were trying to figure out the awards equivalent of foreign currency exchange rates, or yards-to-meters calculations.
“[Julia] has won five Emmys,” he pointed out, “which is the equivalent of one BAFTA.”
Directors on directors
When director Jim Sheridan was asked to present the John Schlesinger Britannia Award for Excellence in Directing to Mike Leigh, he said his initial reaction was to decline. “Mike Leigh?” he asked rhetorically. “I hate Mike Leigh. Every time I make a depressing movie, he comes along and makes a really depressing movie and wins all the awards.”
Leigh, for his part, paid tribute to the director for whom the award is named, pointing out that at the beginning of his career he had a small part as an actor in a 1963 movie called “Two Left Feet.” The film was shot at Shepperton Studios outside London, he recalled — and when he got tired of watching Roy Ward Baker direct what turned out to be a bad movie, he wandered over to another soundstage where Schlesinger was shooting “Billy Liar.”
“More than half of what I learned about directing, I learned from watching him,” Leigh said.
Jamie Foxx’s Robert Downey Jr. impression
To be fair, Foxx’s impersonation of his “The Soloist” co-star was nowhere near as good as Kate Hudson’s Matthew McConaughey impression, which brought the house down in the same ballroom a week earlier at the American Cinematheque tribute to McConaughey.
But Foxx was nonetheless an entertaining speaker when he presented the Stanley Kubrick Award for Excellence in Film to Downey, and his version of Downey — which basically amounted to a quick “Dude, here’s the deal,” repeated several times — was pretty good.
So was his mock dismay when he talked about Downey’s Oscar-nominated performance in “Tropic Thunder,” in which he played an Australian actor who had undergone skin pigmentation treatments to play a black man.
“When you played a black person, I got nervous,” Foxx said. ” … I’m just glad that I did ‘Ray’ before that.'”
Robert Downey’s awards prognostication
The Britannia Awards are not nearly as blatant a stop on the campaign trail as the Academy’s Governors Awards will be next week: Instead of a full complement of stars and filmmakers from every awards-contending film, representation was more sparse.
Still, “The Theory of Everything” showed up with stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, and with its producer and writer; “The Imitation Game” sent director Morten Tyldum and three of its own producers; “Belle” came with star Gugu M’Batha-Raw.
And in his acceptance speech, Downey simultaneously mentioned, mocked and milked the omnipresent awards talk.
“I guess it’s that season,” he said. “I’m told it’s extremely unlikely I’ll be nominated for my stellar performance in ‘The Avengers: Infinity Wars Part 1’ in five years … But Robert Duvall has a great chance this year in ‘The Judge.'”