Cate Blanchett Can’t Drive, Viola Davis Gives Awesome Speeches and Other Lessons From the 2023 Palm Springs Film Awards

Honorees at the annual event also included Austin Butler, Brendan Fraser, Michelle Yeoh, Colin Farrell, Bill Nighy and Steven Spielberg

Viola Davis
Getty Images

An awards-season tradition returned to the California desert for the first time in three years on Thursday night, when Hollywood’s 2023 kicked off with the 34th annual Palm Springs International Film Awards, which took place at the beginning of the Palm Springs International Film Festival. Tables weren’t crammed together as closely as usual inside the cavernous Palm Springs Convention Center, but there was a special energy in the room due to the fact that the 2021 and 2022 events had been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mary Hart, who always hosts the event, was missing in action this year, replaced by “Entertainment Tonight” correspondents Kevin Frazier and Nischelle Turner. But as usual, the festival lined up a group of presenters who promise to be in the thick of awards season for the next two months, with honorees including Austin Butler, Danielle Deadwyler, Brendan Fraser, Sarah Polley, Michelle Yeoh, Colin Farrell, Cate Blanchett, Bill Nighy, Viola Davis and Steve Spielberg with the cast of “The Fabelmans.”

Most Palm Springs honorees go on to receive nominations, which makes the acceptance speeches at the event an out-of-town tryout for speeches to come. But the three-hour show isn’t televised and doesn’t have time limits, so it had a looser, less formal energy. Here are some takeaways from the event.

Brendan Fraser at the 34th annual Palm Springs International Film Awards (Getty Images)

Brendan Fraser took his college degree to his first meeting with a Hollywood agent.
The star of “The Whale” was the talk of the evening as he received the Spotlight Award for his breathtaking performance as a man struggling with severe obesity and trying to reconcile with his estranged daughter. Before taking the stage to receive the award from his co-star Hong Chau, Fraser spoke to TheWrap about what the honor meant to him: “It marks a professional achievement that I could only have hoped to make when I began my career some 32 years ago, so I’m pinching myself a little bit.”

Fraser went on to accept his award with a heartfelt speech that included some information fans may have never known. When reminiscing about his first meeting with a Hollywood agent, the actor said, “Here’s how serious I took myself: I brought my college degree to my first meeting with a Hollywood Agent. Somehow I got signed and started working almost instantly, and guess what? I will continue to bring my degree for the next 32 years.”

Cate Blanchett - Jamie Lee Curtis - Palm Springs
Cate Blanchett and Jamie Lee Curtis at the 34th annual Palm Springs International Film Awards (Getty Images)

Cate Blanchett is a terrible driver, but she has other hidden talents.
The world knows Cate Blanchett as one of the industry’s most talented actresses, but does the world know she can’t drive? While presenting the “Tár” actress with the Desert Palm Achievement Award, Jamie Lee Curtis felt compelled to mention Blanchett’s shortcomings behind the wheel. “I’m sure there are many things that Cate Blanchett can say about herself, and she may be under some delusion that in her top three may be driving,” Curtis said. “I will beg loudly to differ.”

Curtis went on to talk about working with Cate in the upcoming film “Borderlands,” where their bond was sealed with a facial. “I was the first person to have received a facial by Cate Blanchett,” Curtis said. “It’s a long story and there is photographic evidence — but if she was ever to lose her day job, I think she has a second calling.”

Colin Farrell - Sam Rockwell - Palm Springs
Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell at the 34th annual Palm Springs International Film Awards (Getty Images)

Sam Rockwell can dance.
When Sam Rockwell presented him with the Desert Palm Achievement Award, “The Banshees of Inisherin” star Colin Farrell made a point of speaking about Rockwell’s prowess on the dance floor. “Sam is one of our great actors, who’s also mind-breakingly attractive,” Farrell said. “Those of you who have not seen Sam dance, go on to YouTube and search ‘Sam Rockwell dancing.’ My favorite is ‘Sam Rockwell dancing machine.’”

Farrell went on to give an inspirational speech reminiscing about his career but concluded by circling back to his presenter’s moves. “I want to end this speech with these 3 words for you: Sam Rockwell dancing!” he said.

Viola Davis - Palm Springs
Viola Davis at the 34th annual Palm Springs International Film Awards (Getty Images)

Viola Davis is one of the best speech-givers of our time.
It’s no secret that Viola Davis is one of the greatest actresses of our time, but it should now be added that every time she sets foot on a stage, she’s capable of giving an awe-inspiring speech. While receiving the Chairman’s Award (for acting and producing) the Oscar-winning actress talked about diversity, adversity, and triumph.

At one point, she mentioned Tim Robbins’ iconic role in “The Shawshank Redemption,” in which his character chipped away at cement for years to eventually get to freedom. “Oftentimes the journey for Black actors is just having that little hammer and that little chisel and chipping away at that block, which is an industry that says you can’t lead a global box office, you’re not pretty enough, you’re not bright-skinned enough. We chisel away and try to scrum through the piss and s— because the hammer and chisel is all we have.”

Other memorable moments included:

  • Austin Butler’s allure: The “Elvis” actor received the Breakthrough Performance — and judging by the standing ovation he received, the entire room of honorees, guests, Palm Springs movie folks and local donors seemed to have loved his performance as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
  • Steven Spielberg and Sally Field’s friendship: Spielberg and the cast of his film “The Fabelmans” received the Vanguard award, and said he was thrilled to receive his award from presenter Sally Field, who he first met at a Hollywood party in 1968. Field gave a heartfelt speech about their 50-year friendship, which finally led to her starring in one of his movies in 2012’s “Lincoln.”
  • Michelle Yeoh’s flight: The “Everything Everywhere All at Once” actress received the International Star Award and told audiences she was in Paris the night before and almost missed the flight that would get her to the desert in time for her award.