Sunday night saw a near capacity crowd at the Lobero Theatre for SBIFF’s evening with the Chopin Virtuosos. This year’s honorees were Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria), Carey Mulligan (An Education), Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones), Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man), and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious). (Sidibe was unable to attend but will be present to receive her award at the Vanguards event, Friday, February 12, at the Lobero Theatre.)
Sean Smith, the L.A. bureau chief for Entertainment Weekly, deftly moderated the event and welcomed the Virtuosos by saying, “These five actors we’re honoring tonight kept me from wanting to kill myself” in a year that saw such flimsy films as Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. Smith then proceeded to call the actors to stage one at a time for short individual interviews.
The first actor in the hot seat was Emily Blunt. When asked how she prepared for her role as the queen, Blunt said she wasn’t familiar with the younger Victoria, “just the grizzled, old, repressed version of her” but that reading Victoria’s own diaries were extremely helpful in understanding the monarch. Blunt, who sparkled in a silver and black long-sleeved sheath dress, said the reason she loves acting is the “shape shifting part of the job” that comes with the variety of roles. As to a question regarding the lack of gritty parts for women, Blunt said, “Right now it’s all about bums in the seat…The work is out there, but you have to fight for it.”
Next up was Carey Mulligan. Looking enchanting in her soft pink, sleeveless silk dress, Mulligan talked of her delight working with Emma Thompson and Peter Sarsgaard on An Education. Sarsgaard, she said, isn’t embarrassed to try anything to make a scene work. For example, one night during a stage play the two did together, Sarsgaard decided to lie on the floor and deliver “three pages of monologue to the ceiling,” she laughed. She was pleased, she said, when she found out she was nominated for an Oscar, but burst into tears when Nick Hornby was nominated for his screenplay of An Education, and again when Colin Firth’s nomination was announced: “I don’t really even know Colin Firth,” she said laughing. As for the year she’s had “At first I was a bit frightened but now I’m enjoying it.”
Saoirse Ronan has the poise of someone much older than her 15 years. Perhaps because she is already a veteran of the awards ceremonies—she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Briony Tallis in 2007’s Atonement. In reference to her role in The Lovely Bones, Ronan said she “wasn’t crazy about wearing mustard trousers and a blue jacket with a fur collar” every day but that director Peter Jackson was amazing to work with. “During the eight months of filming he never lost his cool,” Ronan said in her lilting Irish accent. The young actress also gave high praise to co-star Stanley Tucci, calling him “the sweetest man I’ve ever met.
Last up was Michael Stuhlbarg, whose starring turn in the Coen Brother’s film A Serious Man, garnered him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. Low-key and amusing, Stuhlbarg had the audience giggling when he described the Coen Brothers notoriously hands off direction. “They do nothing,” he said laughing. They are the opposite, Stuhlbarg said, from Martin Scorsese, with whom he is currently filming an HBO project called Boardwalk Empire, who talks fast and is right there in the mix. When Smith asked the actor which of the two styles he preferred, Stuhlbarg said, “I’m malleable. I like to be directed, but I will also run with [a part] if left to it.”
The actors then returned together on stage for a few more questions. All four were articulate and funny, sending chuckles through the audience with their answers to questions such as “What was your worst audition?” The event closed with the award presentation, which were given by actor and acting coach Anthony Zerbe. He read a short poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. “We are a nation of word killers,” goes a line in the poem. “Tonight,” Zerbe said, “the word Virtuoso was chosen correctly.”