Maybe it didn’t seem a night of actorly insights was possible, but great theater always was. The six so-called “Virtuosos” — who were pleasantly interrogated by Fandango’s Dave Karger before receiving their SBIFF 2013 awards — ranged rather nicely from Quvenzhané Wallis (at nine years old, the youngest woman ever to be nominated for best actress) to Ann Dowd, a fifty-something actress famous for playing somebody’s mom or sister before finally stepping out on her own in last year’s Compliance, a film that started more arguments than the ending of The Life of Pi.
After Karger’s intro, Dowd came onstage quipping briskly. “You must’ve expected me to come out with a cane. I’m alive and kicking thank you very much,” she mock-complained to the mock-chagrined host. At the other end of this spectrum was Wallis, who also ended up picking on the MC for his slow wit in grasping a dolphin imitation, but won audience ahhhs talking about scoring the role of Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild. “I was like five,” she said and then went solemn. “But I made it.”
Something like profundity happened at times. The evening’s heart, and the crowd’s heartthrob, turned out to be Ezra Miller, the loose-limbed star of the culty Perks of Being a Wallflower. He discussed the need for gay characters who are not locked into victimhood, and then turned philosopher with observations about his character, nicknamed Zero, standing for most high schoolers’ experiences, since the system itself bathes them in mediocrity. Explained Miller, “It’s telling that high school was invented during the Industrial Revolution.”
Eddie Romayne was scream-inducing too, discussing lessons learned watching Robert DeNiro direct. For the older fans, there was Omar Sy’s beguiling attempt to make his interview in English a group participation project. (How do you say…sweatpants?)
But the most astute pronouncement came from director Benh (Beasts of the Southern Wild) Zeitlin, another absolute beginner at the Dream Factory. Before giving out SBIFF’s Virtuoso Awards, he set out a warning for this great clutch of fledgling stars. “I learned something coming out to Hollywood and that’s that there are two groups: one interested in making movies and the other interested in creating celebrities,” said Zeitlin. “We have to be careful. The celebrity side is always ready to eat the movie side.”
This group was ready to keep that faith. “So let’s all stay young, stay strong, and,” said Zeitlin, “stay ready to storm the castle.”