While the stars did the red-carpet crawl, fans filed into the Arlington–filling the several-thousand seat venue to the rafters—to await the start of the SBIFF’s Virtuosos Award event. This year’s award-winning roster included Demian Bichir, Rooney Mara, Melissa McCarthy, Patton Oswalt, Andy Serkis, and Shailene Woodley.

The event, which began a half-hour later than scheduled, was deftly moderated by Entertainment Weekly Senior Writer Dave Carter. His first item of business was to announce that Melissa McCarthy had to cancel her appearance at the last minute due to severe laryngitis. “It may be the only time I’m this quiet in my life,” McCarthy wrote in a statement that Carter read to the audience. She apologized for not being at the event, thanked the festival for selecting her as a virtuoso, and said she was flattered to be in the company of such stellar actors. “They literally leave me speechless,” she wrote.

The actors were brought on the stage (alphabetically) one at a time for a 10-minute interview with Carter. Demian Bichir was first up. The Mexican-born actor, who is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for A Better Life, was friendly and charming. He had the audience laughing when he told of his first meeting with director Life director Chris Weitz.

His agent called wanting him to meet with Weitz who was directing New Moon at the time. “It wasn’t really in my plans to become a vampire,” Bichir said, “but I wanted to meet Chris Weitz.” Bichir explained that during the meeting Weitz talked a lot about this role of a gardener. “I though it was a gardener vampire,” said Bichir with a chuckle and admitted to being a bit confused. “A year later I got the script [for A Better Life] and loved it,” he said. Bichir said he dedicated the film “to the 11 million human beings who work with pride and power and dignity to help the society go forward.”

Next up was Rooney Mara. Mara was only recently thrust into the spotlight thanks to her gripping turn as Lisbeth Salander in director David Fincher’s version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Sporting a sleek ponytail, Mara said it was “hard watching myself” on the screen and confessed to seeing Dragon for the first time on opening night. When asked if she and co-star Daniel Craig bonded on the set, Mara replied, “I think me and Daniel are both quite aloof and guarded. So we didn’t really bond on the set.”

Following Mara was Patton Oswalt, who has received critical praise for his role in Diablo Cody’s film Young Adult. The actor, who is also a stand-up comedian, had the audience in stitches from the moment he got on stage. Regarding Young Adult, Oswalt confessed to feeling “exhilaration and terror” at the prospect of nude scenes with co-star Charlize Theron and described the film as “a symphony of awkwardness.” Personable and articulate, Oswalt said that despite having worked in several films and television shows, he still treats any acting job as if he’s a neophyte, “knowing I don’t know anything.”

Oswalt was a hard act to follow, but Virtuoso Andy Serkis was up to the challenge. The British actor walked on stage shirtless making alpha male ape grunts in a shout out to his character Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Serkis did the entire interview in just trousers (and shoes); it took the audience a bit of time to stop chuckling at the visual of the topless actor (who is fit and rocked the no-shirt) giving thoughtful answers to questions about his career and the creatures he’s played. When the witty Serkis was asked if he always wanted to be a motion capture actor—the technique used to record the non-human characters he is known for playing, like Caesar and Gollum—he quipped, “It was my mission in life.”

Last in the hot seat was Shailene Woodley. Woodley garnered the Virtuoso Award on the strength of her nuanced portrayal of teenager Alexandra King in director Alexander Payne’s The Descendents. The 20-year-old actress was polite and well-spoken. Of co-star George Clooney Woodley said, “He’s a super human. He goes out of his way to make you feel comfortable.”

After Woodley, all five actors were seated on-stage for a group Q&A with Carter, who asked the thespians such things as what was their favorite film of 2011 was and what was their favorite event they’ve attended since their own movies were released. Director Chris Weitz then presented each actor with their award and the lovely, entertaining evening came to an end.


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