Last night’s 30th celebration of the SAG Foundation (appropriately renamed the SAG-AFTRA Foundation) at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts was all about giving back and supporting actors in need. It was a compassionate and confessional awards season kick-off honoring Leonardo DiCaprio, producer Megan Ellison, and directors Lee Daniels and Rob Marshall. If only more awards shows were as sensitive and forthright.
Ellison admitted her self-doubt and occasional loathing of Hollywood, and how David O. Russell (who warmly introduced her) has mentored and redeemed her faith in the power of storytelling and importance of artists to transform us. They’ve followed up “American Hustle” with “Joy,” a Christmas release starring Jennifer Lawrence about redemption and female empowerment. Ellison told me afterward how proud she is of “Joy” and Russell’s maturation as a director.
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The Oscar-winning Marshall (“Chicago”) also paid tribute to the joy of working with actors and recalled when Renée Zellweger asked him why he cast her uncomfortably against type. He told her that he wanted her Roxy—foibles and all—because that was a truth that could only be told through her self-doubt.
Daniels (“The Butler,” “Precious”) went off script with a stirring recounting of his reckless life. “I was very blessed that I didn’t die of HIV, like many of my friends did. I went on to do drugs, because I thought I should be dead. I survived two heart attacks.” But he’s managed to channel that pain into all of his films and inspire his actors in the embrace of the unconventional.
And DiCaprio, star of the Oscar-contending “The Revenant,” also a Christmas release, recalled his humble youth in East L.A.—so close yet so far away from the Hollywood dream factory—and thanked his parents for their sacrifice and support. The superstar actor also proclaimed his activist role in saving endangered species and fighting climate change (which twice disrupted the shooting of “The Revenant”).
DiCaprio called it the “worst calamity this world has ever seen,” a call to arms as passionate as any of his performances.
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