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Santa Barbara Film Festival Honors Eight Up-and-Coming Actors with Virtuosos Award

Release Date: January 18,2020

SBIFF Virtuosos Award
Among the actors honored Saturday night with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Virtuosos Award are Cynthia Erivo, left, Taron Egerton, George MacKay and Florence Pugh. (Fritz Olenberger / Noozhawk photo)

By Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews | January 18, 2020 | 11:15 p.m.

Eight actors were honored for their breakout roles in film with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Virtuosos Award event held at the historic Arlington Theatre on Saturday night.

Applause rang out for the group of talent.

The annual award is presented to several “up-and-coming” actors for achieving a noteworthy performance in film that has elevated them into cinematic dialogue nationally.

“The Virtuosos has become, I feel, the sexiest night at the film festival," SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling said at the tribute. "The edgiest. The most fun."

This year’s award recipients were Awkwafina for her first dramatic leading role in the comedy-drama "The Farewell”; Taron Egerton as Elton John in the rock biopic “Rocketman”; Cynthia Erivo as the legendary Harriet Tubman, a runaway slave turned abolitionist, in the biographical film “Harriet”; Beanie Feldstein as the valedictorian of her high school class in the comedy “Booksmart”; Aldis Hodge for his role as a death row inmate in the drama “Clemency”; George MacKay for his performance in the real-time World War I film “1917”; the 24-year-old Florence Pugh for her work in the coming-of-age period drama film “Little Women” and the folk horror film “Midsommar”; and Taylor Russell as a shy teenager in a family dealing with loss in the drama film “Waves.”

The actors shared stories and laughs with the audience in the theater.

"I love Santa Barbara," Awkwafina told the crowd. "We are going out afterward."

It was a star-studded event where all of the talent walked the red carpet and posed for photographs. Fans cheered loudly and waved at their favorite actor.

Some of the award recipients stopped to talk with Noozhawk before heading inside the venue.

"I'm loving everything," Pugh said when asked whether she enjoyed her time in Santa Barbara.

Feldstein, who played supporting roles in the comedy film "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising" and the comedy-drama film "Lady Bird," said she "is honored to be in the company of all these extraordinary talents. Some of them I have worked with, and the rest of them I hope to work with, but I love this one (she motioned to Pugh, who was next to her), and Awkwafina and I were in our first movie together, so to be on this ride together has been so special."

SBIFF Virtuosos AwardClick to view larger
Aldis Hodge is all smiles Saturday night during the Virtuosos Award event. (Fritz Olenberger / Noozhawk photo)

When asked by Noozhawk about what being an actor means, Hodge said, "To me, acting is a language. It's nothing more than a conduit for which I execute my art. My art is to be able to communicate with people, and to understand and also to learn. Acting is my key to communicating and having that conversation with the world, and also learning how to grow as a human being, and understanding the world of which I am in."

This year's Virtuosos Award event was presented by UGG and moderated by Turner Classic Movies host and IMDb special correspondent host Dave Karger.

When Karger asked about the most surprising outcome about filming "Rocketman," Egerton said, "I'm best friends with Elton John," later adding, "It was wonderful. I feel like the luckiest man alive."

MacKay described “1917" as "a play and a film together," and "we had to choreograph the entire film."

In 2018, the award winners were Yalitza AparicioSam ElliottElsie FisherClaire FoyRichard E. GrantThomasin McKenzieJohn David Washington and Steven Yeun.

The 35th Santa Barbara International Film Festival continues through Jan. 25. Click here for more information.

— Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk@NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.