Entertainment

Inside the More Intimate Oscars of the Weekend

The first four Oscars — the honorary ones — of the weekend were given out Friday night at the Governors Awards at the Ray Dolby Ballroom. Danny Glover, Samuel L. Jackson, Elaine May and Liv Ullmann were awarded their golden statues at the annual Academy event, which was postponed from its original date of January 15 due to the COVID-19 surge.

The gala is usually held during the peak of awards campaigning and sees many of the nominees making the rounds. But with this year’s event happening just two days before the Oscars, and with voting closed, it was a smaller crowd—and still a night for celebrating and highlighting the careers and humanitarian work of the four honorees.

May showed off her signature improvisational comedy in her brief acceptance speech, revealing that Warren Beatty called her to convince her to attend the event and accept the award. “He said, ‘Go there. I’ll give you the award’ …and then he never called me again,'” she joked. In Bill Murray’s introduction for the iconic actress, director and screenwriter, he said she had “saved my life on multiple occasions, professionally.”

The tone of the night throughout the speeches was sweet and sincere, featuring video montages that highlighted each of the honorees’ most profound work both on and off screen. Denzel Washington introduced Jackson by listing not only his massive success in the industry (“152 movie titles — I’ve got IMDb pro — $27 billion in box office. More than any other actor in history.”) but a lengthy list of the many organizations the prolific actor has supported over the years.

“When I got this call last year it was totally unexpected, but I guarantee you, this thing is going to be cherished,” Jackson said, holding his Oscar. The Avengers and Pulp FIction star went on to joke about the “indelible impressions” he’s made on audiences as “gang member no. 2” and “bum.”

Jackson added, “I got out there to entertain audiences the way Hollywood entertained me. Make them forget their lives for a few hours — be thrilled, aswed or excited in the big room where make-believe lives.”

Ullman, who was introduced to the stage by John Lithgow, shared much about her journey into acting, first as the star of Ingmar Bergman’s films and also as a director. She said she was raised with the Norwegian belief of “Don’t brag. That’s why I brought 20 people from Norway, so they can tell Norway, ‘It is true! She got an Oscar!”

Ullman revealed that she felt early in her career she was very focused on just herself. “I was a little full of myself. I was seeing me, but I wasn’t seeing the other person,” she says, but that when she started doing humanitarian work with refugees, she became more open to the world.

The final honoree of the night, Glover, was given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, highlighting the activism he’s been involved with throughout his career. Alfre Woodard described her Grand Canyon and Bopha! co-star as building “community wherever his foot lands. He levers his light wherever a fellow traveler pools in darkness. Danny Glover always does the right thing first, without testing the prevailing winds of public opinion.”

Glover said he was “amazingly grateful for this moment, when he took the stage. He ended up improvising most of his speech because he said what he had written was mostly featured in the highlight reel that played before he took the stage. Glover took time to praise his collaborators (like Woodard) and fellow nominees Ullmann and Jackson, along with honoring the memory of his own parents. He wrapped it up with some reflections on his own activism and the progress that’s been made. “I am proud to be a part of this place, this space — thank you, thank you, thank you,” he ended his speech.

The whole event (which included guests like Ava DuVernay, Magic Johnson, David Oyelowo, Quentin Tarantino, Rita Wilson and Alfred Molina) felt like a sweet appetizer before Sunday’s main meal. As Academy president David Rubin said in his opening remarks of the specialness of this night: “It’s more intimate, it’s private, it’s not televised… and most importantly it represents a generosity of spirit that’s not always in the Hollywood spotlight.”

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