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On the Scene

February 2014

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For Sunday’s British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards, EW sent London-based reporter Matt Mueller to give his On the Scene report of the biggest night in filmmaking across the pond. WARNING: Britishisms ahoy!

It was an evening of princes, dames, and former talk-show queens at the BAFTAs — or, as they’re officially known but no one in Britain actually calls them, the EE BAFTAs (EE being the British Verizon, not to be rhymed with “wee,” the British slang for urine, but rather articulated like the poet e.e. cummings).

The red carpet walkway laid down before London’s Royal Opera House was covered entirely for the first time ever by a clear plastic rain refuge, which had been anchored 48 hours earlier in the midst of a blustery rain storm with 60 mph winds. An effortful feat of logistical planning, in other words, and, naturally, wholly redundant on the night: These were the first rain-free BAFTAs in years.

This year’s red carpet was like being on celebrity safari, with sightings few and far between to start with and less easily recognised species (Ruth Wilson, Daniel Bruhl, Will Poulter, Steve McQueen…) having to make do until the arrival of the charismatic megafauna. Chants of “Leo! Leo! Leo!” loudly spelled out the crowd’s most coveted sighting, but what began in dribs and drabs suddenly became a full-on A-list stampede as the big names materialised only to be herded swiftly along the red carpet in order to prepare for the security lockdown necessitated by the arrival of HRH the Duke of Cambridge (a.k.a. Prince William). Even Hollywood grand poobahs Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were whisked along in their his-n-her tuxedos, while Michael Fassbender sprinted like a black-tied gazelle down the narrow corridor. There was little time to gab, although Lupita Nyong’o did stop to tell us that Ralph Fiennes is immensely proud of her success. She was a runner on the Kenyan shoot for The Constant Gardener and used to fret how much she was annoying him ferrying him back and forth to the set.

Inside, we were perched in the uppermost balcony of this opulent opera citadel — or as they’re affectionately called here “the Gods” (see also “peanut gallery” and “cheap seats”). Nearby was a contingent of tuxedoed men who brought a sports-game rowdiness to the proceedings, celebrating each one of Gravity’s six wins like their favourite football team had just scored a touchdown (or, more likely in their cases, soccer team a goal). These were clearly some of the “Framestore nerds” Alfonso Cuaron thanked in one of his trips to the podium to collect Gravity’s BAFTA-mask haul. The American Hustle posse, seated right in front of the stage, were equally vociferous, with Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, and the rest rising in unison when their film took the Hair and Make-up award. David O. Russell even bellowed out a few extra “YEAH!”s as Hustle’s hair-sculpting masterminds took the stage.

The evening kicked off with a rap-soul duet between English music stars Laura Mvula and Tinie Tempah, the latter impudently high-fiving Prince William seated in the front row — surely punishable by death in the good old days of absolute monarchy. Immaculately amusing host Stephen Fry behaved like a stern schoolmaster at times, admonishing winners to get up on stage pronto (“it’s not necessary to embrace, kiss, and dry-hump everyone on either side of you when your name is called out”) and keep their victory orations brief. After a long-winded acceptance by Gravity’s sound-design team, Fry quipped, “And to think it’s always the sound people who tell you to shut up on set.” He even berated Russell and Philomena co-screenwriter Jeff Pope for making grammatical mistakes in their acceptance speeches, prompting the Mexican Cuaron to quiver when he came up to accept Best Director, “I don’t know if I can open my mouth.”

Dame Helen Mirren had told us two days earlier at a luncheon in honour of her BAFTA Fellowship that when she was an Oscar nominee for The Queen, the Academy had sent her an egg timer to prepare a speech lasting 90 seconds max. “I was the only one who stuck to it on the night,” she said, but she still intended to keep her Fellowship acceptance to a tidy two minutes. In the end, she sailed past three, but we’ll cut Mirren some slack for inviting everyone, thoughtfully, to thank their favourite teachers and for wrapping it up by quoting Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Also, because Prince William said he might call her “granny.”

Fry’s interactions with the evening’s presenters, as clip reels rolled before winners were announced, were like fascinating silent-theatre vignettes, with the players only visible in darkened silhouette. Even in “the Gods,” we witnessed some robust performances, beginning with an animated chat Fry had with “the Royal Oprah Winfrey,” as he’d introduced her, while clips from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom played during the Outstanding British Film category. We’re guessing the words “Idris,” “Elba,” and “snubbed” were involved. Later, he and Emma Thompson feverishly embraced like they hadn’t seen each other in decades, when in fact they’re long-time besties (hence his getting away with introducing her as “a ghastly piece of stinking offal”). But no one could outdo Uma Thurman’s flamboyantly animated turn alongside Fry while waiting to present Chiwetel Ejiofor with his Best Actor mask. Meanwhile, Stanley Tucci looked like Bilbo next to Gandalf standing beside the 6-foot-5 Fry, while Brad Pitt, first to stride up on stage when 12 Years a Slave was declared Best Picture, joined Fry and presenter Christoph Waltz on the sidelines as director Steve McQueen and Slave’s other producers took centre stage. A shout-out by McQueen finally sent Pitt scampering into their huddle.

Popular winners among the swishly attired opera-house crowd were Barkhad Abdi, whose list of thank yous had been written down and handed to him before he took the stage by a thoughtful Sony Pictures PR, knowing the Captain Phillips star was likely to be a bag of nerves; Ejiofor, who brought DiCaprio to his feet and the opera house down with his grateful eloquence, as did Cate Blanchett for her shout-out to Philip Seymour Hoffman; and young Will Poulter, whose neo-realistic depiction of a boy with tarantula-stung genitals in We’re the Millers helped land him on the Rising Star Award shortlist. It’s public-voted so, like, not a real BAFTA, but Poulter unleashed more emotion than anyone else on the night, charming everyone by forgetting fellow nominee Dane DeHaan’s name and blubbing as he left the stage; he wept some more when he returned to his seat and hugged his proud mum.

After the ceremony closed with Mirren’s Fellowship and as the Opera House cleared out, several minutes were spent trying to herd the cats (i.e. winners) onto stage for a group photo, while buses shipped us lesser mortals to the Grosvenor House hotel for the traditional post-BAFTA dinner. Not many could sit still, though, with actors roaming the room seeking each other out for actorly chinwags, before it was time to head off to after-parties or home to bed. Opting for the latter was Thompson, who resembled a magnificent Narnian queen as she vanished into the night with daughter Gaia, colour-coordinated with her mother in white and red; Nyong’o paused on her way out to take pictures of the Best Film-themed centrepieces, including those for 12 Years a Slave — a bravura concoction of cotton, twigs, and a violin; and a concerned Fry had to prevent an inebriated companion from tumbling backwards down the stairs while leading him out of the nosh pit.

The Warner Bros. posse, including Team Gravity and Blanchett, decamped to the Little House members club in Mayfair to carry on their celebrations; the 12 Years a Slave mob headed off to the swanky London Edition. But it was the Weinstein Company bash at the Rosewood Hotel which attracted the starriest quotient, including the Hustle gang (Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Russell, et al), DiCaprio, half of Downton Abbey’s cast, and Oprah, who boogied alongside Naomi Campbell on the dance floor. In case anyone missed that (few did; Winfrey held court all night like a true American royal), Harvey Weinstein made the rounds of his own party, alerting anyone who’d listen about this iconic dance-floor happening (“There are photos!” he crowed). Rumours that another prince, of the diminutive, purple-clad, Minneapolis-born variety, was turning up for a set proved unfounded, although British pop singer Rita Ora did her best to bring the funk. But by then, most merry revellers were far too fuelled up on Grey Goose cocktails to worry about who was crooning behind the microphone.

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