SBIFF-Virtuosos Awards

By: Sophia Mills and Addison Sweeney

Every year the Santa Barbara International Film Festival awards the Virtuosos awards to the actors who made a big impact on their big-screen performance. This year the award was given to Awkwafina (The Farewell), Taron Egerton (Rocketman), Cynthia Erivo (Harriet), Beanie Feldstein (Booksmart), Aldis Hodge (Clemency), George MacKay (1917), Florence Pugh (Little Women & Midsommar), and Taylor Russell (Waves). And we were able to get some interview questions with a few of the stars!


George Mackay – star of 1917

We were wondering since your movie is set in WW1 was any of your prior knowledge about the war help you get in the character? 

Yes, I knew a little about the war because I played soldiers in the First World War twice before, but we basically did a huge amount of research. There’s a huge amount of reading and listening material that you can do about the First World War. We went to France and Belgium to the real battlegrounds and we had military training every day and we rehearsed for six months beforehand. So yes there was a lot.

Would you say that was the hardest part of it or was there something else?

I think the hardest part of it was the fact that the first week of filming, even though we knew the film so well you have to come in from the very first rehearsal 100% because that’s setting the pace for the way that the whole day is going to go. But you also on a normal day you don’t know when you’re going to finish so you don’t know whether you’re going to do 18 takes or 20 takes, sometimes over 50 takes, you just have to keep going never knowing when the end is. That was probably the hardest part.


Beanie Feldstein – star of Booksmart

What was your favorite part of the film?

I think the dance fantasy, Mason who plays Nick and I would just have such a fun time. We would rehearse on the weekend, we basically had no days off because we were rehearsing the dance the whole time. We just had so much fun because it’s so outside the rest of the movie and we did it all in one shot so it was a really big challenge too, and Mason had never danced before so he was so extraordinary and we just had such a fun time together. That and also the fight scene with Katelyn, that was like one shot so that really raised the stakes and I was really nervous to do it but then when we got it right, it was just like so exciting, Katelyn made me a better actress.

What would you say was the most challenging or rewarding part to film?

I think the hardest part for me was that on paper, Molly could seem like an unlikeable character because she’s really tough so I think I really wanted to make sure I show her vulnerable and loving and silly side in addition to that very serious side and navigating between those two sides of her was kind of my biggest challenge. 


Florence Pugh – starring in Little Women and Midsommar

How does it feel rising so quickly to stardom?

Well, the last week has been totally bizarre but the most wonderful feeling about this is that we’ve been working for about four years and it feels great to have my work recognized. So even though it’s been so nuts last week it feels lovely and it feels wonderful that the industry is recognizing the work that we’ve done.

Where you excited to work with your fellow cast members?

Of course! They’re the people that I’ve looked up to. I’ve watched Saoirse Ronan when I was nine years old and I remember watching her film and hoping one day that I could work with her. So these are all the people that I’ve loved and watched and it was wonderful working with them.


Taylor Russel – Star of Waves

What did this role mean to you?

So much, when I got this part I worked as a filmmaker, they really cared about what I had to say and that’s not always the case on projects that you get to do sometimes you just swatted in. I felt like what I had to say really mattered and it just became increasingly more obvious to me that I was important, so it was cool to be a part of something where I felt special.

What was your most challenging or most rewarding part of filming?

Most rewarding is seeing the other performances when the movie is complete. To see actors do what you didn’t know they were doing and just seeing how great they are. That’s kind of the most rewarding piece of it, being able to celebrate the actors and know that they’ve done some really good work.


Cynthia Erivo – Star of Harrie

(Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for SBIFF)

In 8th grade we’re learning about the civil war, would you have any insight into Harriet Tubman that would be interesting to know?

Harriet is an interesting person, she had a long life, she was 91 when she died. She was actually one of the first women to lead a battalion into the war. That’s a good thing to know. She also knew how to hire a lawyer.

What did this role mean to you?

It meant a lot, to be able to be one of the first to tell her story on the big screen. It was very special, it took about 25 years to get the story told in the first place, so to be able to do that it was very special. 


It was such an incredible experience being able to interview all these stars and we can’t wait to see what projects they start on next!

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