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Britannias ‘herald’ depth of UK talent

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Change of guard

Hilary Roberts arrives at the BAFTA Los Angeles Britannia Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Oct 25 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP)

LOS ANGELES, Oct 26, (RTRS): Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jodie Comer, Jesse Armstrong and other British stars had a good showing at the Emmys, highlighting the many talented actors, writers and producers in Hollywood who come from across the pond. And as the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Los Angeles’ Britannia Awards approach on Oct 25, the occasion at the Beverly Hilton is ripe for further recognition of this generation of British talent to grace American screens, as well as Yanks who have resonated with UK audiences.

“When I look back at the history of British television and how it’s influenced America, it’s really quite astounding,” says Rich Licata of awards agency Licata & Co. “Shows like ‘All in the Family’, ‘Three’s Company’, ‘House of Cards’, ‘Shameless’, ‘Queer as Folk’ – even ‘Veep’ came from Britain”.

And while Brits have a long and storied history in Hollywood, this age of entertainment has expanded the depth and breadth of UK talent beyond the names that Americans have typically recognized: Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Daniel Radcliffe, Hugh Grant. Waller-Bridge and Comer are relatively new faces to US viewers, and such names as “A Very English Scandal” star Ben Whishaw and “The Crown’s” Claire Foy aren’t necessarily household monikers just yet. The Britannias, which have in past years honored Foy, Felicity Jones, Emilia Clarke and others, are putting more Brits on American radars.


This year, Waller-Bridge will be honored alongside legendary producer Norman Lear, who will be receiving the Britannia’s Excellence in Television award; Jackie Chan, who will receive the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment; and Steve Coogan, who is slated to receive the Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award for Excellence in Comedy. This year’s Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film honoree is Jane Fonda, the John Schlesinger Britannia Award for Excellence in Directing will be bestowed upon Jordan Peele.

A different team of board members in LA and London come together each year to select the honorees, says outgoing BAFTA LA CEO Chantal Rickards. Recipients do not need to be of British descent, but their work needs to have had an impact on British viewers.

Notably, Waller-Bridge will receive the Britannia Award for British Artist of the Year, an honor that recognizes work from the past year. Waller-Bridge, who won the Emmy for lead comedy actress and for writing “Fleabag” – the show itself earned the best comedy series Emmy – is among the new guard.

As with many aspects of the entertainment landscape, the momentum of streaming services has done much to change the dynamic of how people find new shows, often broadening their curiosity and appetite for non-US programming.

“There’s a real thread between American TV audiences and what the British are making, and I think that with the proliferation and popularity of original shows on streaming services and on cable, audiences have been introduced to a greater selection of all things British,” says Licata. “And they’re discovering their creative depth and breadth right now.”

A series such as “Fleabag” probably wouldn’t have been picked up in America in past years, says Rickards. The show consists of only six episodes a season for two short seasons, likely a limiting factor in the traditional linear days. But its home on Amazon has made it easily accessible for new viewers, many of whom only discovered the tragicomedy in its second season this year.

“If anything, the second season had even more buzz about it,” says Rickards. “There is nobody in the entertainment industry who now doesn’t know who Phoebe Waller-Bridge is, and I think she’s going to have an extraordinary career ahead of her. For a woman who’s in her mid-30s, she really is a phenomenon.”


Meanwhile, Matthew Wiseman came to work for BAFTA LA in 2002 for what he thought would be a short stint. The BAFTA Film Awards had just shifted their dates ahead of the Oscars and the Hollywood outpost was expanding.

“BAFTA was in such a growth spurt at that point, that I mentally thought I would be here for three years,” says the newly appointed CEO of BAFTA LA, who starts his role Nov 1. “But like many Brits, without any planning” he put down roots, including marrying a California native.

Wiseman’s initial role was to help expand the screening series; the BAFTA insiders program, which helps newcomers navigate Hollywood; and the tea party for Emmy nominees. Previously chief operating officer, Wiseman is succeeding Chantal Rickards as the chief exec as she returns to London at the end of this month after four years at the helm.

Kathryn Busby, chair of the board of directors of BAFTA LA, said in a statement announcing his promotion, “We are delighted for Matthew to take on the role of chief executive officer as we continue to grow BAFTA’s role in inspiring, educating and celebrating the film, games and TV talent. Matthew’s demonstrated leadership, vision, and creativity will allow us to further the impact of our US initiatives and collaborate with our NY and UK colleagues to broaden our international influence.” Pippa Harris, BAFTA chair stated, “We are all very excited to welcome Matthew into his new role as CEO of BAFTA Los Angeles. Given his many years of experience within BAFTA, and across the industry, I have every confidence that he will lead BAFTA’s activities in LA with skill and dynamism.”

Rickards, a television producer, channel director and commissioner of programs in the UK who worked for ITV, BBC and Group M, had overseen the expansion of the student film competition from the US to include international talent. She also grew member activity in TV and games.

“Our work doesn’t end with the 100-foot carpet,” Wiseman says. “We are here year round.”

That work includes not just the fun events such as the Britannia Awards and pre-Emmy and Golden Globes tea parties, but also its scholarship and mentor programs.

The Newcomers Program gives a “soft landing” to Brits arriving on these shores, but has recently expanded to other international rookies. Established Brits talk to rising stars about their pathway in Hollywood and are paired as mentors. BAFTA LA also offers scholarships to students, runs a student film competition, which has been expanded to entries from around the globe, and offers education programs.

While film and television activity are core to BAFTA’s mission, games have been an expanding area.

With 2,000 members, BAFTA LA is the biggest chapter outside the UK and Wiseman wants to collaborate with New York and London on its international initiatives. “We’re not a faceless corporation, but a community of members who believe in BAFTA, BAFTA’s growth and our programs.”

Also he wants to expand its outreach in North America both in “ideas and places.”

Next up is BAFTA LA’s Britannia Awards on Oct 25 at the Beverly Hilton, where Norman Lear, Jane Fonda, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jordan Peele, Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan will be honored.

“I don’t want to say too much,” Wiseman says of what else is in store. “We have an exciting new host, a rising star from the UK.”

James Veitch will host. In the past Jack Whitehall, Craig Ferguson and Billy Connolly have emceed the evening. “That role has become a platform for a big name in the UK transferring to the US.”

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