LOS ANGELES, Jan 4, (Agencies): Dr Bennet Omalu, the real-life subject of “Concussion,” praised Will Smith as he presented the actor with Variety’s Creative Impact Award on Sunday at a brunch at the Palm Springs Film Festival.
Smith was so convincing in the role that Omalu’s 80-year-old mother was fooled into thinking it was the doctor on screen, Omalu said. “He stole my soul from me. I came away from the film thinking Will Smith was me.”
Smith visited Omalu’s home in Nigeria and several touches in the film, including a picture of his father, came from the visit.
“There is a holiness to truth,” Omalu said. “In stepping up he enlightened all of us.”
While accepting his award, Smith said, “I am a football dad. So when I got that screenplay, I was concerned.”
But, “Omalu just wanted to tell the truth and what we do is deliver the truth,” he went on.
Smith pointed out that he has played other real-life figures like Muhammad Ali. And while it’s great to be able to call the subject and ask questions from the set, Smith spoke of the other side of the coin: his point-of-view while Omalu watched his performance.
“You have to sit behind Dr Omalu. For 45 minutes, nothing, then he turns around and,” Smith flashed a thumbs up to mimic the doctor’s approval.
Jack Black presented Variety’s other Creative Impact Award to “Anomalisa” co-helmer Charlie Kaufman. “If Vincent Van Gogh wrote screenplays, he would be the Charlie Kaufman of screenplays,” he said.
“As long as humans are in existence, they will talk about Charlie Kaufman, which should be another 13-14 years,” he joked.
Kaufman accepted his award saying, “I’m embarrassed but grateful for this award, but I don’t know what it’s called as Jack didn’t mention it.”
That led to a few hilarious moments as Black jumped back to the podium to name the award and exhort attendees to see “Anomalisa” if they hadn’t yet.
Earlier, Variety chief international critic Peter Debruge introduced the mag’s 2016 class of 10 Directors to Watch, eight of whom were in attendance: Deniz Gamze Erguven (“Mustang”), Ciro Guerra (“Embrace of the Serpent”), Slavek Horak (“Home Care”), Duke Johnson (“Anomalisa”), Peter Landesman (“Concussion”), Laszlo Nemes (“Son of Saul”), Matt Ross (“Captain Fantastic”) and Elizabeth Wood (“White Girl”). Don Cheadle (“Miles Ahead”) and Alex Garland (“Ex Machina”) were unable to attend.
Among those at the popular brunch were Variety publisher Michelle Sobrino, co-editor-in-chief Claudia Eller, Peter Bart and Steven Gaydos as well as Palm Springs fest topper Helen du Toit and Jada Pinkett Smith.
Matt Damon launched a bold new phase of Oscar campaigning for his “The Martian” director on Saturday, telling a crowd that Ridley Scott has “given more than enough to cinema” over his career to deserve an Academy Award.
Damon spoke at the opening night gala for the Palm Springs International Film Festival, a non-televised black-tie dinner at the desert city’s convention center. It’s become a well-attended stop on the busy Hollywood awards circuit due to its timing during the Oscar nominations voting period and eight days before the Golden Globe Awards. Honorees Johnny Depp, Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale and Michael Fassbender also took the stage.
Damon said he was shocked to discover that the 78-year-old director of “Blade Runner” and “Alien” had never won an Oscar despite three nominations and his helming of 2001 best picture winner “Gladiator.”
“He’s just a master director. There are a handful of them on planet Earth. But he is one of them,” Damon said. “Awards — whatever, who gives a (expletive). I mean, except for this one. But … I hope this is his year. I don’t know if you’re supposed to say that out loud. But … when I did ‘The Departed,’ we said it out loud a lot about Marty (Scorsese) and it panned out.”
Saturday’s loose and sometimes coarse ceremony saw Depp praising his wife, actress Amber Heard, “for putting up with me” and Bale getting in a dig at the 2,000-plus attendees, which included socialites who sometimes chatted away at dinner tables during acceptance speeches.
“I’ve never been at a film festival that ignores the speakers so much as this film festival,” said Bale, on stage with his “The Big Short” co-stars Steve Carell, Jeremy Strong and Finn Wittrock.
Cate Blanchett, being lauded for her performance in “Carol,” was more magnanimous.
She thanked the festival, which runs through Jan 11, “for reminding us — all of us honored tonight — that if we’re not nominated for any other award not to feel like losers. We had a moment of glory.”
The festival announced its awards ahead of time, minimizing anxiety for actors and allowing plenty of time for informal reunions. Depp hugged his “Finding Neverland” co-star Kate Winslet on the red carpet before the show. Damon walked backstage in conversation with Blanchett. The two shared the screen in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “The Monuments Men.”
“Room” star Brie Larson and “Trumbo” star Bryan Cranston had both screened their personal movies at the festival years earlier. Cranston wrote and directed a feature, “Last Chance,” that played Palm Springs in 1999. “I will forever be grateful to you for doing that for me. It launched a different phase of my career,” he told the crowd.