Irish cinematic talent was honoured at the Oscar Wilde Awards, hosted by the US-Ireland Alliance in Los Angeles last night.
In its 16th year, the Oscar Wilde Awards honoured Hollywood stars including Jamie Dornan, up-and-coming Irish actor Dónall Ó Héalai, and Kenneth Branagh.
Director and writer Branagh couldn't be there in person because he tested positive for Covid-19 last week, but actor Belfast native Dornan was there reflecting on the success of Belfast.
Branagh’s wife, Lindsay Brunnock, and several of his family and friends were there to enjoy the event.
In Dornan’s well-received speech, he said he had been asked a few times before to receive this award, but he didn’t feel that he had enough “good work”.
“Fourteen years ago, I saw some unbelievably worthy work when they used to show a reel, and I thought one day. But this year, they didn’t do a f-ing reel,” he joked.
Dornan then joked that he would instead have to act out his entire career for the audience and pulled out a set of handcuffs.
“I’ll start with something you’re familiar with,” he said in a nod to his role as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey.
Dornan was emotional in speaking about his family and his once in a career experience of working with Kenneth Branagh for Belfast.
He described it as “the greatest honour of my career” and said he would “endeavour to tell stories from that complicated island as long as I’m allowed to”.
He added: “If you’re lucky enough to be Irish, then you are lucky enough.”
Branagh recently broke records by becoming the first person nominated in seven Oscar categories.
Additionally, his semi-autobiographical account of his early childhood in north Belfast. The film received seven Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture, and Best Director.
The event is normally held at Star Trek director, JJ Abram’s Bad Robot production company in Santa Monica, however due to Covid-19 concerns, it was decided to opt for a larger space to allow for more social distancing.
Abrams, who was named an “honorary Irishman” at the 2010 awards, hosted the event. He said that he was fortunate enough to shoot some of Star Wars in Ireland.
In honouring Branagh, Abrams said that the Belfast director had said that he found that the Covid-19 lockdown triggered something in him that reminded him of the fragility of our lives, and he thus felt compelled to revisit that time in his childhood.
“There is much talk about the Irish and immigration – some of it forced, some of it chosen. The need to leave Belfast perhaps allowed Ken to become the actor, writer, director he has become,” Abrams said.
“Maybe he was meant to tell this story at this time. Hopefully it will remind everyone, particularly political leaders in London and Stormont, to deliver on the promise of the Good Friday Agreement so that any further immigration from Northern Ireland is a choice and not necessity.”
In a pre-recorded video, Branagh said as a child he was comforted by the “bright light coming from the projection booth” at the local cinema.
“There were only a few ways this 9-year-old boy could see some light through the dark cloud that was the onset of the Troubles. On was that of the super bright light coming from the projection booth that threw out all those beams of dreams all the way from Hollywood,” he said.
“Another was the light in the eyes of those incredible wise warrior women, amazingly embodied by Caitriona Balfe in our film, who would step in front of any obstacles rather than see their family harmed.”
“And, finally, the light that was the songs, the dances, the music, and the jokes. In short, the humanity, and the humour, that is part of the spirit of the Irish people.”
American director Reinaldo Marcus Green presented the “Wilde Card” Award to Irish actor Dónall Ó Héalai.
Green spoke of Ó Héalai’s total physical transformation for the Irish-language film Arracht.
In accepting is award, Ó Héalai, talked about how he almost gave up acting, and when he stopped chasing his dream, he was sent the script for Arracht, the first ever Irish language film to portray the Famine.
He said: “The dignity of our ancestors was with us the entire shoot.”