2016 Independent Spirit Awards: 10 Best Moments from the Press Room

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One day before that other awards show taking place, Film Independent once again rolled out its blue carpet right on the beach in celebration of the 2016 Independent Spirit Awards. With 3 of its 4 acting awards going to people of color in its 31st year –Idris Elba (Best Supporting Male in Beasts of No Nation), the young actor Abraham Attah (Best Male Lead in Beasts of No Nation), and Mya Taylor (Best Female Lead in Tangerine, making history by being the first transgender actor winning this award)- the indie show at the Santa Monica Beach was an entire world apart from the lily-white Oscars we’re about to watch in just a few hours. Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay awards going to women –Marielle Heller for The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Emma Donoghue for Room- was also a welcome outcome, signaling a surge of change continuing to evolve the future face of film.

Predictably, diversity was a big topic yesterday afternoon, proving once again that the lack of it at the Oscars will forever be the stain on this year’s awards season. Before the live broadcast began at 2pm PT, Film Independent’s president Josh Welsh took the stage and thanked all the nominees for their audacious films, innovation and diversity. “The talent behind and in front of the camera looks somewhat like the world we live in,” he said, differentiating the goals and status of independent film from the get go. Exceptional hosts Kate McKinnon and Kumail Nanjian –who could very well be remembered as the best awards show hosts of this year- also addressed the topic in their hilarious opening, referring to the nominees as “more diverse than the brochure of a liberal arts college”, while calling the Oscars “as white as the actual body of a liberal arts college.”

The big winner for the 2016 Spirits was undoubtedly Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight –also one of the frontrunners of the Best Picture race tonight-, which won every single award it was nominated for in a clean sweep, including Best Editing, Screenplay, Director, and Feature in addition to collecting the Robert Altman award. As broadly expected, Oscar favorite Brie Larson –one of tonight’s most sure bet wins- won Best Female Lead here as well with her performance in Room.

Those of us in the press room were graced with the presence of all the winners, who stopped by our tent for a quick Q&A after accepting their awards. Here are the best things they said that you didn’t get to see on the live broadcast.

1. Idris Elba on the challenges of making Beasts of No Nation

He said the goal and the biggest challenge was to put the audience through something that wasn’t unrealistic and clichéd. “I had a baby just a month before we starting filming. It was my first son, and I went off and made that movie. It was the toughest thing to do, because my mind wasn’t in that space. It became a challenge I had to embrace.”

Also a producer on Beasts, he took pride in his involvement in the project outside of acting. “If I am honest, I am so much more proud of being a producer than my performance in this film. As a producer, you face a lot of doors being closed in your face. But we got there in the end. It was a group effort.”

Regarding his prep process for the role, he jokingly said, “I ate a lot and got really fat. It was a cerebral exercise.”

2. Emma Donoghue, Best First Screenplay winner for Room, on seeing her work on screen

“When I drafted the screenplay for Room, I was just trying to put my foot in the door before someone slammed it. I know it was a hard world to break into, and I thought I would just try my hand in it. But to have made such a satisfying film and to win an award for writing it…it’s just so moving.”

Donoghue used most of her time to sing her appreciation of Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. “Brie Larson has completely supplanted the character in my head. She is our ultimate Ma. It’s such a tricky role, because Ma in the film is always faking it. Faking it for her child, faking it for her captor, faking it for the camera. She adds those brushes of humor; it’s always surprising from one moment to the next. So it’s a performance like no other. I can’t believe the richness she brought to this character.”

“We knew some actors out there could play this role [of Jack]. Lenny Abrahamson never asked me to dumb down the writing. He just told me the kid has to be out there somewhere. And Jacob has brought an astonishing level of naturalism to this role. He pushed where child acting can go.”

On tonight’s Oscars, Donoghue said, “I am excited but in that relaxed way, in being that hundred to one in the bookies. I was mocking Charles Randolph of The Big Short. He’s going to have a tense day. I’ll just be lolling there, enjoying myself. I am especially happy for Lenny Abrahamson, and that he got a Best Picture nomination. We were just afraid that the sheer naturalism of Room meant people wouldn’t see how much directing was there.”

3. Best Documentary winner Joshua Oppenheimer (The Look of Silence) will continue the conversation on the Indonesian genocide post-Oscars.

“Indonesian genocide was 50 years ago, but in a way hasn’t ended because the perpetrators have been in power ever since. I have been honored to make two films that helped energized and inspired a movement of true justice and reconciliation in Indonesia.”

“Silence” [in the title] doesn’t just refer to silence in Indonesia, but our silence in the face of these crimes because the Indonesian genocide is American history. United States provided weapons, training and money, and thousands of names the US Government wanted murdered. We need to break our silence, declassify those documents detailing our roles in these crimes. After the Oscars, we will be going –with the National Human Rights committee of Indonesia- to Washington DC to meet with the White House staff urging the US to declassify these documents and accept responsibility.”

4. Best First Feature winner Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) on her future plans

Noting that she worked very hard to do right by a story that meant so much to her, Heller said the Spirit Award was such a nice honor. Regarding her second feature “I am still figuring out what [it] is going to be. It’s a tough thing to top, having your first project to be a movie you care about as much as this. I think it’s just downhill from here. “Just kidding, you guys,” she added with a laugh.

5. John Cassavetes award winner Krisha was a personal movie for writer/director Trey Edward Shults

Regarding his family drama that deals with alcoholism and relapse, Shults said, “A lot of lost souls in my family inspired this story. My father struggled with addiction and alcohol his entire life and he passed away a couple of years ago. My cousin, who came home to a family reunion and relapsed, overdosed two months later. There are a lot of lost souls in this movie, and I hope they come through and you feel that.”

6. Tom McCarthy and the Spotlight team on their journey

As the night’s big winner with multiple awards, Tom McCarthy had several opportunities to talk about the process of bringing Spotlight to screen. Joined on stage by the cast (Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo among them,) and the real journalists portrayed in the film including Sacha Pfeiffer and Mike Rezendes, McCarthy said, “I think we all felt a collective responsibility to present this story in a way that didn’t sensationalize it, [and that wasn’t] gratuitous. We took our inspiration from the reporting, so on point and hard-hitting. We stand on their shoulders in making and telling a story. Our first job as filmmakers is entertaining. But when you have material like this, we have an opportunity to have an enduring platform to continue the conversation on sexual abuse. Not just in Catholic Church, but in a wider spectrum.”

Josh Singer, sharing the Best Screenplay award with Tom McCarthy (the likely Oscar winners of tonight in Best Original Screenplay category) commanded McCarthy’s vision for the film. “From the beginning, it was, ‘let’s stay as real and authentic as we possibly can’. I was a little nervous. We both spent a fair amount of time in Boston in school and grad school. Boston really was a character: insiders and outsiders; the particular nature of that town.”

On his favorite moments of the awards season, McCarthy spoke fondly of meeting nominees and artists he hasn’t met before. “I have never been a part of a campaign like this. And it is a campaign. It is relentless. That’s exactly why I’m not in politics. One of the best parts is running into people you haven’t had a chance to meet. Lenny Abrahamson, Alejandro… George Miller! Just to get 15 minutes with George Miller is cool. That’s the gift that keeps on giving in this process.”

7. Best Foreign Film winner Son of Saul’s director László Nemes: My family was more and less destroyed during the years of the Holocaust.

“[Son of Saul] is very personal. I am carrying this wound within me. I know Géza [Röhrig] does as well. So much of that energy went into the film. We are on the same wavelength, all of us.”

Joking about where he will put his award, “So far, my producers had a tendency to get my awards and locking them. I hope to keep it this time.”

On Oscars, tonight’s likely winner said, “There is an event tomorrow. I don’t know what…some kind of event. So we’re going there tomorrow and I am looking forward to it. You know, as a first time director, being projected in this crazy world of exposure is hard to get used to. But at the same time, it really gives the film the exposure it needs.”

8. Best Supporting Actress winner Mya Taylor: “Almost two years ago, I applied to 168 jobs in one month and did 26 interviews.”

The history-making transgender actress recalled the challenging period in her life. “The reason why I couldn’t get a job was because my name and gender wasn’t changed. I looked like a girl, and it says something else on my ID, and I couldn’t get a job. It was very depressing but I pushed and pushed. It was an opportunity that came from God, and I took it.”

Taylor lives in North Dakota now, because she “fell in love with the most amazing guy, cooler than all of the LA guys in this room.” “I struggled a lot in LA.” She added she’d never consider moving back to LA. “If I lived here, I’d be too available.”

She gave some good news to the press room, noting that her next project, a TV show, will be everything Tangerine is, and a lot more. “It will be very educational, but it will be very funny at the same time. Think about watching “Empire”. You constantly want to know what’s going to happen for the next episode. That’s what my shit is going to be like.”

9. Best Actor winner Abraham Attah on his collaboration with Idris Elba

The young actor was noticeably excited, overwhelmed and yet, having a good time. He said he was very shy at first, but Idris Elba helped him get over it. “He made me more emotional and taught me a lot.”

A presenter at the Oscars alongside Jacob Tremblay, the young actor said getting the chance to present at the Oscars is very special. “My life changed a lot because of this movie. I feel very good.”

10. Best Actress winner Brie Larson on her preparation for Room: “I had to go on a restrictive diet. I couldn’t be under the sun.”

“The whole process was really taxing. There were so many sacrifices I had to make personally,” said tonight’s likely Oscar winner. “At the end of day, when I came back home from work at my foreign apartment in Toronto, [I made sure] that was a real comforting home-base and I didn’t get too lost in the process.”

“When we arrived, he had all of the trash we could have kept on a craft table and everyday, we would build toys. It was the first time [Jacob and I] got to know each other.”

On the crazy journey she’s been on, Larson said none of it makes sense right now as it all feels like a dream. “The highlights have been the really small moments. I’ll get on a plane really early after the awards to go to work. It won’t be until when I’m crossing the street three weeks later and suddenly realize ‘I just won a Golden Globe or SAG’. It feels like a bizarre loving dream I don’t want to wake from. I’m just going to keep going in this lucid dream.”