In a room twinkling with some of Hollywood’s brightest, new stars, you’d think there’d be a least some small hint of ego. A sideways glance, an eyebrow raise, a question left unanswered, dangling in the awkward silence of a “Don’t you know who I am now?” stare. But at the 2018 Variety 10 to Watch Actors celebration Nov. 11, the mood inside the grand ballroom of The Resort at Pelican Hill was light, set afloat by humility and a genuine spirit of unpretentious gratitude.
The day started with the obligatory red carpet, though for this event it was ocean-blue, offset by a sumptuous buffet of appetizers and craft cocktails. More than two hundred guests indulged in and sipped on the libations as they walked a sun-bathed patio perched above the immaculate greens of the Pelican Hill Golf Course.
“I love the movies!” Henry Golding told a reporter as he made his way down the blue-carpeted media line. When he spoke about upcoming projects in his richly smooth British accent—new films include “Monsoon,” “Last Christmas” and “Toff Guys” with Kate Beckinsale, Matthew McConaughey and Hugh Grant—you could almost see the shine emanating off this ever-rising star.
Golding was one of ten actors to receive the Variety honor, named as “10 to Watch” among what Jenelle Riley, deputy awards and features editor at Variety, would later in the day call a “blood bath of people who want to be on the list.” Other honorees included: Zazie Beetz (“Deadpool 2”); Gemma Chan (“Crazy Rich Asians”); Elsie Fisher (“Eighth Grade”); Russell Hornsby (“The Hate U Give,” “Creed II”); Anthony Ramos (“A Star is Born”), who couldn’t make the event due to scheduling reasons; Cailee Spaeny (“On the Basis of Sex”); Marina de Tavira (“Roma”), John David Washington (“BlacKkKlansman”); and Letitia Wright (“Black Panther”).
In addition to the Variety accolade, Elsie Fisher and John David Washington garnered Golden Globe nominations for Leading Actress and Leading Actor.
“This is the first time many of [you] have been south of LA,” joked Gary C. Sherwin, president and CEO of Newport Beach & Company, who took the stage following a minutes-long sizzle reel of Newport Beach—The waves! The sand! The sunshine!—and spoke briefly about what it meant to have the coastal city host such an iconic event. (Variety 10 to Watch was produced this year in partnership with the Newport Beach Film Festival and Visit Newport Beach.)
After Sherwin came Newport Beach Film Festival Executive Director and CEO Gregg Schwenk. For his presentation, Schwenk couched the importance of the day inside the 20th anniversary of one of the fastest-growing film festivals in the world. “The Newport Beach Film Festival was born out of passion,” he said, before introducing a Newport Beach Film Festival Fall honoree.
Colman Domingo nabbed the afternoon’s first Artist of Distinction Award for his ability to write, direct and produce with enviable creative aplomb. Domingo delivered a moving acceptance speech about path to success—”I just wanted to be a working artist”—explaining how his late mother, Domingo’s greatest confidant and supporter, passed before seeing ever seeing his name in bright lights. “I don’t know what to do with all this love,” the actor had told a friend at the time. The friend replied: “You’re going to put it into your work.”
So, he took the advice to heart and put that love into every piece of work he produced. And though the award affirmed Domingo’s rightful place among the new Hollywood elite, the entertainer said he’s felt like a real actor all along.
“If you wake up every morning and you want to write, then you’re a writer,” Domingo said.
“And I like that sentiment of even if you’re not working but you want to, and you’re waiting tales and trying to get a job, you are still an actor.”
After eyes were wiped and happy tears shed, Topher Grace (“Spider-Man 3,” “That ’70s Show,” “Win A Date with Tad Hamilton”) accepted his own Artist of Distinction Award, an honor also given to Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“10 Cloverfield Lane,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) later in ceremony.
The final award was given at the end of the day to Robert Forster, (“Twin Peaks,” “Jackie Brown,” “The Descendents”) who accepted the Icon Award with signature humor, asking if “career over” was also etched onto the glass plaque. (It wasn’t.)
For several moments of unexpected motivation, Forster outlined his own philosophy for success: “You’ve got to do the best you can do with what you’ve got to work with right now, and that will give you the best future you’ve got coming,” he said. “And never quit. You can win it in the late innings. It’s not over ‘til it’s over. Unless you’re dead. Then it’s over.”
Between Forster’s impromptu comedic stylings and Domingo’s impassioned artistic elocution, Variety Features Editor Riley moderated a panel with the 10 to Watch winners, asking questions about the life and times of their dewy, fresh stardom.
Henry Golding, who shot to fame earlier this year with a winning turn in “Crazy Rich Asians,” detailed how despite the film’s popularity, he still didn’t feel like a real actor until he wrapped several more movies. The one-time hairstylist and broadcast reporter had left his honeymoon to audition for the now-iconic “Crazy Rich Asians” role and laughed with the crowd as he explained that he’s “still making amends” with his wife. (In the end, she was fine with it.)
Golding also spoke about how his foray into the entertainment world was about moving in the direction of what felt right. He said: “I follow my passion and I’ve always thought that will be your greatest fuel in life, if you throw yourself into something you love to do.”
His co-star, Gemma Chan, spoke in broader terms about the far-reaching impact of the messages actors deliver onscreen and off. “I think the stories we tell and to each other will really shape how we see each other going forward,” she said.
Deadpool 2’s Zazie Beetz discussed the dichotomy of on-camera glitz and off-camera humanity. She said as the “fingers of her fame” spread, Beetz sees an image building in the general public that’s vastly different from the person she is at home with her cat. (Her Instagram offers an unfiltered glance at the latter life.)
In a sobering moment, the Deadpool 2 star recognized the pitfalls of celebrity for those at the top, referencing Jennifer Aniston and a story she heard about how the A-lister once had to get thrown in the back of a car to avoid a mob of fans, but Beetz said luckily, she’s not there yet. Her followers, so far, have been supportive and “cool.”
Letitia Wright, breakout star of “Black Panther,” waxed poetic about what it means to have people know your name. “There’s gratitude but also the sense of, ‘you haven’t changed,'” she said, describing acting as not a search for fame but a hunt for truth. “Just chasing that [truth] is like a euphoria,” she said.
And John David Washington, the son of Denzel Washington but a veritable star all his own, referenced Ralph Waldo Emerson in his reply about the realities of fame: “Once the mind expands it can never go back to its original form,” he said, explaining how he now nods at those who recognize him on the New York subway.
The sentiment was a fitting descriptor for a day of mind-expansion, as some of the most trailblazing celebrities working in Hollywood today shared a stage together and after, spent almost an hour mingling with the crowd, snapping selfies, sipping coffee, watching us as we watched them, as if the marquees of multi-million-dollar movies didn’t bear their names. ♦