Brits Said to Give Best Awards Speeches
LOS ANGELES – Come Thursday, newly announced Emmy nominees will have two months to think about the acceptance speeches they might get to deliver. A bit of advice: Start acting British. Please.
British award winners offer short, witty, self-deprecating remarks. Or, if they’re in Laurence Olivier’s league, they might recite lushly poetic monologues that leave us both agog and entertained.
Americans, on the other hand, can be garrulous, humorless and intent on thanking every one except their dog sitter and the valet who parked the limo.
Freed of scripts and cue cards, finally given the chance to speak for themselves, they appear intent on demonstrating why writers will always have a job in Hollywood.
The viewer, hoping for a spontaneous flash of personality from a favorite, is left to ponder just who Media 8, PMK, Newmarket and Toni G. are, and why they mean so much to lovely Charlize Theron (a South African native who clearly has adopted American ways as well as the accent). They all made it into her best-actress Oscar speech this year.
Lucky them. Unlucky us.
“Winners need to give a performance at the podium equal to the one they’re being honored for, otherwise (voters) will think they made a terrible mistake,” said Tom O’Neil, author of “The Emmys” and host of goldderby.com, an awards prediction Web site.
(Political outbursts may also make some question ó or cheer ó their choice, but that’s another subject altogether.)
Perhaps we’re being too hard on our homegrown artists out of some misguided deference to accented English. Maybe the British themselves find the comparison unfair.
Actually, no, according to one.
“I think they are quite different,” said Welsh-born Hilary Mckendrick of Los Angeles, who worked in media and the arts.
American speeches are “much more personal and people do seem to stretch back in their memories to find people they’ve known from kindergarten to thank,” she said. “The European habit is to be a bit more professional.”
Just so, agreed another Brit.
“It’s something I think we do better,” said journalist Richard Evans, an Englishman who works for the BBC and lives in Virginia. “These actors have been through training and taught to speak and express their thoughts. It’s all part of the education.”
Veteran Academy Awards producer Gil Cates diplomatically suggests another reason for the differences.
“The Brits are visitors, and visitors tend to be a little more careful,” suggested Cates. “They’re in our living room and Americans are at home.”
The foreign eloquence makes our stars’ uninspired, laundry-list approach even more conspicuous. And the trend is entrenched.
When Jack Nicholson won best-actor honors for 1975’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” he thanked his collaborators “Saul and Michael and Louise and Brad and Lawrence and Bo.”
In 2002, best-actress winner Halle Berry’s speech began with an emotional recounting of the role of black women in cinema, then devolved into a recitation of 17 supporters, including her lawyer, twice. And she still risked offending people by not naming them.
Such dry, often long and rambling speeches are so endemic that a frustrated Cates offered a $2,500 TV set in 2001 for the shortest Oscar speech.
“I have a television, so I’m going to spend some time here to tell you some things,” said exuberant best-actress winner Julia Roberts, refusing to let the orchestra cut off her speech.
Compare Hollywood’s brand of oratory to Olivier’s lyrical acceptance of an honorary Oscar in 1979.
“In the great wealth, the great firmament of your nation’s generosity, this particular choice may perhaps be found by future generations as a trifle eccentric, but the mere fact of it ó the prodigal, pure, human kindness of it ó must be seen as a beautiful star in that firmament which shines upon me at this moment,” Olivier said, in part.
The entire speech by Oliver, who died in 1989, was less than 200 words, nearly a third fewer than Theron’s but much more fulfilling.
Dry humor more your cup of tea? “I went to visit Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester Cathedral to pay my respects and to tell her about the grosses,” actress-writer Emma Thompson quipped on accepting an Oscar for the screenplay of 1995’s “Sense and Sensibility,” based on Austen’s novel.
Even the American theater world can be upstaged, as an Irishman proved when he was honored for his work in the play “Frozen” at the recent Tony Awards.
“Any of the actors in this category would be standing here if they had my part,” Brian F. O’Byrne said self-effacingly. Then, with boisterous charm: “I have the best part on Broadway. If you are listening at home on television, I’ve just said that, so it’s true. So you better come and see our show.”
A few more passionate words about how a drama like “Frozen” can wow theatergoers as much as the liveliest musical and then O’Byrne slipped away ó leaving the audience sadly ignorant as to his agent’s identity.
To be fair, American actors can rise to the challenge.
Phylicia Rashad, the one-time “Cosby” star who won a Tony for her work in a revival of “A Raisin in the Sun,” made a lovely, heartfelt statement.
She’s learned that achievement requires “effort and grace, tremendous self-effort and amazing grace,” Rashad told the audience last month.
“In my life, that grace has taken numerous forms. The first was the family into which I was born. Parents who loved and wanted me and a mother who fought fearlessly, courageously, consistently, so that her children, above all else, could realize their full potential as human beings.”
Spontaneity can be a distinctive hallmark of American performers.
Sometimes it’s charming. “This is for all the fat girls!” exclaimed Camryn Manheim as she accepted an Emmy for “The Practice” in 1998.
Sometimes it’s not. “I’d like to thank my husband Parker (Stevenson) for giving me the big one for the last eight years,” Kirstie Alley said on winning a trophy for “Cheers” in 1991.
Manheim’s speech was “genuine and reflected her attitude and personality,” said Don Mischer, who will produce the Sept. 19 Emmy Awards airing on ABC. He advises nominees to speak “about how you feel … what the award means in your life.”
He also likes to remind potential winners the greatest speech in U.S. history, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, didn’t break 300 words.
Still, the inclination to thank an endless array of family and friends is certainly American, noted Evans.
“There’s a natural British reticence about one’s personal life. All of us have moms and dads and Aunt Lucys, but you don’t have to be so public about those kinds of emotions,” he said. “You Americans wear all that on your sleeve.”
Mom, and Media 8. Sounds like a winner.
Sure, but Canadians rock!!
Brits Said to Give Best Awards Speeches