Australian actors Rebel Wilson and Jai Courtney, along with Australian filmmaker James Wan, were honored at this year’s star-studded Australians in Film Awards, which took place at NeueHouse Hollywood on October 19.
Rebel Wilson received the inaugural Screen NSW Annette Kellerman Award, presented by Vogue magazine Australia, as a trailblazing Australian woman who has made her own mark in Hollywood. Annette Kellerman, a former champion swimmer born in 1887, was Australia’s first leading lady and put her swimming skills to great use in many black-and-white silent films including her best-known 1911 film The Mermaid. Wilson had done her research and raved about the award’s namesake, who had dived sixty feet into a swimming pool in one of her films. “We both overcame a lot of obstacles and naysayers to have a big international career; I have worked very hard to get here,” she said in her acceptance speech, adding with a grin, “but if I had a scene like her where I had to jump into the pool, I’d let the stunt woman do it and then tell everyone in interviews it was me!” Bridesmaids’ director Paul Feig – who gave Wilson her breakthrough role in that film – told the audience she should be considered a “national treasure.”
The actress – best known for films including Pitch Perfect, How To Be Single and Bachelorette – paid tribute to her father, who died of a heart attack in 2013, and emotionally recalled, “The last time I saw my father was at the family and friends screening of Pitch Perfect, at the same cinema I used to work in as an usher in Sydney. He was really proud, and I know he’d be proud of me now.”
Founded in 2001, Australians in Film is a Los Angeles-based non-profit film, television and digital content foundation that supports and promotes Australian screen talent and culture in the United States. As well as hosting regular screenings, AiF’s career development and education programs include the prestigious Heath Ledger Scholarship, Mentor LA, Village Roadshow/Animal Logic Entertainment Internship, Greg Coote Fellowship, Gateway LA, The Writers Room and 50 Kaliber Director Internship. They also recently established a creative work-sharing space for Australian talent called Charlie’s – named after Charlie Chaplin, who previously occupied the revamped space at Raleigh Studios. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is a patron of the Australians in Film Heath Ledger Scholarship.
Filmmaker James (Saw, The Conjuring) Wan received the Fox Studios Australia International Award from his frequent producing and writing partner, Leigh Whannell. “We went to film school together in Melbourne,” Whannell reminisces, “and while everybody else was making esoteric movies about sand inspired by Yoko Ono, I saw James’ first project about zombies and knew we had a lot in common. When I visited him on the set of Furious 7, he was the same guy, still excited about making mainstream movies but just on a bigger canvas.”
The FOXTEL Breakthrough Award recipients were Jai Courtney (Suicide Squad, Die Hard, Jack Reacher) and director Garth Davis, whose first film, Lion, starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, is already a contender for awards love this year after receiving a standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival. Sir Ridley Scott was honored with the Ausfilm International Award for bringing his big-budget blockbuster Aliens: Covenant to Australia to film, employing over 950 Australian crewmembers. Village Roadshow Entertainment Group CEO Greg Basser received the Qantas Orry-Kelly International Award, named after the Australian costume designer who won three Academy Awards in the 1940s and 1950s working in Hollywood. Village Roadshow is a long-time producing partner with Warner Brothers on hits including: The Matrix, Mad Max: Fury Road, Sully and Ghostbusters.
Australian actor Joel Edgerton made time during his own publicity tour for the upcoming awards-hyped drama Loving to present the FOXTEL Breakthrough Award to Jai Courtney, who returned to Australia in 2013 to co-star with the actor in Felony, which Edgerton wrote. “It says a lot about an actor who has worked with Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Cruise that he still wants to come back to Australia to work on local projects,” Edgerton says.
Host for the evening was musician/actor/comedian/director Tim Minchin, who wrote the music for the Broadway hit Matilda and co-wrote the film and music for the upcoming Dreamworks animated film Larrikins. The comedian kicked off the night by explaining to the packed room the significance of being on a converted soundstage at the landmarked 1938 former CBS Radio Building on Sunset Boulevard. “This is where Lucille Ball filmed I Love Lucy,” he said. “It was also where Orson Welles made TV and Bob Dylan recorded albums so it’s sacred ground in our industry.” An after-party on the rooftop of the NeueHouse included a projection onto the wall of Annette Kellerman’s early silent black-and-white films, rescued from the Australian National Film Archives.
Also attending the star-studded event supporting all things Australian: Luke Arnold (Black Sails), Isabel Lucas (Transformers), Luke (Hacksaw Ridge, Point Break) Bracey, Jonathan LaPaglia (Australian Survivor), Brenton Thwaites (Gods of Egypt), Alicia Debenam-Carey (Fear the Walking Dead), Heath Ledger Scholarship winner Ashleigh Cummings, producer Bruna Papandrea (Wild) and Oscar-winning cinematographer Dion Bebe (Chicago).