Oscar Wilde Awards return honouring Kenneth Branagh and Jamie Dornan

Lead sponsor Michael Hackman Commits $100,000 (€90,000) to support US-Ireland Alliance’s scholarship program
Oscar Wilde Awards return honouring Kenneth Branagh and Jamie Dornan

Kenneth Fox

The Oscar Wilde Awards returned last night honouring  Kenneth Branagh, Adam McKay, Jamie Dornan and Dónall Ó Héalai

The lead sponsor Michael Hackman committed $100,000 (€90,000) to support US-Ireland Alliance’s scholarship program.

The Ebell of Los Angeles was the scene of the US-Ireland Alliance’s 16th annual Oscar Wilde Awards.

The event is normally held at J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath’s Bad Robot production company in Santa Monica. Due to COVID-19 concerns, it was decided to opt for a larger space to allow for more social distancing.

Abrams, named an “Honorary Irishman” at the 2010 awards, emceed the evening.

Abrams said he was fortunate enough to shoot some of Star Wars in Ireland and joked that was “mostly because Trina Vargo (founder and president of the US-Ireland Alliance) wouldn’t stop threatening me, and so now we’re going to be shooting a series for HBO next fall in Northern Ireland.”

Hollywood veteran Mary Steenburgen was on hand to present Adam McKay with his Oscar Wilde Award. McKay’s Don't Look Up, one of Netflix’s most successful films, has received four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

McKay spoke of his family ancestry from Northern Ireland and Donegal and how a mold that infected the peat caused them to move to Nebraska. McKay now has a home in Ireland and noted the irony in the fact that all his family want to visit him in the place from which their ancestors fled.

Reinaldo Marcus Green presented the “Wilde Card” Award to Irish actor Dónall Ó Héalai. Green directed King Richard, which earned six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Green spoke of Ó Héalai’s total physical transformation for the Irish-language film Arracht.

Green also said that when he was a struggling filmmaker in New York, with massive student debt, and he was close to giving up, it was Donall who encouraged him to keep going, telling him he was “so close.”

In accepting is award, Ó Héalai, talked about how he too 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 and how he felt that while shooting that film, “the dignity of our ancestors was with us the entire shoot.” The film changed his life.

Richard Curtis, the writer of classic romantic comedies Notting Hill and Love Actually, presented to Jamie Dornan.

The Belfast-born Dornan currently stars in Branagh’s Belfast and in the HBO Max series, The Tourist. Curtis joked that Jamie couldn’t possibly be a nice person because “in my experience, good looking people normally haven’t got much to recommend them.”

Dornan was emotional in speaking about his family and his once in a career experience of working with Kenneth Branagh in Belfast “the greatest honor of my career.” He also said he would “endeavor to tell stories from that complicated island as long as I’m allowed to” and “that if you’re lucky enough to be Irish, then you are lucky enough.”

Kenneth Branagh recently broke records by becoming the first person nominated in seven Oscar categories. Additionally, his film Belfast received seven Oscar nominations, including for Best Picture, and Best Director. While Branagh couldn’t be there personally, his wife, Lindsay Brunnock, and several of his family and friends enjoyed the party.

In honoring Branagh, Abrams said the director had said that he found that the COVID 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. Abrams said, “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."

Via a taped acceptance, Branagh recalled what great fun the Oscar Wilde Awards are – he attended in 2012 to present to writer John Logan. In speaking about Belfast, he said 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.”

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