Britannia Awards 2013: Benedict Cumberbatch's breakthrough year celebrated
British actor Rob Brydon, best known to BBC America audiences for his role as the heroine's eccentric Welsh uncle in the long-running Britcom hit "Gavin and Stacey," hosts the two-hour special, which was recorded Nov. 9 in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif.
In addition to Clooney and Cumberbatch, also due for recognition during the program are Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow ( "Zero Dark Thirty"), Academy Award-winning actor Ben Kingsley, controversial comic and actor Sacha Baron Cohen ( "Borat"), and Golden Globe winner Idris Elba from the BBC America detective drama "Luther."
Unlike many other honors, the Britannia Awards are not presented in competition, nor is the recognition given expressly for the artist's current project, explains Britannia Awards co-chair Deborah Kolar, who is also one of the executive producers of the special.
"We're looking at the careers of the honorees," she tells Zap2it. "This year, for example, we have Kathryn Bigelow, who is not out there promoting a particular film, but we felt that she was worthy. It's a joint decision of the board of BAFTA Los Angeles."
It was something of a no-brainer to present the Britannia Award for British artist of the year to Cumberbatch, who has four films being released this fall.
"Benedict has had an extraordinary sort of breakthrough in the last year or so, with a lot of films that are going to come out in the next year as well," Kolar points out. "For this award, we look for someone who is just having an extraordinary time in their career. Sometimes it's someone older. We've had Helen Mirren, but she was having a career resurgence at the time.
"It's true that Benedict's recent Julian Assange film ( 'The Fifth Estate') didn't do that well, but in fact he's part of a great group of British actors who have made that kind of crossover with audiences, people like Richard Harris and Richard Burton. We think he has that kind of depth as a performer."
Clooney, who will receive the prestigious Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film, is being recognized for his iconic status in multiple career facets ranging from actor to screenwriter, director and producer as well as self-effacing global humanitarian.
"Someone once told me that George Clooney is usually the smartest man in the room," Kolar says. "Besides, of course, his being this charming and classic Hollywood movie star, the goal he and Steven Soderbergh had when they formed their company (Section Eight Productions) together was to elevate, to educate and to inspire. He continues to do that, so we felt that was a very fitting award for him. When we were putting together the tribute reel on him for the ceremony, we talked to a lot of people about him, and his friends and colleagues all kept talking about him as ... just a good person in general. He likes to have a good time, but he's very loyal as well to his friends."
Kolar adds that she's very pleased the Britannia Awards ceremony has found such a natural home on BBC America, a sentiment that is echoed by the channel's general manager, Perry Simon.
"One of my main goals when I took over this job was to promote the profile of the channel, so I was looking for vehicles that would help do that. When you consider the level of talents that have been honored over the years -- Elizabeth Taylor, Dustin Hoffman, all these great British and American talents -- it was kind of remarkable, frankly, that the Britannia Awards didn't have a higher profile than it did," Simon says. "So I was very eager to make a deal with BAFTA L.A. to bring the awards to BBC America, and it's been a very mutually beneficial arrangement. I think BAFTA L.A. loves having the ideal network partner in BBC America, because of who they are and what they stand for, and for us, it's the ideal talent showcase that perfectly fits our brand."
And while this awards ceremony is focused on paying well-deserved tribute to some of the finest artists in the world, the show's producers are working overtime to deliver a star-packed special that is entertaining in its own right.
"We ... want the evening to have a sense of spontaneity," Simon explains. "While it's clearly a night to pay tribute to these people, we want to do it in a really fun way. The Golden Globes broke through because the audience always felt that they were tuning in to see a party. The champagne was flowing, and unpredictable things happened. We will be telecasting from the identical ballroom as the Golden Globes, with a star-studded lineup that rivals those awards, and we think you'll see more fun and spontaneity. That's something we want to build upon in the years to come."