Melissa McCarthy was supposed to be one of three honorees at the seventh annual Oscar Wilde: Honoring the Irish in Film event, held Thursday evening in Santa Monica, Calif. But the it-woman of comedy and Academy Award nominee had to call in sick.
“Just imagine how funny her speech would have been,” quipped director and uber-producer J.J. Abrams after announcing to the crowd of 300 that McCarthy would not be there. “Imagine it, because I’ve got nothing.”
The “Bridesmaids” star, who has reportedly been suffering from laryngitis, may have been absent, but the pre-Academy Awards party — hosted by the Arlington-based US-Ireland Alliance at Abrams’s production company, Bad Robot — still had a lot going for it. John Logan — the son of Irish immigrants and an Oscar nominee for his screenplay for “Hugo” — was honored for his career achievements with an award presented to him by another Oscar nominee, Kenneth Branagh.
And Michelle Williams, still another Academy Award contender for her role in “My Week With Marilyn,” was named an “Honorary Irishwoman” this year, a pseudo-Irish status previously conferred at the event upon the likes of Paul Rudd, James L. Brooks and Abrams.
Logan, a friend of Williams’s who presented her with the award, joked openly about the actress’s Norwegian heritage.
“Her people were the Viking hordes, who came to Belfast and pillaged,” Logan said while Williams — dressed in a simple black shift with white trim and looking every bit the gamine, a word Logan used to describe her in his introduction — laughed.
But when she rose to accept the award,Williams noted that she had recently discovered evidence of almost Irish ancestry in her blood.
“Does a little bit of Welsh count?” she asked. In the very welcoming room — where members of the Hollywood elite stood beside dignitaries (former senators George Mitchell and Chris Dodd were there), studio executives and up-and-coming Irish musicians — it did.
A number of stars, who ate from petite paper cones filled with fish and chips against a Bad Robot backdrop of assorted sci-fi paraphernalia, were easily spottable. Steven Spielberg, Abrams’s “Super 8” collaborator, was there with wife Kate Capshaw. So was Colin Farrell, dressed in a pinstripe suit and sporting a thin mustache that suggested perhaps he could succeed Jean Dujardin as the next great silent movie star; Jason O’Mara of TV’s “Terra Nova”; “My Week With Marilyn” director Simon Curtis; Dana Delaney; and, this being Abrams’s turf, a number of cast members from the filmmaker’s currently in-production “Star Trek” sequel: Zachary Quinto, John Cho, Karl Urban, Alice Eve and Sherlock himself, Benedict Cumberbatch.
It was a notably splashy night during what appears to be a crucial moment in the event’s history. Two Ireland-based arts organizations, the Irish Film Board and Culture Ireland, did not provide funding for the event this year after Trina Vargo, the president and founder of the US-Ireland Alliance who once worked for Sen. Ted Kennedy, withdrew an application for funding. Vargo told Ireland’s Sunday Times last year that the groups “don’t meet their own deadlines and, when they do agree to fund, they must be chased for payment and constantly want to renegotiate whatever was agreed.”
(When asked for comment, James Morris, chairman of the Film Board, forwarded the following statement: “Culture Ireland and the Irish Film Board have provided very substantial direct funding to the US-Ireland Alliance in support of its Oscars Wilde event every year since its inception and confirm that the US-Ireland Alliance has withdrawn its application for funding for this year. The fact that the US-Ireland Alliance has decided to proceed with the event without the financial support of Culture Ireland and the Irish Film Board is very much welcomed, particularly given the general economic climate impacting on all Arts bodies in Ireland. It reflects the value this event represents to its promoters as well as Irish filmmakers and we wish it every success.”)
In an interview with The Post prior to this year’s party, Vargo said it’s possible that the 2012 event — which cost about $200,000 and was funded in part by corporate sponsors American Airlines and Accenture — may have been the last if additional resources are not found for the 2013 affair.
The precariousness of the fete’s future may have prompted Mitchell — the man who helped broker Northern Ireland’s Good Friday agreement in 1998 and the namesake of one of the Alliance’s key programs, the George Mitchell Scholarships for post-graduate study in Ireland — to attend for the first time. He spoke during the ceremony about the event’s value to members of the Ireland and American arts communities, noting that musicians have been discovered and deals to shoot movies on the Emerald Isle have been brokered during the annual soiree.
“The relationships between our two countries extend far beyond politics and government and political processes,” Mitchell said during an interview on the red carpet. “We think that anything that encourages better relationships is helpful. My hope is that [the event] can continue, but as with everything else in these times, it has to be measured against other parts of the [Alliance’s] effort.”
Assuming it does continue, it seems likely that Bad Robot and J.J. Abrams will again act as host. Katie McGrath, Abrams’s wife, also used to work for Kennedy and is a longtime friend of Vargo’s. Plus, despite his humility, Abrams seems up for the comedic challenges of being emcee.
“We’re also giving an award to ‘The Artist,’” he deadpanned at one point, referring to the film that everyone will likely be talking about at Sunday’s Oscars. “No, we’re not. [Expletive] ‘The Artist.’ ”
“I’m kidding,” he quickly added as the audience laughed. Even so, he was smart enough to add: “This night is not about the French.”