On the stage at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, Harry Styles is a bonafide rockstar, brimming with swagger and self confidence as he performs in front of 20,000 adoring fans. But Styles, the actor, was soft-spoken while accepting an acting award for one of his first major movie roles at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Styles — a man of relatively few words — and the cast of “My Policeman” received the ensemble award at the festival’s Tribute Awards on Sunday night.
“Thank you so much to everyone here, on behalf of all of us, for this wonderful, wonderful award,” said Styles, who stars in the romantic drama as a closeted police officer. “We all loved working on this film so much. And we hope you enjoy it.”
And with that, Styles, holding the train of his co-star Emma Corin’s long black dress, left as quickly as they entered the Fairmont Royal York, where the annual gala is held.
But there were plenty of other A-listers to keep the three-hour fete going strong. Though the festival is running for several more days, Toronto held its fourth annual tribute awards, with recipients including “The Whale” star Brendan Fraserdirector Sam Mendes, Michelle Yeohand Hildur Guðnadóttir, the Oscar-winning composer of “Joker,” “Women Talking” and “Tar.”
And lucky for TIFF organizers, the ever-charming Olivia Colman was next to take the stage after Styles and company departed. The Oscar-winner was on hand to bestow Sam Mendes with the Ebert Director Award. But all she could say before the room went dark to play a reel of Mendes’ film highlights was, “It’s my pleasure to present the TIFF director award to Sam Mendes,” prompting her eyes to widen in shock. Cue the giggles from everyone in the audience.
Mendes, whose latest film “Empire of Light” is a touching ode to movie theaters and is playing at the festival, was greeted with a standing ovation. It was too much for the British director to take in.
“That was completely unnecessary,” he said.
Since the event isn’t televised, Mendes joked he could talk as long as he wanted. And indeed, the director of “American Beauty” and “Skyfall,” gave a lengthy speech about his career his and collaboration with talent including cinematographer Roger Deakins. He attributed his career his to more than just his work his. “You also need a load of fucking luck.”
Michelle Yeoh inspired the second standing “O” of the night. Before she even reached the podium, everyone in the ballroom had already risen to their feet to applaud the celebrated actor. She received the night’s Share Her Journey Groundbreaker Award, which was accompanied by clips from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and other popular films from her iconography her.
By watching the compilation of her work, she says, “I am reminded of how long I’ve been doing this. The nicks, bumps, scrapes along the way.” But, she adds, “Despite all the challenges, I cherish every moment. I do hope to do it for many years to come.”
During her speech, Yeoh push the entertainment industry to amplify women’s voices, saying, “As women we are privileged to work in one of the most open-minded and forward-thinking industries. And yet, women are still glaringly underrepresented in the top levels of our industry. In addition to needing to be twice as good [we’re] often half as compensated.”
Another recipient of the night, Oscar-winning songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie, spoke about the significance of casting Indigenous people in Indigenous roles. “It’s more important than juts fooling white people,” Sainte-Marie said. “These people will bring their entire cultures to your movies. Can you imagine casting ‘The Sopranos’ without Italians?”
Later, during a dessert break, Fraser reunited with Yeoh, his co-star from “The Mummy 3.” At a table near the front of the room, Colman and Mendes held court as admirers approached them to praise their work.
Sunday night’s event continued an emotional start to awards season for Fraser, who broke down in tears at the Venice world premiere of “The Whale. His performance his as a 600-pound gay man confined to a wheelchair is expected to put him at the forefront of this year’s best actor Oscars race. His performance his was equally embraced at TIFF (though the standing ovation was slightly shorter).
At Sunday’s ceremony, Fraser again appeared to be visually emotional as Aronofsky introduced him by saying, “We need more people like Brendan Fraser, the man and the actor.”
For Fraser, “The Whale” marks a career resurgence as his first major film role in years. He thanked the fans (“It’s the audience that gives cinema life,” he says) for “keeping me in the job that I love.”
“Art is about taking a risk, and you should know that [Aronofsky and screenwriter Samuel D. Hunter] took a chance on me, and I will be forever grateful to them,” he said. “’The Whale’ is a redemption story.”
With his trophy in hand, Fraser remarked, “This is new for me. Normally, I’m the guy at the podium who hands these things out.”
But by the look of awards season, at least so far, Fraser may need to get used to taking the spotlight.