Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem Receive the Matlin Modern Master Award
- Photographed by: A. Arthur Fisher
The lights! The cameras! The glitz! The Glam! Every year The Santa Barbara International Film festival brings it all to our little town by the sea. While the last two years of the festival were virtual due to Covid, this year the Hollywood stars came back to Santa Barbara, live and in person. It seemed with every announcement of who would be on the stage at The Arlington Theater, the stars just got bigger and brighter. From Kristen Stewart to Penelope Cruz, to Benedict Cumberbatch the names were impressive. And then finally, it was announced, the last and most prestigious award of the festival would go to one of the most famous women in the world- Nicole Kidman and her costar Javier Bardem for their roles in the oft nominated film Being the Ricardos.
Then another announcement came. Kidman had been injured and wouldn’t be able to make it to the festival in person. Disappointing? Yes. But, if Covid taught us anything, it’s that remote doesn’t necessarily have to feel distant. Kidman would be zooming in to The Arlington from her home in Nashville to accept the prestigious Matlin Modern Master award. The evening was moderated by its namesake, Leonard Maltin, the acclaimed film critic himself.
The Matlin Modern Master awards is the highest honor presented by the film festival. Its recipients are those who have enriched our culture through motion pictures. And, boy, have Kidman and Bardem done just that. The tributes at the SBIFF are preceded by a montage of the recipient’s films. As clip after clip after clip after clip was shown of Kidman’s movies, the breadth of her career became more and more obvious. As executive director Roger Durling put it, “she has taken risk after risk after risk.” And maybe none bigger than taking on the role of Lucille Ball, for which she is nominated for the best actress Oscar. When Kidman appeared, bigger than life on the Arlington Theatre screen, she was gracious, goofy and exceedingly kind. She explained her torn hamstring to the audience and lamented her absence. She spoke of her film Rabbit Hole, which screened at SBIFF in 2011. When she was in Santa Barbara for that film, she remembered “incredible warmth” from the festival and went on to apologize again for her absence. When speaking of her Oscar nominated role as Lucille Ball, she said it was the toughest job she’s ever taken on, “I’m just grateful to be given the chance to play her; but naturally I had some skepticism that anyone could play Lucille Ball. Her fragility, resilience, tenacity, her ability to survive, and the things she did in terms of defying odds and opening doors- I had no idea about this story, I had no idea about Desi and Lucy.” Kidman went on to talk about the process of playing Ball, “This gave me the chance to bring her to reality. And hopefully people fall into the spell of her, of Lucille, without judgment, because her life was worthy of it, their lives were worthy of it.” The real-life Ricardo’s two children are still alive and were present for much of the making of the film, which only amplified the pressure for Kidman. “[Ball] was pretty complicated, pretty extraordinary, I was like help!” she joked from the large screen.
During her time with the captivated audience, Kidman was animated, often making faces, and using her hands to speak in a thoughtful manner. There were the usual hiccups that come with using zoom (freezes, pauses) but it really did feel like Kidman was there with the audience, in Santa Barbara. She promised that she would be back to our town at some point, hopefully for the next film festival. After Kidman was presented her award, she spoke fondly of her co-star, Bardem, who plays Lucy’s husband, Ricky Ricardo in the film. “He’s the greatest, greatest actor,” she said. Upon seeing Bardem on her zoom screen, she said, “I wish I could do every movie with you.” And to that, Bardem said that Kidman was “the perfect, perfect costar.” The admiration between the two could be felt.
Bardem, who had spent the earlier part of the evening cheerfully greeting fans on the red carpet, was charming, funny, thoughtful and a downright pleasure to share an evening with. While onstage at The Arlington, he looked out onto the audience and said, “Amazing View! A theater full of people who love movies!” He then thanked the crowd for buying tickets and being there. Then said, light-heartedly, “I know you were expecting Antonio Banderas tonight.” It was the first of many laughs the evening would hold.
Born to a family of actors during the Franco regime in Spain, Bardem noted that acting was in his DNA. On playing Desi Arnaz, he said that I Love Lucy wasn't’ the cultural phenomenon in Spain that it has been in the US. He explained, “I had less fear of failure, but I tried to get as close to Desi Arnaz as possible.” When asked how he prepared for the numerous singing and drumming scenes in the film, he spoke fondly of his coach, and spoke about what it was like having the Arnaz children in the room when he shot a scene, “I didn’t want to harm Desi’s Kids,” he said.
Bardem’s career is long and impressive. He’s played in James Bond films, and maybe is most famous for his role in The Cohen Brothers' movie No Country for Old Men. He said he didn’t quite understand the script upon first reading it, and when he read the novel by Cormac McCarthy, he was even more confused. “The story is just SO American,” he said. Once the Cohen brothers went on to give Bardem his infamous haircut for the film, “I got it!” he said with a laugh. “It took the haircut!” When asked if he is a method actor, he responded, “[method acting] is a waste of time and energy. Then I get my best scenes in the bathroom with no cameras. I respect those who do it, but my acting doesn’t have to be 24 hours.” This was clear to anyone in attendance at The Arlington. Bardem was the farthest thing from his convincingly sinister character in No Country. When watching Being the Ricardos he IS Arnaz- down to the smallest detail. But accepting his award at the SBIFF, he was utterly Bardem- fun, kind-hearted, jovial and a joy to be around. Bardem’s wife, actress Penelope Cruz, who had accepted the Montecito Award at SBIFF a few days earlier, “was so moved,” Bardem said of being presented the award, “She was so touched.” When asked what it was like for both husband and wife to be nominated for an Oscar this year, Bardem smiled and said, “it’s unique. We are lucky. We never lose sight of that- we are just blessed to have a job.”
Presenting the Matlin Modern Master Award was Being the Riccardos’ producer Todd Black. He praised not only Bardem’s role as Ricardo, but Bardem as a person. “He is who he is,” Black said upon handing Bardem the award. “A joy of an actor. Confident, humble, sweet, gracious, personable.” Upon receiving the award, Bardem hugged both Black and Matlin. He beamed as he spoke of Santa Barbara. “I just love this place,” he said. Then he looked to the packed audience, “And I love all of you. Tiny heads. Tiny brains. Tiny hearts, all moved by film. It’s such a joy as an actor.”
The joy was shared by those in attendance, and one would be hard pressed to find a single person who didn’t leave The Arlington Theater a fan of not only Lucy and Desi, but of Kidman and Bardem themselves.