While accepting the Charlie Chaplin Britannia for Excellence in Comedy at L.A.’s Beverly Hilton Hotel, Sacha Baron Cohen was given a vintage cane by Grace Cullington, the oldest living actress who worked with the honor’s namesake, and he proceeded to re-create the tramp’s signature penguin waddle around the wheelchair-bound octogenarian. As the audience cooed over the sweetness of the moment and raised their cameraphones to capture it for future social-media bragging, Baron Cohen tripped, slammed into her chair and sent the woman flying face-first off the stage and into the audience. The “ahhs” turned into gasps and people in black-tie jumped out of their seats to offer aid as her lifeless body was flung over the shoulder of security and carried off.
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Grace Cullington is the oldest, no, sorry, was the oldest surviving [Chaplin co-star],” Baron Cohen said following the fall. “I dedicate my award to her. This is obviously a tragedy. She has upstaged me. But on the bright side, what a great way to go, giving an award to me. Thus, she’ll probably make the Oscars In Memoriam segment,” he deadpanned as people realized they’d been duped by the exact kind of prank that earned the Borat star the trophy in the first place. Probably should have expected it from a guy who rarely shows up to a premiere out of character and who Bisquick-bombed Ryan Seacrest at the Oscars, but it bloomed from the exact kind of saccharine moment audiences have come to expect at awards shows. “I’d like to say a few words to her family: Do not try to sue me. If you decide to get the lawyers involved, I will take you down just like I did your granny. The cane that woman forced on me was clearly defective and I’ve got lots of witnesses. At least 400 in this room and at least 500 watching on TV. Anyway, tonight is not about her, it’s about me.”
George Clooney’s acceptance of the Stanley Kubrick Award for Excellence in Film was not hazardous to anyone’s health except possibly his own. When asked on the red carpet before the show how it felt to be at the age where people start giving you prizes celebrating your body of work, he lamented, “It starts to worry me. That’s ‘just before you’re dead’ kind of stuff. They know something that I don’t know. They know my doctor.”
Once on stage, he wistfully added, “It all goes by in the wink of an eye, so before we get much older let me say thank you. I’ve easily failed as much as I’ve succeeded and it’s the best way to understand success so that when we have a night like this, you can appreciate it. I rather famously don’t have children. Yes that I know of, but I do have a family of actors, directors and writers and, god forbid, agents, studios and journalists and I’ve been given great opportunities because of all of them. It’s a long way from Return of the Killer Tomatoes to this stage.”
The other tributes to and acceptance speeches by Benedict Cumberbatch, Sir Ben Kingsley, Kathryn Bigelow, and Idris Elba also stuck to a more standard blueprint of what we’ve come to expect at nights like these which presenter Jason Isaacs affectionately nicknamed “orgies of fluffing” — a few friendly cracks (Gary Oldman in the Cumberbatch reel: “Can an actor’s name be longer than Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy?”), a handful of anecdotes to humanize their good looks and marquee names, glowing praise of their creative output, gratitude to parents, agents and wives with the order depending on the recipient (Cumberbatch admitted his golden goodie would likely end up on his “strong-willed mum’s mantelpiece”), and effusive appreciation for the recognition.
“I really am overwhelmed. I’m not just pretending to be,” choked out Kingsley after listening to Shohreh Aghdashloo and Sigourney Weaver recount their on-set experiences with the Oscar winner and before dedicating his Albert R. Broccoli Britannia for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment to the “extraordinary younger generation of actors, the gladiators and poets of the 21st century.” He continued, “They’ve walked onto the set and participated with joy, dignity and astonishing depth of imagination. Know that to tell a story is to heal someone somewhere. Your vulnerability is your greatest strength.”
And, of course, there are tears of gratitude. Even The Wire’s Stringer Bell welled up when Nelson Mandela’s daughter Zindzi said she’s proud of how he portrayed her father in the upcoming film Long Walk to Freedom and über-humanitarian Sean Penn praises your charitable work with the Prince’s Trust and at-risk youth in your East London hometown. “The Prince’s Trust helped me out when I was 15, gave me 1,500 quid so I could travel with a show, so it is really fantastic, special actually, to get this award for working with them,” Elba told EW exclusively before the show. “My life would have been so different had I not gotten the help. I probably wouldn’t be in here, in Hollywood today. Not to get too corny, but it makes me feel like dreams come true. Things go round full circle.”
The Rob Brydon-hosted show, which also features in-person appearances by a barefoot Julia Roberts (She cracked as she gave the evening’s last award around 10:30 to pal Clooney: “I am normally in my second REM cycle by now so let’s do this!), Salma Hayek, Judd Apatow, Alice Eve, Jennifer Ehle, Ralph Fiennes, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, aired on November 10th on BBC America at 9 p.m. ET.