Prince William and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, arrive at Los Angeles… (Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images )
For newlywed royals Prince William and Catherine, there's no evading the limelight. So in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday night, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will attempt to share it with a group of up-and-coming Britons in the film, television and video-game industries.
As part of the couple's three-day trip to Southern California, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts has organized "Brits to Watch," a black-tie event at the Belasco Theater that will allow 42 young British actors, directors, producers and other professionals to rub elbows with Hollywood executives and celebrities — and thus raise their profiles stateside.
Among those on the guest list are actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who appears in the new Tom Hanks movie "Larry Crowne"; Joe Cornish, writer-director of the upcoming Sony Screen Gems release, "Attack the Block"; and composer David Buckley, who worked on "The Town."
Many Americans may think of BAFTA as the British version of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — an impression the organization's chief executive, Amanda Berry, says is "probably right and wrong."
Like the academy, BAFTA has its own annual awards program that honors British films during a glitzy ceremony every February. But BAFTA — which was founded in 1947, 20 years after the academy — also represents "the three pillars of the moving image," including TV and video gaming, Berry said. That means BAFTA members come from all three fields, and the group has awards to honor individuals from each industries.
And unlike the academy, which is headed by industry veteran Tom Sherak, BAFTA has a decidedly more high-profile president: William himself.
In February 2010, William was elected the fifth president of BAFTA, following in a line of royalty to take the position. (BAFTA's first president in 1959 was William's grandfather, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.) But because he must balance his royal duties as well as his service in the Royal Air Force, William mainly serves as a figurehead for BAFTA.
"What he does for us is when he can attend an event he absolutely does, and he couldn't be doing more for us this weekend being part of this event," Berry said. "He's very philanthropic, so we meet regularly to try to support each other. He's lovely and a very down-to-earth, easy individual to get on with."
William does receive DVDs of the films nominated for BAFTA's film awards, Berry said, though he does not vote. When asked whether he was more a "The King's Speech" or "The Hangover" type of guy, Berry said she was unsure about the duke's taste in movies.
On Saturday evening, William will open the event with what Berry described as an instructional speech in which he will speak about "what he hopes to achieve for the evening." Then he and the duchess will meet briefly in a private reception area with the 42 honorees.
Afterward, the lucky handful of comers — more than half of whom were flown in for the event from Britain — will mingle with 275 of Hollywood's elite. BAFTA approached U.S. TV networks and studios in an effort to get them to attend the event; tables were priced at $25,000 each. Any profits from the event will go toward creating BAFTA scholarships, Berry said, speaking from the organization's L.A. outpost, which has 1,200 members and holds various Hollywood events such as tea parties and award ceremonies annually.
"Some of the people we're honoring have more credits who are just starting to have an international career, but many are students we've identified with a real spark," she explained. "Directors will sit next to directors, actors will sit with actors, and hopefully they'll make introductions. We've given them all briefing packets and they're very excited. We've got the most fantastic industry audience in the room that it's a real opportunity for them to meet inspirational people who can impact their careers."