“I have this notebook. I’m about 12 and I’ve got a notebook, and I watch all these shows and write down the winners in all of the categories,” Saturday Night Live star Kate McKinnon remembers, beginning an intense childhood love affair with awards shows. “In every category at all the Oscars, the Globes, the Emmys. . . . Because I was really so interested in the entertainment industry.”
McKinnon’s co-host for Saturday’s Film Independent Spirit Awards, Silicon Valley’sKumail Nanjiani, had a similar obsession growing up in Pakistan. “I loved the Oscars and I had V.H.S. tapes for the Oscars, and I used to watch them over and over. There was probably one year where I watched it like 20 times or something.”
These childhood fascinations aren’t a prerequisite for being a good M.C., but it certainly can’t hurt Nanjiani and McKinnon as they head into this, their first job as hosts of a major awards show. Held every year on the Saturday before the Oscars, the low-key ceremony where awards-season staples like Carol and Spotlight will go up against edgier fare like Anomalisa, Beasts of No Nation, and Tangerine is the perfect starter gig.
“Well, they’re in a tent in Santa Monica,” McKinnon says, explaining why she thinks this show will be particularly fun. “They’re during the day, people are drinking. And it supports independent filmmaking, which I think is naturally a wilder frontier where you can kind of do anything you want and take big risks.” Nanjiani agrees, “I think this is more like a casual, laid-back vibe as opposed to the Oscars, so that’s why I was excited to do it. You could sort of do weirder, maybe a little bit, looser stuff.” But when asked if she was nervous about anything specifically, McKinnon deadpanned, “Yes, hosting the ceremony. Other than that, it’s all cake.”
The Indie Spirit Awards may be looser, weirder, and wilder than the Oscars, but many of the same awards-season luminaries attend both shows and that, Nanjiani says, isn’t exactly inspiring him to take a page out of Ricky Gervais’s hosting book. “I mean, who will we make fun of? I don’t want to make jokes about Meryl Streep.She seems lovely and wonderful. I don’t want to do that and I don’t think Kate wants to do that. I think we just want to have fun and be funny and talk about the movies we like. We’d rather be sort of weird and funny than mean.”
Both hosts have been busy brushing up on the films in contention. “I’m just watching these epics and sobbing my eyes out every night,” McKinnon jokes. “It makes you think and feel so much that I can’t wait for it to be over, frankly.” Though Nanjiani heaped praise on Oscar contenders like Room and Spotlight, he reserved some passion support for Tangerine. The low-budget film about the adventures of two Los Angeles transgender sex workers was shot entirely on iPhones and seems to be the paradigm of modern independent filmmaking. “I think that’s very inspiring,” Nanjiani says. “They’re taking excuses away from everybody. ‘I don’t have a camera.’ Well, neither did they and they made a really amazing movie.”
Nanjiani also lauds Tangerine for giving audiences “protagonists that you don’t usually see” underlining another way the Film Independent Spirit Awards distinguish themselves from the Oscars. With nominees like Mediterranea’s Koudous Seihon, Beasts of No Nation’s Abraham Attah and Idris Elba,Tangerine’s transgender actresses Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, and Beasts director Cary Joji Fukunaga in the mix, this is one awards show that will never be accused of being “so white.” When asked if they plan to touch on the controversy surrounding the Oscars, Nanjiani said, “I’m sure we will, just because it is really funny.”
Like hosts Fred Armisen and Kristen Bell did with Birdman last year, Nanjiani and McKinnon have pre-taped a spoof of one of the nominated films, though they won’t say which. And though this may be their first time hosting, both McKinnon and Nanjiani have plenty of experience attending awards shows—McKinnon has three Emmy nominations for Saturday Night Live and Nanjiani’s HBO series has been nominated for several Emmys and two Golden Globes. When asked if that made them more sympathetic to hopeful nominees, Nanjiani quipped, “I know the subtext here is ‘You lost a bunch of times!’”
But McKinnon’s sympathy for both winners and losers stretches all the way back to her childhood as an awards-show obsessive when she used to practice acceptance speeches “with a candle, because that’s all I could find. I would practice crying. Like, what would be my tear line and what political statement would I make?” Nanjiani and McKinnon may not be in contention for an award at this show, but there’s plenty of room for tears (unlikely!) and political statements (likely!) when the Film Independent Spirit Awards air live on IFC Saturday at five P.M. E.S.T.