by hilary stunda | June 1, 2010 | People
To celebrate its 31st birthday, Aspen Film hosted in October the premiere screening of what became one of the most talked about films of the year: Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, which received the Sundance Audience and Grand Jury Prize awards and, eventually, a 2010 Oscar nod for Best Picture. After the Aspen screening, actress Paula Patton was honored with the Artist to Watch Award for her finely nuanced and pivotal role in the film.
Amid the bleakness of the grim life of heroine Claireece Jones—otherwise known as Precious, she’s an illiterate, 350-pound 16-year-old from Harlem who has been expelled from school for being pregnant—there is a sliver of hope in Patton’s character, tough-love teacher Ms. Blu Rain. (Patton took inspiration for the role from her mother, a veteran schoolteacher of 30 years.)
Patton countered the film’s harrowing denouement with the essence of chic, accepting her award at the Wheeler Opera House in head-to-toe Dior before answering audience questions. “I did the story because I love it,” she said. “It was cathartic. All of us have felt invisible before; all of us have looked in the mirror once and not liked what we saw. All of us, if we’re honest, have seen a Precious before and judged her.”
An intimate VIP dinner followed at Gisella and would prove the enchanting Patton is surprisingly
down to earth. Joined by her mother and her husband, singer-songwriter Robin Thicke (who wrote the movie’s theme music), Patton was greeted by a mélange of friends and Aspen influentials, including Toby Lewis, Esther Pearlstone, Aspen Film executive director Laura Thielen, Lionsgate publicist Michael Farmer, Dior’s Esa Ricard and Aspen Filmfest benefactor and filmmaker Suzanne Niedland De George. Patton shared an impressive family-style Italian dinner of shrimp, steak, ravioli, asparagus, green beans, scallops and semifreddo for dessert.
Conversation flowed absent any pretense or ego from Patton. Growing up across the street from the 20th Century Fox lot, she studied film at the University of Southern California prior to making PBS documentaries and producing segments for the Discovery Health Channel. Her dream, however, was acting, so she began taking lessons. Within three years she landed parts in several major features: Hitch, Idlewild and Déjà Vu (as the female lead opposite Denzel Washington).
Her worldly mother sat next to me at dinner. Important topics pervaded our conversation, issues unrelated to the celebrity world her daughter lived in. Patton is not, and will never be, a Hollywood cliché. Her mother will make sure of that.
“What’s beautiful about this movie is at the end, hopefully, your heart is open and you have more compassion,” said Patton. Ms. Blu Rain couldn’t have said it any better.
FROM TOP: Patton and Aspen Film executive director Laura Thielen at the Wheeler Opera House; Patton with husband Robin Thicke
photographs by steve mundinger (thielen); riccardo savi (thicke)