Sundance: Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Keaton Movies Premiere Without Either Actor in Attendance

Ramin Setoodeh

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On the second night of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, two high-profile dramas premiered to packed houses at the Eccles Theater — but neither of them had a seat reserved for their lead actors.

Ironbark,” a historical drama about a mild-mannered businessman turned spy for the British government during the Cold War, didn’t have its star Benedict Cumberbatch in attendance.

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“Worth,” the story of a lawyer in charge of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, was also missing its leading man Michael Keaton.

Both actors are overseas filming other projects during Sundance. However, they still sent word through two different mediums.

Cumberbatch, who is in New Zealand shooting Jane Campion’s film “The Power of the Dog,” recorded a short video that played before his movie. “I have always wanted to go to Sundance,” he said in the message, shot against the backdrop of green shrubs. “I really hope you enjoy ‘Ironbark.’ Know that my thoughts are with with you.”

Keaton, who is in Romania making the action movie “The Asset,” asked his “Worth” co-star Amy Ryan to read prepared remarks before their film screened. “This movie means a lot to me,” Keaton said through Ryan, with a reminder about how the country came together in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks. “This is the story of what simple decency can look like.”

Keaton added: “Enjoy the film. Enjoy Sundance. Go easy on the swag. Peace.”

Both movies, which are based on true stories, are up for sale on the Sundance market, and they are anchored by strong lead performances. Cumberbatch went to great lengths to lose weight, working with a nutritionist and limiting his food intake, to portray Greville Wynne, a man who played a pivotal role in providing intelligence that ended the Cuban Missile Crisis. And following “Birdman” and “Spotlight,” Keaton continues his string of recent strong onscreen turns as Kenneth Feinberg, the Special Master of the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund.

Producers usually try wrangle talent to the snowy mountains of Utah, so they can charm audiences — and buyers — in post-screening Q&As. By doing so, the conventional wisdom holds, they can convince potential distributors that their indies have what it takes to conquer the box office. It’s too early to know who will bid on “Ironbark” or “Worth.”

Even with a quieter Friday night, there will be some star power trekking through the Park City snow. Those guest list for this year’s festival includes Hillary Clinton (the subject of a four-hour Hulu docuseries), Taylor Swift (who premiered her Netflix opening-night documentary “Miss Americana” on Thursday), Andy Samberg (“Palm Springs”) and Kerry Washington (who produced the documentary “The Fight”).

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