Nicole Kidman, Andrew Garfield, Lady Gaga and More Open Up About Early Awards Season Honors

ET had exclusive access to this year's most-nominated stars during the Palm Springs International Film Awards.

Awards season 2022 is officially underway! Following this week's announcement of the Golden Globes winners and Screen Actors Guild Awards nominees, Hollywood is buzzing with recognition for some of the best performances of the year.

It's a big year for biopics, and 2022 frontrunners include Nicole Kidman, who portrays comedy legend Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos, Will Smith, who takes the tennis court as Venus and Serena Williams' headstrong father in King Richard, Andrew Garfield, who showcases unexpected musical talent as Rent mastermind Jonathan Larson in tick, tick...Boom! and Kristen Stewart, who channels Diana, Princess of Wales, in the twisty, psychological Spencer.

COVID-related precautions have so far forced some of this year's ceremonies to delay -- keep track of all your awards season schedules with ET's handy guide -- but from here, it's a straight shot towards the 94th Academy Awards on March 27, where Hollywood's biggest honors will be celebrated with that coveted golden statuette.

ET had exclusive access to many of the 2022 frontrunners as they were honored during this year's Palm Springs International Film Awards. Read on to hear firsthand how the stars feel about their lauded performances and all the awards recognition headed their way this season.

Nicole Kidman - Being the Ricardos

Likely the frontrunner for Best Actress this season, following her win at the Golden Globes, Nicole Kidman received the Career Achievement Award from this year's Palm Springs International Film Awards, and marveled at the honor while insisting she's nowhere close to slowing down.

"I still have incredible passion for what I do," explained the actress, who turns in a stunning performance as comedy legend Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos. "I'm still completely enamored with the work. It's that simple."

Kidman got her start with acting as a teenager in Australia, before breaking through on the international stage in the late '80s, and she is magnanimous as ever when it comes to reflecting on her nearly 40-year career.

"It's been a slow build since I was 14, and it's had its ups and downs," she shared. "I've worked with the greatest directors, greatest actors, greatest writers in the world. As any actor will tell you we're only as good as the people around us... but the one thing I've been dedicated to with this is actually trying to always not get pigeonholed and find different avenues to to express what I have inside and find those people that are willing to mine that from me."

In Ricardos, that person was writer-director Aaron Sorkin, who Kidman credits with convincing her to take on the daunting role.

"I'm just so grateful that Aaron Sorkin went, 'No, I think you can do it,' because there was a major part of me that was like, 'I don't think I can do this,'" she recalled. "That very much has been a lot of my career, is people believing far more even than myself that I could do it, and then throwing me incredible support."

"To be having the opportunity to play Lucille Ball at this stage of my life, with this kind of writing, opposite Javier [Bardem], with all of these actors who are top of the top, I'm still going, 'Wow is this actually my life and is this my career and do I have the chance to go and do this? OK I better not let anybody down,'" she continued. "Show up and really be grateful and then hopefully coming in with a huge amount of preparation, passion and dedication."

READ MORE: Nicole Kidman Shares the Message She's Teaching Her Daughters About Work Ethic (Exclusive)

Will Smith - King Richard

Will Smith turns in a riveting performance in King Richard as Richard Williams, the real-life father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams, and the impactful way that the performances in the Reinaldo Marcus Green-directed film told the story of a father hell-bent on giving his daughters the life and success he never had surprised even the Oscar winner himself.

"I had, secretly in my mind, felt that I would never make anything better than The Pursuit of Happyness, and I never said that out loud, but I felt like I would never make anything better than The Pursuit of Happyness and then I saw King Richard," Smith admitted to ET, referencing his uplifting 2006 biographical drama.

The actor also shared that King Richard felt like a sea change for his career, from movie star to a performer focused on telling stories about "the triumph of the human spirit."

"I want to make stories that make me smile, I want to tell stories that make me cry and I want to tell stories about the triumph of the human spirit and the women of the movement, and King Richard fit in with that. The amount of time we spend on the set and on these things, I don't want to ask anybody, ever to do anything that they're not going to be proud of, for the rest of their life," he added. "So, for me, that's where I am right now, when I call, and I say to people, 'Hey, come with me on this journey,' I want it to be something that is fun. And I want it to contribute to the evolution, and the growth of the consciousness and loving connection between human beings."

Smith and his co-stars accepted the Ensemble Performance Award from the PSIFA, and he marveled at the way the cast "fell into the roles of family and friends" as they navigated filming in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to tell a story that honored the real-life bond of the Williams family.

"The value and the importance of the story, to have Venus and Serena and the Williams family on set with us, it felt like we were doing something that had true value," he added. "It was things that we all agreed with, just as human beings, that we wanted to say, and we wanted to put into the world. And it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my career."

READ MORE: Will Smith Never Thought He'd Make Anything Better Than 'The Pursuit of Happyness' Until 'King Richard'

Kristen Stewart - Spencer

Another performer who took on a daunting real-life role, Kristen Stewart's turn as Diana, Princess of Wales, in the twisty, dramatized Spencer provided an insightful look at who the late royal may have been, while also showcasing the actress in a impressive new light. 

"So many associations that we have with her are sad, because of how much we loved her," Stewart told ET of playing Diana. "I think that what really resonated with me are actually the more joyful times that we had making this movie. It was so joy-packed, and that is the shadow that she left behind. Just to step into that light is something that I never have even come close to, and I had the best time doing it."

Stewart credited director Pablo Larrain's "kinda wild and unique vision" with allowing her to have fun in performing the character, even though Spencer showcases a fictionalized look at some of Diana's darkest days.

"The most resounding takeaway that I have from making this movie was probably how how big and how small I felt as her. I've never felt so big and so small at the same time," she recalled. "There are certain impactful and touching people that exist, and they're sort of lightning in a bottle, one-in-a million-special, but their inner lives are maybe not sometimes what it feels like for everyone outside."

Though shockingly snubbed from the SAG Awards nominations, Stewart is still a frontrunner for Best Actress at the Academy Awards, a concept she has a hard time wrapping her head around. "I can't even imagine it, to be honest," the actress said, admitting that she's unsure whether or not she's an "Oscar person."

"You wanna connect to the most people you can through doing a movie, that's why we make them," she continued. "I've just been working for so long, and I love what I do. What a stunning, like, completely kinda surreal opportunity to do something that feels so true to you and so of the moment and reflective of something that inspires you in history, and then just sorta blast it out, universally... It's already been such a wild ride."

READ MORE: Kristen Stewart Talks Princess Diana, 'Twilight's New Popularity and Upcoming Wedding (Exclusive)

Andrew Garfield - tick, tick...BOOM!

It's hard to say which was the bigger surprise this year when it comes to Andrew Garfield's career: his return as Peter Parker in Spider-Man: No Way Home, or his tour de force portrayal of Jonathan Larson in tick, tick... BOOM! -- showcasing musical skills even he wasn't sure he had upon being cast.

For Garfield, however, telling the story of Larson's life as a struggling artist in New York City, leading up to a breakthrough with Rent that he tragically didn't live to see, was a "universal' emotional journey for anyone who's ever tried to put their life into their art.

"I remember the first time we screened the film for a SAG audience... I remember being in the hallway before we were gonna do the Q&A after, and I was with Lin and the rest of the company, and I turned to Lin and said, 'I have a feeling this is gonna be a special night,'" he recalled when speaking to ET. "Because everyone in that audience, this is their story. Everyone who has ever held a SAG card, everyone who has ever been audacious to follow their own dream -- whether it was artistic or otherwise -- this is their story."

Garfield said that he's loved receiving messages from friends and fans about how they were inspired by his portrayal of Larson -- "the quintessential, devoted artist who could not let go of this very particular, unique thread that pulled him into life, and knew he needed to leave behind all of his giftedness," he calls him. However, the film also came at an intensely emotional time for the actor, who lost his mother, Lynn, to pancreatic cancer just before production began.

"I was able to put my mother's song, my mother's unfinished, half-finished song right next to Jonathan's unfinished, half-finished songs," he said of filming in a wake of such personal tragedy. "That personal connection, I think, again, it's what makes all stories, all art, so universal. The fact that what Jonathan has to allow for, what he has to understand and be initiated to in the course of this story, is this acceptance that life has to include loss. It has to include loss and awareness and a knowledge of the finite nature of the amount of breaths that we get to have here, the amount of love that we get to share here, the amount of tender, finite moments that we get to live."

Garfield's press tour for tick, tick...BOOM! has been loaded with a similar amount of raw, emotional veracity, and it's impossible not to see it onscreen as well, as Larson leaves his heart on the stage of the New York Theatre Workshop.

"The thing that's chasing all of us, that actually is what makes life as meaningful as it can be, if we allow ourselves the privilege of our grief, the privilege to remember that this is temporary... and that there is no way of living a life of meaning without that," Garfield marveled, sharing how he channeled the intense emotion throughout the course of Larson's story, which, of course, also ends in tragedy.

"For me, simple the fact that I got to sing for my mother, that I got to sing her across the river, that I got to keep singing -- that I wish she could be here herself to sing, but in lieu of that, I will do my best to sing it for her  -- and to have her song kind of sung on the river of Jonathan Larson songs, I feel that's quite beautiful and quite moving," he added. "And I'm just incredibly grateful."

READ MORE: Andrew Garfield Talks Sneaking Into 'Spider-Man' Screenings With Tobey Maguire (Exclusive)

Lady Gaga - House of Gucci

Everyone already knew Lady Gaga was an icon, but for the performer, receiving PSIFA's Icon Award for her work in film means something totally different.

"I think about all the awards I've won over the years, and the way I've always wanted to be an actress, and I'm here now receiving this award and keep thinking to myself how grateful I am that it's for a character. For a real person, that I chose to play in a particular way," she told ET while accepting the honor.

Gaga puts forth an iconic turn in House of Gucci, portraying real-life Italian socialite Patrizia Reggiani, who infamously was convicted of hiring a hitman to kill her husband, fashion heir Maurizio Gucci.

"Patrizia is someone that was notorious in Italy and is now known much more around the world for this role," she said of inhabiting the film's antihero. "And there was a way to tell this story that it was a woman using her body and manipulation to get what she wanted, a woman that used greed, a woman that gave herself into murder and scandal for money.

"But when I read about her and I researched her," she continued, "I realized inside Patrizia was the story of many women, and to receive an Icon Award for that is extremely meaningful to me."

As an Icon Award recipient, Gaga is in rarefied air, joining fellow honorees like Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and more. If she receives another Best Actress nomination for her House of Gucci role, she'll also join them as a multiple Oscar nominee, a position she does not take lightly.

"I feel very blessed to be in this company, and I also feel very validated as an artist. To be in the company of these actors is tremendous," she shared. "But I would like to repeat myself again that everyone [honored with this award] also was birthed by a community of artists... It’s the camera people, and the grips, and our directors. It's the scripts, it's the screenplay writers, it’s wardrobe, it’s hair, it’s makeup, it’s the family and the community that’s all there for one purpose, and that's to make the public smile."

While Gaga did tease to ET that she has plans in the works for her next project, the parting note she most wanted to express was appreciation and solidarity for her family, friends and fans all around the world, noting that her moment of celebration comes at an incredibly challenging time for many.

"This was an absolutely amazing experience, and I just wish I could hug the whole world right now for what everybody's going through," she shared. "I just feel really blessed that I get to make what I love during a time that is so difficult... People watch TV at home, I think, and think that we don't live in the same world, but I live in the same world as you if you're watching, and I see what's happening, and I love you."

READ MORE: Lady Gaga Reveals Oscar Winner She Wants to Work With Next, Recalls Moment She Knew She'd Made It (Exclusive)

Denzel Washington - The Tragedy of MacBeth

It's an anecdote that's famous now, but it's still impressive to note that Denzel Washington had never seen a performance of Macbeth before agreeing to take on the legendary Shakespeare role in Joel Coen's adaptation, The Tragedy of Macbeth.

So why did he do it? "Because Joel Coen asked me," Washington told ET flat out, noting that the chance to work with the lauded "Coen brother" in his first solo directorial effort was too good to pass up. "Because it's Joel Coen and Frances McDormand and William Shakespeare and that's the reason."

It does seem a fool-proof formula for success -- the trio of Coen, McDormand and Washington have nine Oscar wins between them. And for Washington, who has the pick of the litter when it comes to projects, it was a no-brainer.

"You can be at the top of the heap, but you can sometimes be there by yourself," he noted. "So to be asked from a director who's on top of the heap, and an actress who's on top of the heap, if they wanna collaborate then that was, you know, they made me an offer that I couldn't refuse."

An Oscar nomination and win for Macbeth could be historic for Washington -- he is already the Black actor with the most nominations of all time, by far, and could become the first Black actor ever to win three times -- but, ever the pragmatist, he declined to comment on the possibility just yet: "Well, let's let it happen first."

READ MORE: Denzel Washington Recalls How Sidney Poitier Encouraged Him to Continue Acting (Exclusive)

Jennifer Hudson - Respect

"It already feels like having received an award just being chosen to play her, and to live my dream to do it," Jennifer Hudson told ET of portraying Aretha Franklin in the lauded biopic Respect.

It's far from hyperbole. Hudson wasn't just cast in the film, she was hand-selected by the Queen of Soul herself, just before her death in 2018, to take on her complicated and triumphant story. "Receiving an award for it is like the cherry on the top," continued the actress and singer, who was celebrated by the PSIFA with their Chairman's Award. "It is something I do not take lightly. I feel like we all put our hearts, every bit of our energy, into this project to pay homage to her legacy, and so this is just a reminder of that, that I get to look at and cherish with that in mind."

Hudson admitted that taking on the role was "daunting" and a "huge assignment," but it meant a lot to her to pay tribute to Franklin as a strong woman and powerful artist.

"I can breathe now, because it's an exciting thing when you get that opportunity, but when it's time to actually do it? Whew, it can be very scary," she recalled. "You think of the icon and the legacy that she has just bestowed upon all of us. It's something that we all cherish and treasure, that we want to maintain and respect and upkeep and all of that, so this [award] is like a breath of fresh air... It's something you know, to uphold her memory and honor."

In fact, Hudson's casting may have even been fated. The actress and singer first stepped into the spotlight as a finalist on season 3 of American Idol, way back in 2004. And what song did she sing during her audition? "Share Your Love With Me," by... Aretha Franklin.

"That's the thing, no one can dream as big as you do," Hudson marveled. "No one knows your potential the way you do, you know what I mean? I always had my visions for myself, my dreams and my goals for myself. As long as I stayed with that, and I stayed on that track, I couldn't be concerned with what other people thought I wasn't gonna do."

"That's where my saying comes from, 'You will always see me try,'" she added. "It's all in doing what I love to do, and I've just been blessed to be able to do that and to be here almost 20 years [after American Idol]... is a blessing, and to receive an award, no, the Chairman's award, from a film society is like, come on, incredible."

READ MORE: Jennifer Hudson on Acclaim for 'Respect' and the Possibility of Getting Her Own Talk Show (Exclusive)

Jessica Chastain - The Eyes of Tammy Faye

For Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye was far more than just another part. The two-time Oscar nominee stepped into a new role this year, producing both her female action team-up flick, The 355, and her biopic about the titular Christian televangelist and her husband, Jim Bakker.

"I felt so passionately and so moved by a story that I worked very hard to help bring it to fruition," Chastain told ET of purchasing Tammy Faye's life rights and shepherding the project. "To have it come out and to be received the way it's been received, it's been so meaningful to me. Not only in terms of acting, because I learned so much in playing her, but in terms of like, righting the wrong."

The Bakkers were prominent televangelists in the '70s and '80s, founding their own Christian news program, The PTL Club, that made big money out of boisterous ministry. However, in recent decades, the pair are remembered as little more than a punchline. Jim was jailed on fraud and conspiracy charges stemming from PTL's questionable finances in 1989, and Tammy Faye became best known for her TV appearances, gaudy lifestyle and heavy makeup, a caricature of the woman Chastain learned she really was.

"I think that we had done this injustice to Tammy, like, how she had been remembered," Chastain said, noting that for her, the film was about "really acknowledging the incredible things she did, but also the beginning of my career as someone as who creates projects as a producer and what I am putting out into the world. So it's really, really important and very meaningful to me."

In truth, Tammy Faye was perhaps a more controversial figure for the ways in which she strayed from the traditional Evangelical cloth. She refused to denounce homosexuals and publicly urged support for HIV/AIDS patients in the '80s -- a time when the disease was decimating the LGBTQ community but still a taboo topic for many Americans, particularly conservatives.

For Chastain, folding all of the real woman's contradictions into her onscreen persona was a difficult, but rewarding experience. "I grew up being afraid of religion," she admitted. "I grew up being afraid of an organization that may tell some people that they're worthy and some people that they're not. And she really went against that, and actually, in some sense, studying her brought me closer to grace."

"I definitely feared it but also... I love playing characters that are very complex, that have a lot of flaws," the actress admitted. "So I was really looking for like the seediest stuff I could find, and then in reality of the seven years that I had to study her before we ended up on set, it really became clear to me that she was someone who believed that everyone was deserving of love and everyone should be acknowledged and valued and seen as equal for that."

"That was really illuminating for me," she added. "And it stuck with me too, how our traumas of the past shape who we are and stick with us and how hard it is to kind of break a chain of what we know. And the fact that she had just been seeking love and validation her whole life, and for Tammy, to be seen was to be loved, and to be loved was to be close to God. She saw love and grace as the same thing."

READ MORE: Inside Jessica Chastain's 7-Hour Transformation for 'The Eyes of Tammy Faye' (Exclusive)