LOS ANGELES — Before the Golden Globes Champagne, there is the BAFTA tea.
The Los Angeles branch of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts held its 18th annual Awards Season Tea Party Saturday, where a slew of Golden Globe nominees sipped Earl Grey and nibbled on finger sandwiches and scones with jam and cream.
Michelle Williams, Viola Davis, Meryl Streep and Charlize Theron — all up for best actress Sunday — mingled with fellow filmmakers and nominees at the afternoon affair at the Four Seasons Hotel, also home to a gift suite and beauty lounge leading up to the Golden Globes.
The place was alight with stars. While the BAFTA tea party was going on in the hotel ballroom, Gilles Marini and Anne Heche collected swag at the HBO Luxury Lounge upstairs and Malin Ackerman and her stepmom got dolled up at the InStyle Beauty Lounge on a private outdoor patio.
Theron was already picture perfect when she arrived at the BAFTA party — so perfect, in fact, that supporting actress nominee Octavia Spencer was afraid to get too close.
"I don't want to mess up your face," Spencer said as she embraced Theron on the red carpet.
"Mess me up, honey. Mess me up," the "Young Adult" star said as she gave Spencer a squeeze.
Spencer, a working actress for 15 years before her breakout role in "The Help," said the response to the film and ensuing awards journey has been "surreal."
"Steven Spielberg had a conversation with me and when he walked away from the table, I started crying, because it's (meeting) people who've inspired me," she said. "The fact that I am, for these next couple weeks, getting to rub elbows with them — This coach is going to turn into a pumpkin in the next couple weeks, so I am living it up."
Spencer sat with her co-stars inside as BAFTA/LA chairman Neil Stiles implored guests to raise their glasses and wish "the best of British luck" to the various nominees. Also toasting were "The Artist" stars Berenice Bejo and Jean Dujardin, "Hugo" stars Sir Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz, "Ides of March" star Evan Rachel Wood and Emily Watson of "War Horse."
Supporting actor contender Kenneth Branagh (for "My Week With Marilyn") said the BAFTA tea is part of the road to the Golden Globes.
"You enjoy every little bit of the journey that marks the way," he said. "There's a little ritual getting ready for tomorrow night.
"The day is one long preparation, so by the time you get inside that room, you can't help but be swept up with the adrenaline — not only for the involvement with your own movie if you're lucky enough to be nominated, but just everyone else. You see amazing people across a crowded room, and the sense of celebrating the good things the movie business does is what it's all about."
The 69th annual Golden Globe Awards will be presented Sunday at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and broadcast live on NBC.
AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen is on Twitter: www.twitter.com/APSandy .