He's not looking at the bigger picture

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Reporters kept the tone sober and serious when Sean Penn stepped backstage to answer questions after his male actor in a leading role win for "Milk" — probably because Penn affected that tone himself. The actor said that despite all the social relevance of Harvey Milk and the ongoing fight for gay rights, he saw his part in the biopic as smaller than that. "I can't personally approach my work in a way, as an actor, where I'm speculating about the bigger movements. Politics and movies, for example, come from emotion as well as nonpolitical movies," he said. Giving a shout-out to Gus Van Sant and Dustin Lance Black's script, Penn said: "It's filmmaking and writing that I think are making this thing work. A lot of failed movies have been made of great stories, also."

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The stars of "Slumdog Millionaire" — who took home the prize for best cast in a motion picture — might be suddenly famous, but they're as much in awe of other celebs as the next guy. Dev Patel had a weird moment on the SAG Awards red carpet: He saw Kate Winslet and fulfilled a childhood dream. "I remember when I was a little kid watching ('Titanic') in the theater with my mum," Patel said. "It was the first movie I cried at. She was my first love, Kate Winslet — and she knew who I was!" … Co-star Anil Kapoor, meanwhile — who said the appeal of the underdog romance was " 'Rocky' meets 'Titanic' " — told of how he spotted Angelina Jolie on the red carpet and begged co-star Irrfan Khan, who had acted with Jolie in "A Mighty Heart," to introduce him to the her. Khan was hesitant, saying that in America you just didn't walk up to stars unannounced. "Go be an Indian and introduce me!" Kapoor responded.

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After winning for female actor in a supporting role, Kate Winslet noted that playing the part of illiterate Nazi guard Hanna Schmitz in "The Reader" might have been the most difficult role she has ever undertaken. "When I was asked to play Hannah, I couldn't find anything in my own life to compare to," she said. "I didn't like her all the time, and it was hard coming to place I could understand her." Winslet, who also was nominated in the lead actress category for her role as a repressed housewife in "Revolutionary Road," said that her time on the kudos circuit has not yet paid dividends. "I'm so bad at this," she said. "I wish there were lessons in award season because clearly I'm still learning."

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The cast of NBC's "30 Rock" has polished its backstage podium sarcasm bit. "An imminent tidal wave of backlash" is how star and writer Tina Fey described the reaction of the group's sweep through awards season. Judah Friedlander riffed on evolving technologies, saying he hopes screens get bigger, while Fey said she hopes they get smaller "because I look better when they're smaller."

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An inordinate amount of questions for the cast of AMC's "Mad Men," which won best ensemble in a drama series, seemed to focus on the uncharacteristically floppy hair of star Jon Hamm. "A piece of the set fell on my hair, and I had seven stitches, but my hair did not move," he said of his locks' sturdy strength on the show. Fellow cast member Elisabeth Moss was forced into a bit of corner when someone asked her which cast members were coming to her wedding; she quickly said it would be private and small. "But it will have all the people I love," she said.

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Laura Linney, who won for playing the first lady in HBO's "John Adams," was humbled at the inauguration Tuesday. "I was at the podium closest to the first family and the Bidens," she said. "I couldn't look over for very long. It's like looking at the sun."

Compiled by Steven Zeitchik and Borys Kit
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