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SAG Awards focus on honors, not issues

Actors leave guild politics aside for ceremony

For the night of the SAG Awards, at least, warring factions within Hollywood's largest guild called a truce long enough to don the gowns and tuxedoes and pat one another on the back.

Still, the "pink elephant in the room," as one reporter phrased it backstage, was lumbering around the Shrine Auditorium.

As stars of television and film trod the red carpet into the show, several had comments about the internecine strife and the possibility that the ceremony would be politicized by presenters, winners or protesters.

"I'm totally against it," said Jobeth Williams, a SAG board member and chair of the SAG Awards show committee. "I mean, people can say whatever they want to say. I've asked that national board members not get involved. We work very hard every year to keep the show nonpolitical. Tonight is a night that we all somehow manage to come together."

The guild's civil war bubbled into the SAG Awards a few weeks ago when an anonymous e-mail was forwarded by board member Frances Fisher suggesting that guild voters could punish nominated actors who publicly had supported the anti-strike-authorization vote movement by not voting for them. Those named included Michael C. Hall, Josh Brolin, Susan Sarandon and Steve Carell.

With evocations of the House Un-American Activities Committee blacklist reverberating, Fisher apologized, but the incident clearly was fresh in attendees' minds Sunday. Tony Shalhoub, who lost the male actor in a comedy series award to Alec Baldwin, another targeted nominee, was "stung, initially" by the e-mail.

"It just seemed like, especially in terms of the awards, it shouldn't be about politics at all," Shalhoub said before the ceremony. "Every member of the union is allowed a vote, and for some people to dictate what that vote should be is just wrongheaded -- it defeats the purpose of having a vote. I'm confident that this is all going to work out in the not-too-distant future; I feel positive about it. My fondest hope is that we revisit all these issues in a couple of years."

His wife, actress Brooke Adams, was equally surprised. "I thought Frances Fisher was a friend, actually!" she said, and laughed. "So it was very bizarre. It's what's going on now; there's this whole thing: If you're a successful actor, you're not a serious SAG member, and you're an elitist. If they keep doing that, they're not going to have any successful actors in SAG."

Embattled SAG president Alan Rosenberg, at the center of the hurricane that is the guild's protracted bargaining, also was in attendance and managed to get inside the ballroom without incident.

"Physically I'm not feeling that well, but I'm happy and glad to be here celebrating," he said on the red carpet. Rosenberg said he wouldn't be doing any campaigning and didn't expect others to be, either.

This night "is about celebrating what we do and what we have in common, rather than what divides us." .

During his onstage moment, Rosenberg used the forum to commend unions in general and thank the other Hollywood guilds, such as the WGA, DGA, IATSE and AFTRA, with whom SAG has been in conflict during the past year. Otherwise, though, he kept his word.

Intentional or not, during the ceremony there was a pointed moment in an early montage of memorable screen work when a clip of Heath Ledger as the Joker appeared, with Ledger intoning, "If you're good at something, never do it for free." Take that, AMPTP.

Despite the brouhaha, the controversy seemed to have no effect on the winners as Baldwin and Sally Field won their respective categories. Field made it a point to outline her family's long-standing association with the guild, but more common was Hugh Laurie's innocuous speech, during which he thanked the caterers on "House" for their unparalleled cheesy eggs.