SAG's 'Country' cooking

Ensemble joins Day-Lewis, Christie as film winners

There were a few fleeting references to the striking writers who have disrupted Hollywood's awards season, but for the most part it was business as usual at the 14th annual SAG Awards on Sunday.

"No Country for Old Men," the violent, modern-day Western about a drug deal gone bad, took two awards: best motion picture cast and a supporting nod for Javier Bardem. The other film honors went to Daniel Day-Lewis ("There Will Be Blood"), Julie Christie ("Away From Her") and Ruby Dee ("American Gangster").

HBO's "The Sopranos" made it a full circle, ending its awards journey the way it started: with a sweep of the drama series categories at the SAG Awards.

NBC's "The Office" and "30 Rock" split the honors on the comedy side, with "Office" taking best ensemble and "30 Rock" stars Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey winning best actor and actress, respectively.

Despite ominous storm clouds, the rains held off long enough for thespians to walk the red carpet outside the Los Angeles Shrine Expo Center, site of the TNT/TBS broadcast where, in addition to handing out its annual awards, SAG celebrated its 75th anniversary.

Looking back over the history of the actors guild, SAG president Alan Rosenberg said the founders "looked to the writers guild for inspiration," beginning a tradition of "trade solidarity, which extends to today." With that, he called for WGA president Patric Verrone, who was in the audience, to take a bow.

A waiver from the writers guild permitted the show to go on. But while lots of stars turned up, a number did not make it to the event, including winners Baldwin, Kevin Kline and Queen Latifah.

In his remarks, Rosenberg did not mention the writers strike, though. Instead, as if giving a brief history of SAG's own labor disputes, the show included three filmed segments narrated by Blair Underwood, who discussed how SAG worked to improve working conditions for actors in the past. Turning to the present, Underwood said new technologies are changing the business, and, "once again we look to our guild."

Fey, a WGA member and outspoken strike supporter, was one of the few winners to make a reference to the work stoppage. "I want to thank everyone in SAG for being so supportive of the Writers Guild of America," she said.

Jenna Fischer of "The Office" dedicated her show's win to its out-of-work crew members, saying, "We can't wait to go back to work with them." As the evening drew to a close, Julie Christie, best actress winner for "Away From Her" and a longtime activist, said, "It's lovely to receive an award from your union — especially at a time when we are being so forcibly reminded how important unions are."

Mostly, though, presenters kept it lighthearted. "Welcome to the most glamorous and exciting evening in the history of the world," Steve Carell said facetiously as he and Fey kicked off the first presentation.

Josh Brolin spoke on behalf of the "No Country" cast of 47 when that film, produced by Miramax and Paramount Vantage, took the ensemble award.

"It is a risky movie, and it's nice to have risky movies now," he said. Offering his thanks to the Joel and Ethan Coen, the filmmaking team behind the movie, he added, "The Coen brothers are freaky little people, you know. And we did a freaky little movie, whether you like the ending or not."

In accepting his best actor award for playing a ruthless oil baron in "Blood," Day-Lewis offered some of the most heartfelt words of the night as he paid tribute to the late Heath Ledger. He spoke of how the best acting provided him with a sense of regeneration, and he cited Ledger's work in "Monster's Ball" and "Brokeback Mountain."

"That scene in the trailer at the end of ("Brokeback") is as moving as anything that I think I've ever seen," Day-Lewis said. "And I'd like to dedicate this to Heath Ledger."

Accepting her trophy for playing an Alzheimer's victim in "Away From Her," Christie used her time to speak warmly of the movie's writer-director, Sarah Polley. "Without your tenacious direction, and the beautiful words you put into my mouth, in the dialogue, I wouldn't be holding this here," she said. "So, this really does belong to you, and I might allow you a little peek."

Dee, who plays a steely family matriarch in "Gangster," was named best supporting actress in a film. A first-time nominee and respected veteran of stage, screen and TV, Dee hoisted the trophy, saying, "This is my first time holding one of these boys." Thanking the guild, she said she accepted the award in the name of her fellow actor and husband, Ossie Davis, who died three years ago.

Spanish actor Bardem, who took the best supporting actor prize for his performance as an unstoppable killer in "No Country," thanked his American counterparts for welcoming him into their ranks. Noting that the profession has come a long way, he said that "my grandparents were actors at a time when actors weren't allowed to be buried in sacred land because they were homosexuals and prostitutes."

Seven years after the first season of "Sopranos" earned wins for best drama series ensemble and stars James Gandolfini and Edie Falco, the show's final season did the same.

"This is our last official act as 'The Sopranos' together," Gandolfini said onstage and hoisted his trophy toward the table where the show's cast was seated. "Here's to you guys."

In their run on "Sopranos," Gandolfini and Falco always won together at the SAG Awards, also topping both individual categories in 2003.

"I wish for everybody in every walk of life — but particularly for actors — to have an opportunity to have a work experience like I have had, with my family here," an emotional Falco said. "You're not supposed to get this attached because it's a transient business. But I have fallen in love with these people, and I don't know how you walk away from that."

After receiving congratulations at the "Sopranos" table for a few minutes, Gandolfini and Falco made another trip to the stage to accept the show's best drama ensemble award.

It was mostly status quo in the comedy field, with "Office" and Baldwin repeating their ensemble and actor wins from last year.

"We love each other, we love working together and being together," "Office" co-star Fischer said on behalf of her castmates.

Just as she did at the Golden Globes this month, Fey dethroned last year's best actress SAG winner America Ferrera.

In her acceptance speech, Fey was her usual self-deprecating self.

"I thank anyone in the Screen Actors Guild for considering me an actor at all," she said. "If you've seen me on the show with Alec Baldwin, then you know it's sort of like watching Fred Astaire dance with a hat rack. And after a while, you're like, 'Oh, that hat rack is pretty good, too.' So, you've given an award to the hat rack, and I thank you."

SAG's longform awards went to the stars of two HBO movies. Kline won for his role in Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of William Shakespeare's comedy "As You Like It," while Latifah added a SAG Award to her Globe for her portrayal of a drug addict-turned-AIDS activist in the based-on-a-true-story "Life Support."

Charles Durning, a two-time Oscar nominee and eight-time Emmy nominee, was honored with SAG's Life Achievement Award. Burt Reynolds, who has appeared in movies like "Starting Over" and the TV series "Evening Shade" with Durning, called the honoree to the stage.

In his thanks, Durning referred to British actor Ralph Richardson, who when asked at age 83 how he did it, replied, "I don't know, I'm just getting the hang of it." Said During: "And that's how I feel, I'm just getting the hang of it. Now I no longer chase my dreams — raised my sights a little, maybe. But tonight thanks to all of you, I am living my dream. Thank you so much for this honor."

As a curtain-raiser, the guild handed out new awards to stunt performers on the red carpet at the Shrine. The stunt performers from Universal's "The Bourne Ultimatum" and the Fox series "24" took home the inaugural stunt ensemble honors, which were announced by Rosenberg and Ben Foster ("3:10 to Yuma").

The announcement aired on the SAG Awards preshow webcasts on TNT.tv and TBS.com.
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