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Divvying up its top film prizes between England and America Sunday night, the 17th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards hailed The King’s Speech by gifting it with its best film ensemble award and recognizing its star Colin Firth as best male actor in a film. But the actors’ guild also reserved two prizes for The Fighter, set in Lowell, Mass., by handing supporting film acting honors to Christian Bale and Melissa Leo.
Natalie Portman, named best actress for Black Swan, rounded out the individual movie acting awards, which all repeated the trophies that were presented two weeks ago at the Golden Globes.
On the TV side, SAG spotlighted HBO’s Boardwalk Empire and ABC’s Modern Family with its ensemble awards for drama and comedy series, respectively.
The Weinstein Co.’s Speech, which has also collected awards from the Producers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America, has now consolidated its status as an Oscar front-runner, having garnered 12 nominations.
Among Oscar handicappers, SAG’s film ensemble award serves as the equivalent of the best picture Oscar. However, it is an imprecise harbinger. Awards pundits point to Crash’s 2006 win at the SAG Awards as the first indicator that it would go on to win that year’s Oscar over front-runner Brokeback Mountain. But, in fact, over the past 10 years, the SAG film ensemble winner has matched up with the best picture Oscar winner only 50 percent of the time.
Geoffrey Rush, who plays Speech’s therapist Lionel Logue, accepted for the ensemble. “It shouldn’t be called the SAG Award, it should be called the uplifting award,” he attempted a pun as he accompanied his fellow cast members to the stage of the Shrine Exposition Center, where the awards broadcast was held.
Firth, who was nominated last year for A Single Man, claimed the best actor award for playing the tongue-tied George VI. “I’d like to thank security for letting me into the building,” he joked self-deprecatingly. Explaining that growing up in England, a SAG card wasn’t “something you expect to see in your wallet,” he insisted he used to flash it around in hopes of attracting attention.
Winning the best film actress award, Portman danced to victory by portraying a ballerina descending into madness in Fox Searchlight’s Black Swan. “I’ve been working since I was 11 years old, and SAG has taken care of me,” said the actress of her first SAG Award. “I’m so grateful to have this union protecting me every day.”
PHOTOS: What the stars wore to the SAG Awards
Leo took home the first film award of the evening, earning her first SAG Award ever for her performance as a monstrously controlling mom in Paramount/Relativity’s The Fighter. Fighting back tears, she said, “I’m much better when I have my words written for me.” Directing the room’s attention to six of the young women who played her foul-mouthed daughters in the film, she cradled the award, addressing her remarks to them, saying, “Thank you for helping me get a man I can bring home with me tonight.”
Her co-star Bale picked up the trophy for supporting film actor later in the evening for tackling the part of Leo’s onscreen son Dicky Eklund, a washed-up boxer-turned-addict in Fighter. Bale was just about to begin his acceptance when Eklund himself bounded onto the stage. “This is the original quacker right here,” Bale greeted him, as Eklund said, “Good job, Christian.” Responded the British actor, “Thank you for living the life, and thank you for letting me play you.”
Al Pacino, who wasn’t present, was named best actor in a TV movie for his performance as assisted-suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian in HBO’s You Don’t Know Jack, for which he also won an Emmy and a Golden Globe.
And Claire Danes, who also collected an Emmy and a Golden Globe for her turn in the title role in HBO’s Temple Grandin, picked up more bling for herself as she was chosen outstanding female actor in a TV movie. She thanked her fellow cast members for helping her play “an autistic woman who has trouble communicating” and singled out the movie’s real-life subject, saying, “Thank you, Temple, who is no act.”
Steve Buscemi took home the first award handed out Sunday night. Buscemi, who stars in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire as a political fixer in Atlantic City, was named best actor in a drama series. “I didn’t know this was going to be the first one, so I’m very nervous,” the actor, best known for his work in indie film, said as he accepted his first SAG Award from Alec Baldwin and Betty White. He offered a special thank-you to the ailing Martin Scorsese, who won a DGA Award on Saturday night for directing the series’ pilot episode.
When freshman series Boardwalk grabbed the prize for best TV drama ensemble, Buscemi returned to the stage, confessing, “I lost my speech,” but he went on to say, “I’m so glad this cast won because I love them so much” while also heaping thanks on HBO’s exec team for supporting the period show.
The prize for outstanding female performance in a drama series went to The Good Wife’s Julianna Margulies, who won in the same category last year for the CBS drama about a wronged wife who returns to work as an attorney. She acknowledged the show’s creators Michelle King and Robert King “for giving me just the job of a lifetime” and also offered a shout-out “to the Teamsters who have been digging us out of the snow for the past two weeks.”
SAG’s love affair with Baldwin continued as he was awarded his fifth consecutive award for actor in a comedy series for his work in NBC’s 30 Rock. “I don’t know what to say. This is ridiculous,” Baldwin said. “We’ve had a great year with the show, and I feel compelled to thank the Teamsters.”
White, who received SAG’s Life Achievement Award last year, enjoyed a return engagement to accept her first competitive SAG Award as best actress in a comedy series for TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland, in which she plays a feisty landlady. “I cannot believe this,” she said, after she was helped to the stage. “They had to get the old broad up those stairs, and that is not easy.”
The 10-actor ensemble of ABC’s Modern Family was voted best comedy series ensemble. Ed O’Neill, who plays the patriach of the series’ very diverse family, accepted on the group’s behalf, saying, “Thank you, Screen Actors Guild members. This was one that I think we all wanted because the show is set up as an ensemble, and we’re having a ball doing it.”
Tim Conway, an alumnus of McHale’s Navy, introduced a film tribute to Ernest Borgnine, recepient of the SAG Awards’ 47th annual Life Achievement Award, and Morgan Freeman, who starred with him in the recent RED, presented the honor. Said the 94-year-old Borgnine, “There are millions of those in the world who would love to be in our shoes. We are a privileged few who have been chosen to work in this field of entertainment.” He added, “I hope that we will always give the best we possibly can to our profession so that people may enjoy us in later years.”
As a prelude to the main ceremony, the stunt performers and coordinators from Inception and True Blood received honors for outstanding performance by film and television stunt ensembles, with SAG Awards committee chair JoBeth Williams and SAG president Ken Howard announcing the awards on the red carpet.
While the Weinstein Co. and Paramount/Relativity both collected two film awards each, HBO was the dominant player among TV networks, amassing five nods among Boardwalk, Jack, Temple and Blood.
On the broadcast, Howard also spoke of the merger of SAG and sister acting union AFTRA. “In the months ahead,” he said, “you’ll be hearing more about our efforts to unite SAG and AFTRA. By coming together as one union, we can strengthen our abilities to protect actors as we move ahead into the future. In her acceptance, Leo endorsed the merger, saying, “Let’s join together. … Let’s make it a real voice.”
Produced by Jeff Margolis Prods. in association with the SAG Awards, the ceremony was broadcast live coast-to-coast on TNT and TBS.
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