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You can dismiss actors as nothing but insecure attention-seekers — and a lot of the time that’s just what Hollywood does — but on Sunday night at the 23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards, the honorees rose to the occasion of the moment. And much of the ceremony played like a rally of the resistance.
“I am a citizen of the world,” Ashton Kutcher said, as he kicked off the proceedings at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, addressing headfirst the politically charged events of the past week. Speaking to “everyone in airports that belong in my America,” he went on to exclaim, “You are part of the fabric of who we are and we love you and we welcome you.”
With that, the tone was set for an evening where almost everyone who took the stage chose to speak, some more explicitly to others, about the current political climate, with many remarks aimed directly at President Donald Trump.
Fox’s Hidden Figures, which took the award for best movie ensemble, proved a fitting choice to cap off the night since it celebrates the achievements of three African-American women who lent their talents as mathematicians to the space program in the 1960s. Speaking for the movie’s cast, Taraji P. Henson said, “The shoulders of the women we stand on are three American heroes. Without them, we would not know how to reach the stars.” She went on to say, “This story is about what happens when we put our differences aside and we come together as a human race. We win, love wins. Every time.”
Emma Stone collected the third SAG Award of her career — she has a supporting trophy for Birdman and ensemble award for The Help — as best motion picture actress for playing an actress in Lionsgate’s La La Land. “To be an actor playing an actor and receiving an Actor from a guild of actors is pretty exceptional,” she admitted. And before surrendering the mic, Stone picked up on the theme of the evening, saying, “We’re in a really tricky time in the world and our country, and things are very inexcusable and scary and need action, and I’m so grateful to be part of a group of people that cares and that wants to reflect things back to society.”
Claiming the first SAG Award of his career, Denzel Washington was recognized as best film actor for his performance as a working-class man, trapped in 1950s Pittsburgh, in Paramount’s Fences.
Viola Davis, who has previously collected SAG Awards for The Help and How to Get Away With Murder, was named best supporting actress for playing an understanding wife and mother in Fences. She used her time at the podium to honor the late playwright August Wilson. “He honored the average man who happened to be a man of color,” she testified. “We deserve to be in the canon, in the center of any narrative that’s written out there. He elevated my father, my mother, my uncles, who had eighth- and fifth-grade educations. He just encapsulated them in history.”
Mahershala Ali was equally eloquent in accepting his first SAG Award for playing a drug dealer who steps in to help a troubled young boy in A24’s Moonlight. “I think what I’ve learned from working on Moonlight, we see what happens when you persecute people, they fold in on themselves,” Ali said, explaining he was grateful for the opportunity to play a man “who saw a young man folding in on himself” and chose to step in and hold him up. He, too, went on to speak of the importance of recognizing each other’s differences and then setting them aside, citing the fact that his mother is an ordained minister while he became a Muslim 17 years ago. “I’m able to see her, she’s able to see me,” he said of their mutual respect for each other.
For a third consecutive year, Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, with its cast of 37, claimed the trophy for best TV comedy ensemble. Speaking for her fellow castmates, Taylor Schilling said, “We stand up here representing a diverse group of people, generations of families who have sought a better life here.”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her second SAG Award as best actress in a comedy for playing a manic politician on HBO’s Veep (she also has two previous individual trophies and three ensemble awards for Seinfeld.) A proven master of the comic acceptance speech, she made a few jokes at Trump’s expense, but then turned serious. Identifying herself as the daughter of an immigrant who fled Nazi-occupied France, she said, “This immigrant ban is a blemish and it is un-American.”
The award for best actor in a comedy went to William H. Macy for playing the reprobate dad on Showtime’s Shameless (he previously took home a prize for that show in 2015). “I would like to go against the stream this evening and thank President Trump for making Frank Gallagher seem so normal,” he cracked.
David Harbour delivered a barn-burner of an acceptance speech when Netflix’s ’80s-set Stranger Things was named best TV drama ensemble. Surrounded by a jubilant cast, he called on his fellow actors to take a cue from the show, saying, “We will repel bullies, we will shelter freaks and outcasts, we will hunt monsters.” And Harbour had the house on its feet cheering as he said, if anyone gets in the way, “punch some people in the face.”
Playing British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on Netflix’s The Crown earned John Lithgow the award for best actor in a drama series, and, after his requisite thank-yous, he reserved one more for “a great and underrated actress who somehow managed to speak my exact thoughts three weeks ago at another awards ceremony and that’s Meryl Streep,” referencing the actress’ Golden Globes take-down of Trump. Lithgow was almost immediately followed to the stage by co-star Claire Foy, who took the award for best drama series actress for playing the young Queen Elizabeth on The Crown.
Sarah Paulson picked up yet another statuette — albeit her first SAG Award — for playing attorney Marcia Clark in FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. She thanked Clark, who had accompanied her to the awards, “for existing,” and urged the audience to contribute to the ACLU.
Bryan Cranston — a regular at the SAG Awards podium, where he’s been a winner for Breaking Bad and Argo — picked up his fifth award, for playing President Lyndon Johnson in HBO’s All the Way. And what sort of advice would LBJ give DJT? Cranston mused aloud. He speculated that Johnson would wish Trump well, but then whisper in his ear, “Just don’t piss in the soup that all of us got to eat.”
Gabrielle Carteris, president of SAG-AFTRA, who appeared to introduce the In Memoriam segment, acknowledged the passing of three previous SAG leaders — William Schallert, Patty Duke and Ken Howard — and also commented, “Our union and our country are stronger because of our commitment to diversity and inclusion.”
Accepting SAG’s Life Achievement Award from her 9 to 5 co-star Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin displayed absolute command of the moment, confessing: “I wasted a lot of time being ambitious about the wrong things”; giving advice to younger actors like, “Don’t leave the house when you’re drunk”; offering up original aphorisms like “Behind every failure is an opportunity someone wishes they had missed”; and thanking her partner, writer Jane Wagner, “on whose shoulders I stand the tallest.”
But her best line was probably her first one as she took the stage and looked out at the audience giving her a standing ovation: “What a week this has been — so you’re kind of anticlimactic.”
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