Mirren, 'Miss Sunshine,' Whitaker top SAG Awards


If it were not for the comedy "Little Miss Sunshine," which topped off Sunday evening by scooping up the award for outstanding performance by a motion picture cast at the 13th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, the ceremony might have been mistaken for a replay of the Golden Globe Awards, which took place two weeks ago.

While no one film has dominated the best picture race this awards season, there appears to be a developing unanimity about the year's best actors. As if taking a cue from the Globes, the winning quartet at the SAG Awards, held at the Shrine Exposition Center in Los Angeles, consisted of Forest Whitaker for "The Last King of Scotland," Helen Mirren for "The Queen" and Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson for "Dreamgirls."

Two TV series that also came Globes-certified led the television field with a pair of wins each. ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" was hailed for best dramatic ensemble and picked up an award for best female in a drama series, which went to Chandra Wilson, who plays the bossy Miranda Bailey. HBO's "Elizabeth I" copped two awards, for stars Mirren and Jeremy Irons.

NBC's "The Office" prevailed as the best comedy ensemble, while Hugh Laurie of Fox's "House," Alec Baldwin of NBC's "30 Rock" and America Ferrera of ABC's "Ugly Betty" all picked up acting awards. Among the networks, ABC edged ahead of the competition with three awards.

"Sunshine's" win was not entirely without precedent; last weekend, the Fox Searchlight release took home the top film award at the Producers Guild of America's annual awards dinner. But because it had gone 0-for-2 at the Globes, the comedy's win was not a sure thing and so offered an antidote to the predictability of much of the evening.

Greg Kinnear, who plays the beleaguered dad in "Sunshine," lifted up 9-year-old Abigail Breslin so she could reach the mike, Alan Arkin whispered in her ear, and she giggled and said, "Thank you."

It fell to Kinnear to thank the movie's two directors, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. He also cited its "five -- not three, not two, not four -- five great producers," a barb aimed at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has decided that it will allow only three of the five producers to pick up the Oscar for best picture if "Sunshine" wins the award, a prospect that seems to be gathering momentum.

Mirren repeated the royal flush she executed at the Globes by handily snaring two awards: for female actor in a leading role for "Queen" and female actor in a telefilm or miniseries for "Elizabeth I."

On her first trip to the podium to pick up the TV trophy, she said of the SAG Award, "I love this award more than any other awards." She went on to tell the roomful of mostly American actors, "American film acting has always inspired us and influenced us and impressed us." American film actors, she said, "teach me how to do it basically."

Making a return appearance to accept her second award of the night for Miramax Films' "Queen," she had to admit, "What an incredible night for me personally." True, the actress picked up two SAG Awards in 2002 -- as best supporting actress as well as part of the ensemble cast of "Gosford Park" -- but Sunday night's win arguably carried more weight.

Whitaker, another critics' darling and a Globe winner for playing the late Idi Amin in Searchlight's "Scotland," again was seemingly at a loss for words at first. "It means a lot, you know, to receive the Screen Actors Guild Award," he said, "to get an award from the people who you work across from and the people you are going to work with, and people that are going to like hopefully, get in the trenches with."

"Dreamgirls' " Hudson showed no evidence of tiring of the march to the podium. "I really want to take the time to thank my cast," she said. "Because of you I was able to work and learn from the best." Before walking offstage, she added, "Just thank you for noticing little ol' me, and for accepting me."

His performance as R&B performer James "Thunder" Early in the Paramount Pictures release of the DreamWorks musical brought Murphy his first two SAG nominations. And he was summoned to the stage when the supporting film actor award was announced.

Murphy began his remarks in appropriately respectful terms, saying, "What a tremendous honor to be recognized by one's peers," then lapsed into a slight British accent before breaking character and laughing, "It's just when British people come and get the awards, it's so smooth." By contrast, he nearly whooped, "I feel goofy up here 'cause I don't be winning stuff."

With the film wins spread among four pictures, Searchlight and Paramount/DreamWorks earned two each.

In its third season, "Grey's," which just picked up a Globe as best TV drama series, also appears to be on a roll. As the multiethnic cast of the medical romantic dramedy took to the stage, star Ellen Pompeo groped for words. "I'm drawing a blank, please help me," she asked her castmates as she acknowledged a couple of the series' regular and recurring actors who weren't present. "It's so much more than just us, and we appreciate everybody's efforts," she added.

Last year, SAG voters handed their prize for TV's best dramatic actress to Sandra Oh of "Grey's." This year, Oh wasn't nominated, but the award stayed in the "Grey's" family as Wilson took the honors.

Clearly excited, the first thing Wilson did when she took the stage was to obliquely address the controversy that has enveloped the show in the wake of a homophobic insult that co-star Isaiah Washington has since apologized for making. "First of all, it's about those 10 cast members sitting over there, and the other one in rehab," Wilson said.

She thanked series creator Shonda Rhimes for casting her as a doctor and for the writers' paragraphlong dialogue. Wilson said she would take the award home to her girls and say, "Look, with this skin and this nose and this height and these arms, you know, I'm here!"

Medical drama also proved to be a winning prescription for Laurie, who was nominated last year as best actor in a TV drama series for his quirky doctor in "House." This year, he won the SAG Award in the same category on his second try. He couldn't resist responding to Murphy after taking the stage, saying, "I'm British, which accounts for why I'm so smooth." But he also added, "It seems to be that this business, for actors anyway, is not so much about whether or not you do good work -- it's about whether or not you get the chance to do good work."

Irons was named best male actor in a telefilm or miniseries for playing Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, in "Elizabeth I." And, like his co-star Mirren, he paid tribute to American actors, saying, "It was you lot that sort of taught me what it was, what one was supposed to do."

When it came time to announce the best comedy series ensemble, the cast of one workplace comedy presented the award to the cast of another. Mary Tyler Moore appeared onstage with six of her castmates from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," saying, "We're delighted to help honor our fellow comedians, and just like us they have been part of the tradition that has been television for many, many years: making people laugh."

When she opened the envelope, the winner was NBC's "Office," its first ensemble award from SAG. Steve Carell, who plays bossman Michael Scott, said, "This is quite the honor, having these people present this to us." In his thanks, he singled out the show's executive producer, Greg Daniels, "for being the person who assembled the ensemble," as well as Allison Jones, "who took part in that" by casting the series.

Carell also was one of the evening's double winners, sharing the "Sunshine" ensemble award.

The Globes proved prescient again when it came to the top comedy series actors.

Ferrera repeated her recent Globe win for playing Betty Suarez on "Betty" by earning a SAG Award as best female actress in a comedy series. "I am completely out of things to say," an excited Ferrera said as she took the stage. Speaking to her fellow actors, she said: "What's amazing is that we share a common knowledge of struggle and of rejection, and now of success. And that I think only your fellow peers know how sweet the taste it is because you know the other side of it."

The trophy for best actor in a comedy series went to Baldwin for his network executive on NBC's "30 Rock." Although Baldwin has received six previous SAG nominations, "30 Rock" brought him his first for TV series work, and his first win. He made a special point of mentioning "Jonathan, the focus puller, who at my age misses the mark every now and then, and shaves six or eight years off my close-ups. ... Thank you, Jonathan, very much."

Anne Hathaway introduced the tribute to Julie Andrews, recipient of the guild's Life Achievement Award. Hathaway, who at age 17 co-starred with Andrews in "The Princess Diaries," testified that the actress was "a patient, wise and generous mentor and, I might add, a helluva lot of fun." As he called the honoree to the stage, Dick Van Dyke, who starred alongside Andrews in "Mary Poppins," admitted, "I never quite got over being a little tongue-tied in Julie's presence."

A luminous Andrews thanked her peers, saying, "My career has just been blessed by good fortune, by amazing mentors who really cared and so many wonderful actors who have been a part of my life." She offered special words of appreciation to husband Blake Edwards, who has directed her in seven films; in her clipped British accent, she did admit to "one tiny complaint," though -- that being that when she has appeared in a love scene for him, he's said, "That was fine darling, but I know you can do better."

Andrews concluded, "These days I've come to understand that joy is all about the giving, and you, ladies and gentlemen, have given me an evening that I will just treasure all my life."

SAG president Alan Rosenberg also was on hand to welcome his fellow actors to the celebrity dinner. The awards ceremony, which aired on TNT and TBS, was produced by Jeff Margolis Prods. in association with SAG. Margolis served as exec producer. Kathy Connell was producer, with Yale Summers, Daryl Anderson, Shelley Fabares, Paul Napier and JoBeth Williams serving as producers for SAG.

A complete list of winners follows.

Actor: Forest Whitaker, "The Last King of Scotland"
Actress: Helen Mirren, "The Queen"
Supporting actor: Eddie Murphy, "Dreamgirls"
Supporting actress: Jennifer Hudson, "Dreamgirls"
Cast: "Little Miss Sunshine"

Actor in a movie or miniseries: Jeremy Irons, "Elizabeth I"
Actress in a movie or miniseries: Helen Mirren, "Elizabeth I"
Actor in a drama series: Hugh Laurie, "House"
Actress in a drama series: Chandra Wilson, "Grey's Anatomy"
Actor in a comedy series: Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock"
Actress in a comedy series: America Ferrera, "Ugly Betty"
Drama series cast: "Grey's Anatomy"
Comedy series cast: "The Office"
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Lifetime Achievement: Julie Andrews