'Slumdog,' '30 Rock' also snag SAG honors

SAG offered one more endorsement to "Slumdog Millionaire" on Sunday night, handing it the prize for outstanding movie cast.

When it came to the two top film acting prizes, though, the 15th annual SAG Awards took a different route than the recent Golden Globe Awards, giving trophies to Sean Penn for playing a gay activist in "Milk" and Meryl Streep for her performance as a fiercely certain nun in "Doubt." As for the supporting roles, SAG joined the gathering consensus by remembering Heath Ledger for his villainous turn in "The Dark Knight" and Kate Winslet for her appearance as a German woman harboring secrets in "The Reader."

There was little surprise on the TV side.

Just like at the Gold Globes and the Emmys, it was a clean sweep for NBC's "30 Rock" and HBO's "John Adams" in the comedy series and longform categories, and AMC's "Mad Men" was named top drama series.

The individual drama series awards went to other awards show darlings: Hugh Laurie of Fox's "House" and Sally Field of ABC's "Brothers & Sisters."

Anil Kapoor, who plays the "Millionaire" host in "Slumdog," spoke on behalf of that film's ensemble as they took the stage during the ceremony at the Shrine Exposition Center in Los Angeles, broadcast live in the East on TNT and TBS.

"To win this is unbelievable," he said. After paying tribute to director Danny Boyle, producer Christian Colson and Fox Searchlight chief Peter Rice — calling him "the man with the Midas touch" for so successfully releasing the Mumbai-set movie in the U.S. — he made particular mention of the movie's child actors. "They deserve this award," he said. "They set our performances."

Picking up his first SAG Award after three previous nominations, Penn noted "as actors we don't play gay, straight … we play human beings. … This is a story about equal rights to all human beings."

He thanked director Gus Van Sant, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and the rest of the film's cast, but he reserved his most effusive remarks for his fellow nominees — and even added a shout-out to "Che" star Benecio Del Toro, who wasn't nominated. He acknowledged that Oscar pundits are turning the season into a contest between himself and "The Wrestler's" Mickey Rourke, who took home the dramatic actor Golden Globe. But in reacting to a gossip item about a rift between him and Rourke, he called people who are looking for "a dogfight" idiots. Said Penn, "We're all so proud and challenged by each other."

Similarly, Streep used her victory in "Doubt" to raise the flag on behalf of her fellow actresses. She won a SAG Award in 2004 for "Angels in America," but Streep was positively giddy about her newest prize. "I didn't even buy a dress," she said, showing off her pants.

In addition to writer-director John Patrick Shanley and her fellow castmates, she cited producer Scott Rudin, "who just goes out of his way to find interesting things for everybody to do, especially the girls."

From there, she launched into a celebration of sisterhood. "Can I just say there is no such thing as the best actress," she said. "I am so in awe of the work of the women this year — nominated, not nominated. So proud of us girls."

SAG became the latest group to honor Heath Ledger posthumously as it named him best male actor in a supporting role for his performance as the psychotic Joker in "The Dark Knight."

Ledger, who died of an accidental drug overdose in January 2008, was recognized Thursday with an Oscar nomination. He also was remembered at the Golden Globes, where he also was awarded a supporting actor trophy.

Gary Oldman, who appears in "Knight" as Lt. James Gordon, accepted in Ledger's name. "I'm quite emotional," he said to the room, which had risen to its feet. "(Heath) was an extraordinary young man with an extraordinary talent, and it is wonderful that you have acknowledged that and honored that talent tonight."

SAG honored Kate Winslet as best supporting actress for her performance in "The Reader" as a former German prison guard harboring more than one secret. She also won at Golden Globe for that role — one of two Winslet scored, along with best actress for "Revolutionary Road" — but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose to nominate Winslet's turn in "Reader" in its best actress category.

"Playing Hanna Schmitz was such a blessing even though that made me completely insane," said Winslet, who earned SAG's supporting actress award in 1996 for "Sense and Sensibility." She thanked producer Harvey Weinstein "for his commitment," Stephen Daldry "for his direction and support" and the film's late producers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella.

"30 Rock's" award domination continues. With its three SAG awards, for best ensemble and stars Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, Fey's offbeat office comedy now is the reigning champ in best series and lead acting categories at all the major award shows.

In her acceptance speech for best actress, Fey touched on the issue of Internet residuals for actors, which is at the heart of the current standoff between SAG and the studios.

After thanking her toddler daughter, Fey added: "Some day she'll be old enough to watch '30 Rock' reruns on the Internet and understand where Mom was going at 6:30 a.m. every day, for all that time. And she'll look at me and say: 'What do you mean you don't get residuals for this?' "

Meanwhile, Fey's co-star Baldwin and Field, who were among 130 stars who signed an anti-strike letter to SAG, steered clear from mentioning the labor dispute.

Multiple Oscar and Emmy winner Field earned her first SAG Award after seven nominations and 45 years in acting for her co-starring role as the no-nonsense matriarch on "Brothers & Sisters."

"Actors … we inspire, we provoke, and we entertain, and never, ever has that been needed more in this country than it is right now," she said.

It was a second Actor statuette in three years for Laurie for his role as flawed medical genius Gregory House. "I actually had a $100 on (fellow nominee) James Spader," Laurie said. "This is just not my night."

In accepting the best drama series ensemble award for "Mad Men," star Jon Hamm poked fun at the AMC show's low ratings in his acknowledgments.

"We have our incredibly talented writing staff, the people at AMC who took a chance on all of in hiring us, our dozens of … viewers."

"John Adams" ended its awards show run in style, with wins for stars Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney.

Since its March premiere, the mini about the second U.S. president won every acting category in which it was nominated.

James Earl Jones was presented with SAG's Life Achievement Award by Forest Whitaker. Arriving onstage to a standing ovation, Jones, in his most mellifluous voice, quoted from the book of Genesis about how God breathed life into man. "I don't mean to embarrass anybody by comparing the actor to God, but once we've taken a role, we have a similar responsibility to breathe life into that character," he said.

Having testified that "I treasure this honor," Jones also used the occasion to hail a fellow actor, saying, "In this gathering of gifted artists, I would like to raise a salute: Paul Newman, someone down here likes you." (partialdiff)