Reporter at large


After taking home the statuette for best actress in a telefilm or miniseries, seven-time SAG nominee Helen Mirren explained the appeal of royalty-themed fare. "People around the world are obsessed by the monarchy," said Mirren, who played the title role on HBO's "Elizabeth I." "People are very curious about it." She waited graciously for "Elizabeth I" co-star Jeremy Irons to get offstage before answering questions. "We're going to share (the award)," she said of Irons, who was tapped best actor in a telefilm or miniseries. Still, don't be too quick to typecast Mirren as a Buckingham Palace denizen. "The last time I (won) this award, it was for playing a housekeeper in 'Gosford Park,' so I do downstairs as well as upstairs," she joked. Less than two hours later, Mirren returned backstage, beaming over her best actress win for her incarnation of Queen Elizabeth II in Miramax's "The Queen." Mirren's publicist, Stan Rosenfield, set the pair of statues next to the microphone. "Make sure she remembers to take these with her," he joked to the assembled reporters. So, has Mirren received any feedback from Her Highness about her at-times unflattering depiction? "I never have, and I never will," she said. "And if I do, I'll never tell anyone about it anyway."

After nabbing another best actor trophy for his portrayal of former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Forest Whitaker reminisced about the lean days early in his career. "I was lucky when I was young because I could live on someone's couch and eat ramen noodles and go to the local Thai restaurant," he said. "But once you have a family, it's all about you take care of your family." The actor provides for his family best by staying busy. "It was almost two years ago (since wrapping 'The Last King of Scotland'). I've done about six movies since then and TV, too," he said. For Whitaker, each role leaves a residual mark on his psyche. "There's always something about a character that changes something about you, makes you say something in a different way," he said. "When I was doing 'Last King,' I went to 300 pounds. I don't remember feeling heavy, but I guess I was. I do whatever is necessary for the part."

Alan Arkin does not suffer fools gladly. The first question out of the mouth of a journalist to cast members of "Little Miss Sunshine," which won best cast in a motion picture, was of the "how does it feel" variety, to which Arkin muttered, "Oh, Jesus criminy." Later, Arkin went on a rant about how all movies should be ensemble casts. "If one (actor) is sticking out, there is something wrong with (the movie). Every great movie is an ensemble. I'm surprised at the (individual categories in the SAG Awards). There are 100 characters in a Kurosawa film, and you remember all of them. We live in a time where in this country, you remember one or two characters. This movie, thank God, is not like that. It should all be ensemble work." The cast was pressed on the possibility of a sequel. Greg Kinnear shouted into the wings and retrieved the movie's screenwriter, Michael Arndt, who bashfully admitted that he "has been thinking of things ? (but) unless I can do a 'Godfather 2,' I don't think so."

After Eddie Murphy chalked up another awards- season accolade for his supporting turn as James "Thunder" Early in "Dreamgirls," he reflected on the film's omission in the best picture Oscar race. "I haven't spoken to the rest of the cast about it," he said. "But everybody was surprised." Still, the comedy veteran said he relished his first-ever Oscar mention too much to dwell on the Academy's snub of the film. "I was so happy to be nominated that, to be honest, I wasn't disappointed about anything," he said. Amid the SAG celebrating, Murphy took a moment to acknowledge the real-life inspiration for Early, soul legend James Brown, whom he dubbed "one of the great musical geniuses of the 20th century." "I was very sad that James has passed, but I'm very worried that he hasn't been buried yet," said Murphy, who scored his first SAG Award on his first nomination from the guild. "It's very strange."

Anyone hoping for a straight answer from a cast member of NBC's "The Office" was sorely disappointed. The cast, which won for best ensemble in a comedy series, had jokes for most questions posed. When asked about their impression of the SAG Award statuette, Rainn Wilson (who plays Dwight Schrute) said: "There's a nub where the genitals should be. I actually posed for this several years ago. I was buttocks model for this." When asked what to expect from future episodes of the NBC comedy, Paul Lieberstein (Toby) answered, "Someone will die." When it appeared that the press corps took it seriously, he quickly added: "I'm kidding about someone will die. But an animal will attack. Nobody is safe." One of the few serious utterances came from Jenna Fischer (Pam Beesly), who revealed what she was thinking when the cast of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" was presenting the award. "I was daydreaming and wondered if one day in many years we'll be getting back together to present an award. We truly like each other."

Jeremy Irons, winner for best actor in a telefilm or miniseries for his portrayal of the Earl of Leicester on HBO's "Elizabeth I," won a supporting actor Golden Globe for the same role two weeks ago. When asked about the difference between supporting and lead roles, Irons said, in true trouper fashion: "All performances are supporting. None happen on their own; you support others, and they support you." Irons was complimentary of American actors, who he described as terrific at finding "the truth, the immediacy and the oddness in a performance."

While "Ugly Betty" star America Ferrera has been the belle of the ball ? winning best actress in a comedy series at the SAG Awards and a best actress award at the Golden Globes ? she told the press that it's "a common misperception that this job gets easier." She did say that the accolades have helped her get in the door and that there are "more opportunities to prove yourself." And Ferrera said she likely will be working during her hiatus, though she is not yet sure what the job will be. She added that "Betty" is a show like "The Office" and "Heroes," in that "they showcase normal people in our culture." She said: "I don't think it's about negating one sort of beauty for another. It's about introducing new definitions of beauty in the culture, finding the beauty in the differences we have."

If Julie Andrews hums a song from any of her movies, it's "Edelweiss" from "The Sound of Music," a song she didn't even sing. "I think it's a beautifully constructed song. It's about everyone's homeland everywhere." Andrews, who accepted SAG's Life Achievement Award, wasn't exactly keen on giving advice to budding actors on how to have a long career, but when pressed, she said, "If I'm anything to go by, the chances are that if you work very hard, a piece of good fortune might go your way, so you'd better be ready for it." What Andrews did enjoy expounding on was her burgeoning career as a children's author. Her five-year-old imprint, the Julie Andrews Collection, just released its 23rd book. Her writing began when she was on a movie set and, in a bid to control her unruly daughter, made a bet with her and lost. " 'What should my forfeit be?' " she recalled asking. "And my daughter said, 'Write me a story.' And that's how it began."

Compiled by Borys Kit, Nicole Sperling and Tatiana Siegel
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