On the heels of the the national boards of the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA both voting to approve a merger in the past 48 hours, the Screen Actors Guild today is giving out its 18th annual awards, probably the last to be called SAG Awards. Along with the proposed merger, which will likely be on presenters and winners’ minds, most of the attention tonight will be focused on the film side where an ensemble win for The Artist would likely rubber stamp an Oscar triumph for the silent awards darling. The Help and The Descendants are looking for a best ensemble win that could fuel a late momentum the way it did for eventual surprise best picture Oscar winner Crash in 2006. Or the actors could throw a curveball with a best ensemble trophy to raunchy comedy Bridesmaids the way they did 2 years ago when the top prize went to Inglorious Basterds. On the TV side, two icons will take the stage when Dick Van Dyke presents Mary Tyler Moore with a lifetime achievement award. A third, reigning best comedy actress winner Betty White, is going in as the only performer with two individual TV nominations. Meanwhile, Alec Baldwin is aiming for a record sixth consecutive best actor win for his role on 30 Rock. We will be live-blogging the ceremony, which is being simulcast live coast-to-coast on TNT and TBS from the Shrine Exposition Center in Los Angeles starting at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT.
And we’re off. Following the now traditional “I’m an Actor” bit where attendees share memories of their start in the business and their sometimes embarrassing first acting gigs, Michelle Williams introduces the first category, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, which goes to Beginners‘ CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER, a favorite and a Golden Globe winner. The veteran actor, who sprinkled his elegant British-accent speech with some French, talked about “what fun it is being a member of the world’s second oldest profession.”
Next up, Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, which also goes to a Golden Globe winner, The Help‘s OCTAVIA SPENCER, solidifying her position as an Oscar frontrunner. Like at the Globes, Spencer spoke of the characters in the film, black maids from the Civil Rights era. “It was really a privilege to do this movie that gave a voice to so many women who made it possible for me to stand here tonight,” Spencer said. She dedicated her award “to the downtrodden, the undeserved, the unprivileged and overtaxed, whether emotionally, psychically or financially.”
First off in the TV categories is Best Actor in a Comedy Series, and it has a familiar winner, 30 Rock‘s ALEC BALDWIN, who scored a record sixth consecutive trophy for his role on the NBC comedy. Wearing a SAG-AFTRA One Union pin, the politically active Baldwin didn’t address the pending merger onstage. Instead, after squealing “Oh, My God” for a minute, he focused on his show, (“No offense to others but we have the best writing”) and his new role as SAG Foundation ambassador.
In another repeat from last year, BETTY WHITE was named Best Actress in a Comedy Series for her role on Hot In Cleveland a week after the actress celebrated her 90th birthday. She appeared genuinely surprised. “I don’t think they can read,” she said. “I think they made a terrible mistake.”
The complete repeat in the comedy TV categories was completed by a Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series trophy for last year’s winner MODERN FAMILY. The child actors of the AFTRA-affiliated show did a gag that probably was funnier in rehearsals, saying, among other things “Thank you to the unions for making sure we’re properly fed, we have all our shots, we’re clean and have our pants on by sundown.”
KATE WINSLET made it a full sweep, adding a SAG Award to the Emmy and Golden Globe she won for her role in the HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce but wasn’t on hand to accept the trophy. Also a no-show was her male counterpart, Paul Giamatti, who won for another HBO longform project, movie Too Big To Fail.
“I’m what’s left of Dick Van Dyke,” the iconic actor said self-deprecatingly when he took the stage to introduce his former co-star and recipient of this year’s lifetime achievement award Mary Tyler Moore to a standing ovation. “MTM. There’s probably not a person in the civilized world who doesn’t know what that means,” he said. Moore, also greened with a standing O, talked about how she ended up as MTM. There were 6 other Mary Moores in SAG, so she was forced to make a change and added Tyler, the middle name of both her and her father, George. “I spoke it out loud. Mary Tyler Moore,” she said. “It sounded right so I wrote it down on the form, and it looked right,” she said. “It was right. SAG was happy, my father was happy, and tonight, after having the privilege of working in this business among the most creative and talented people imaginable, I too am happy, after all.”
As expected, SAG president Ken Howard devoted his speech to the pending SAG-AFTRA merger. “We’re working hard to bring our two unions together,” he said. He acknowledged his “dear friend and tireless partner in that effort”, AFTRA president Roberta Reardon who was in the audience. “You’re looking particularly lovely tonight, and I want you to know that in my entire adult live there is no woman, including my dear departed mother with whom I’ve spent so much time none of which was in bed,” Howard said. “We have been hard at work in creating a plan for a single union that would give our members maximum strength throughout the entertainment and media industries. And I’m so proud to say that that historic moment of unity is now at hand. This weekend our boards have overwhelmingly endorsed the plan for the merger of SAG and AFTRA,” he said to laud applause. “As one union SAG-AFTRA will support a future of great entertainment for all of us.”
While introducing Bridesmaids, one of the 5 movies nominated for best ensemble, the film’s stars Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy talk about a drinking game they played while making the movie. “You have to take a drink every time, and I mean every time, you hear the word Scorsese,” Rudolph said. Added McCarthy, “You’d be surprised how often that comes up in casual conversation because people just like to throw that thing around.” After describing the film, Wiig says: “Do you think that Scorsese saw our movie?” This moderately funny bit got a lot funnier when the Scorsese-produced HBO series Boardwalk Empire won moments later twice, prompting a lot of toasting.
JESSICA LANGE added a SAG Award to her recent Golden Globe for her FX’s American Horror Story. She admitted that taking on the role represented “a real leap of faith” and thanked co-creator Ryan Murphy for “his special attention to this character.” (The part was originally smaller but was expanded greatly after Lange was cast.)
The deja vu in the TV series categories continues with a second consecutive best actor in a drama series award for Boardwalk Empire‘s STEVE BUSCEMI. “You can take a drink,” he said after mentioning the series’ executive producer Scorsese. In his speech, Buscemi addressed co-star Michael Pitt whose character’s shocking death it the HBO series’ second season finale has stirred backlash. “Michael Pitt, we love you. And to all Michael Pitt fans out there, I know, I’m sorry, please stop yelling at me on the street.”
TNT threw in a plug for its upcoming Dallas reboot by having returning original stars Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray present the best drama series ensemble award. It went to BOARDWALK EMPIRE, also a repeat winner from last year.
A big win for Frenchman JEAN DUJARDIN of The Artist in the lead actor in a movie category over Hollywood mega stars George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio. “I was a very bad student,” Dujardin said. “I didn’t listen in class, I was always dreaming. My teachers called me ‘Jean of the Moon’, and I realize now that I never stopped dreaming. Thank you very much for this dream.”
In another upset win, VIOLA DAVIS of The Help landed best leading actress victory over Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams. It was on this same stage 3 years ago when Streep, then winner for Doubt, said about her co-star Davis, “The gigantically gifted Viola Davis — my God, somebody give her a movie!” Davis was as emotional tonight as she was when she received the Critics Choice Award earlier this month. “What is there but a dream,” she said. “You can’t trade in your dream for another dream.”
In a major boost for THE HELP, the movie followed Davis’ and Spencer’s wins with a best ensemble trophy to emerge as the big winner of the night with 3 awards. “It’s been such a labor of love,” Davis said of the movie, adding, “The stain of racism and sexism is not just for people of color or women it’s all of our burden, all of us. All of us can inspire a change.”