Notes from backstage at the SAG Awards:
They got respect from the Producers Guild, and tonight, the cast of Fox Searchlight’s Birdman got a big endorsement from their own peers with the SAG best feature ensemble award. How could the union not laud Birdman? It’s about the blood, sweat and tears that goes on when the actors’ are off camera.
How real and true was Birdman? Very, according to co-star Naomi Watts, among the cast who gathered backstage after their marquee win. Birdman depicted an actor’s life “in front of the camera or off stage, and in your nightmares. This was an extreme case,” she said. The long continuous shots which were de rigueur and just further underscored an actor’s sweaty process: “If you made a mistake on set, you would destroy another actor’s best work. It made it incredibly high pressure. When we got a shot right, it was like winning a race, which made it a collaborative process. Maybe actors understand that better than anyone…how we’re connected to one another.”
Meanwhile, those skipping backstage tonight included Frances McDormand who won best actress in a TV movie/miniseries for HBO’s Olive Kitteridge, and Lifetime Achievement honoree Debbie Reynolds. The Normal Heart best actor movie winner Mark Ruffalo and House Of Cards TV drama best actor Kevin Spacey (both no shows at the ceremony).
There was not much Oscar talk backstage at SAG, but best feature actor Eddie Redmayne was peppered with questions about whether he saw tonight’s win as an Oscar harbinger. When a journalist pointed out that the SAG winner often goes on to Oscar glory, the actor scolded good-naturedly: “I wish I didn’t know that factoid. Thank you for it. Now I won’t sleep.” He called Oscar buzz a “white noise of euphoria” but is concentrating on other work this upcoming week.
Redmayne was thrown an oddball question: to describe his feelings about his win in three words. Redmayne replied without missing a beat: “Peers, privilege and luck. You are only as good as those people you play against as an actor.” He added that the most difficult thing about portraying Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything was shooting out of sequence for a character with a degenerative disease. “The hardest part of playing someone like Stephen is just not wanting to let him down,” Redmayne said. “He’s a formidable man.”
Appearing backstage with a handful of Downton Abbey cast members, Joanne Froggatt, who recently took home the Golden Globe for supporting TV actress for her portrayal of Anna Bates in a harrowing storyline about rape, crowed: “What a month it’s been for the show. I’m glad to have my gang here.” She called their win for TV drama ensemble particularly sweet because she was not present when the cast took the award last year.
The assumption is that the best thespians always bring their on-screen alter ego home after a day on the set. Julianne Moore, who plays a middle-age women battling early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in Still Alice says she kept hers on the set. “The movie wasn’t made in sadness, loss or diminishment. The mood at home and on the set was always about who you love, and feeling grateful and aware of where you are.” For Moore, her best actress feature drama win marks her second SAG after winning best actress in a TV movie/miniseries for 2012 HBO film Game Change in which she played Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Similar to how she went deep into the skin of Palin in that movie, Moore told the press that she met extensively with Alzheimer support groups and networks, in particular a 45-year old woman who was battling the disease early on.
When best TV drama actress Viola Davis came backstage, she didn’t talk about diversity in terms of race: She talked about the need for more “real women” on TV. Like her “sexually messy, outwardly strong but inwardly vulnerable” character on How To Get Away with Murder, she said that women want to see women of all sizes, ages and levels of complexity on their screens. Not, she added, “these fictionalized women (that make us) kind of feel bad about ourselves.
She cited Cicely Tyson as the first female actor she ever saw who inspired her. “I was 6 or 7 years old…(she had) the craft, the magic of transformation.” She said she never dreamed of awards for acting: “I wanted to do great performances — I wanted people to throw roses at me, I did thing about that. I think if you love what you do, that keeps you going.”
It’s a new “modern family” storming the comedy ensemble category this year: The women — and men — of Orange Is The New Black. The cast is so large that they mobbed the backstage microphone in two separate groups. Lead actor Taylor Schilling was notably absent because she is away doing the play A Month In The Country, fellow castmember Natasha Lyonne said.
Uzo Aduba, winner in the female actor in a comedy, came onstage in the second group. She repeated her onstage comments that she got the role of Crazy Eyes on the same day she was thinking about giving up acting. She praised Orange as well as other shows including Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder as bringing well-rounded, multi-layered characters to TV.
And it didn’t take much to get the party started for diversity. Said Lyonne: “We’re all a little bit weird and we’re comfortable with that. We’ve found a home that appreciates that for a change.”
Yvette Freeman, who also had a role in ER, said that the win for Orange and its diverse cast “says we’re growing as a society. We are looking at the regular person and bringing them forward. That’s what you are seeing up here, real human beings up here.”
Lea DeLaria, who plays the “butch” character Big Boo, stepped up to the mike when a question was asked about the LGBTQ community embracing the show. “I can assure you they are having watching parties at this moment in every queer bar” in the country, she said. “West Hollywood is dancing in the streets.”
With tears in here eyes, the openly gay actor added: “It’s be a long (journey) for this tough guy to get to this place.”
Comedy Series Actor winner William H. Macy was worried — did he say “sh*t” when the camera was on him as he accepted his award? “I think I did,” he fretted. That’s because he didn’t write a speech, he explained. “And I think my wife said: ‘Don’t say that, you’re on camera.’ ” That’s still better, he said, than those awards ceremonies when “you take off your tuxedo and find in your pocket the best speech you never got to deliver.”
Before taking on the role of the outrageous Frank Gallagher, Macy said he worried that he would become bored with playing one person but that never happened. “I love going to work,” he said. He added that sometimes the cast is just as shocked at the Shameless scripts as the TV audience.
As J.K. Simmons cuts a swath through awards season winning supporting actor trophies for his turn as acerbic conservatory band instructor Fletcher in Whiplash, one of the actor’s more extraordinary traits which is certainly propping him is his down-to-earth, working actor aura – a breath of fresh air in the wake of last year’s Dallas Buyers Club winner Matthew McConaughey’s philosophical acceptance speeches and supporting actor Jared Leto’s political speeches.
Simmons is the frontrunner, but he’s humble about it. “I honestly don’t know what I’m suppose to do between now and then,” said the actor about his journey to the Oscars. “It’s great that (these wins) bring more attention for the movie and that more people will want to see it.”
One reporter remarked backstage that his son decided to take up the piano instead of drums after watching Whiplash. Apparently, Simmons’ Fletcher is having an impact on what instrument kids are selecting. “What I love about (director) Damien Chazelle’s work on screen, is that people don’t’ come away with the same message from Whiplash: How much is too much? At what price greatness? Personally I wouldn’t put up with my character.”
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