|See complete list of SAG winners|
“Traffic” blew past rivals Sunday night and complicated the Oscar outlook with Benicio Del Toro winning the lead actor award — though he’s an Oscar nominee as a supporting actor — and the pic’s huge cast copping the ensemble award at the seventh annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.
“Erin Brockovich” also scored key SAG victories, with front-runner Julia Roberts taking best actress and Albert Finney winning the supporting actor trophy for their portrayals of the real-life title character and attorney Ed Masry.
“Traffic,” a film with interlocking drug-war stories, topped “Almost Famous,” “Billy Elliot,” “Chocolat” and “Gladiator” as the awards season enhanced its rep as the most wide open within memory. And it sets up an intriguing battle between Del Toro and Finney for the supporting actor nod at the Oscars on March 25.
Del Toro had been submitted as a lead actor for the SAG kudos by Studios USA because of the unique dynamics created by the ensemble cast awards. He had already won Golden Globe and National Society of Film Critics trophies in the supporting categories.
“I’d like to thank the whole cast of this picture because I’m only as good as them,” said Del Toro upon receiving the trophy from Annette Bening.
Roberts, after taking the award from Jeff Bridges, nearly burst into tears and declared, “I’m a fraud to stand here alone,” before launching into extensive thanks.
TV awards produced a major surprise as SAG members looked past Robert Downey Jr.’s ongoing legal saga to give him best actor in a comedy series kudos for his work in Fox’s “Ally McBeal.” NBC’s “The West Wing” swept the dramatic series awards.
Judi Dench copped the supporting actress award for “Chocolat” in an upset over favorites Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand, both for “Almost Famous.” The voting may indicate that the pairing of Hudson and McDormand on Oscar ballots may dilute both their chances.
SAG’s film awards are a closely watched indicator of Oscar sentiment since actors make up the largest single voting block within the Academy with 1,329 of the 5,722 members, or 23%. After missing in the first four years, SAG’s cast award has correctly matched the best picture Oscar in the last two years, with “Shakespeare in Love” and “American Beauty.”
SAG voters have matched the Oscar vote for actor in all six years while diverging twice on actress kudos — in 1994, when Jodie Foster won the SAG trophy for “Nell” while Jessica Lange took the Oscar for “Blue Sky,” and last year, when Annette Bening won at SAG for “American Beauty” and Hilary Swank copped the Oscar for “Boys Don’t Cry.”
The thesps have been less reliable in the supporting categories, with only seven of the 13 SAG winners going on to take Oscars. But both matched last year with Michael Caine for “The Cider House Rules” and Angelina Jolie for “Girl, Interrupted.”
SAG voters elected the cast of “The West Wing,” along with Martin Sheen and Allison Janney as winners in TV drama series. These nods thesps followed last year’s pattern of tapping one show (in 2000, James Gandolfini and Edie Falco of “The Sopranos” won the trio of awards).
A flustered Sheen drew laughs when he told the crowd, “We’re told to remember the higher the monkey climbs, the more he shows his ass. So you’re really seeing the worst part of me.”
The kudos capped a stellar week for “The West Wing” following similar awards from the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America.
Sarah Jessica Parker won the comedy actress nod for HBO’s “Sex and the City,” while NBC’s “Will & Grace” took the ensemble comedy cast trophy. Brian Dennehy’s performance in Showtime’s “Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman” earned him kudos for actor in a TV movie, while Vanessa Redgrave won in the female category for HBO’s “If These Walls Could Talk 2.”
Hollywood’s current labor problems stayed in the background during the two-hour telecast on cabler TNT. But SAG prexy William Daniels thanked the WGA, DGA, the American Federation of Musicians and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists for their support during last month’s six-month strike and added, “Our art is collaborative, but so is our hard-won collective bargaining success.”
During backstage interviews, the winners asserted they don’t want a strike but offered support to SAG’s bargaining team. Dennehy said, “I hopes there is not a strike,” but added, “At the same time, there are some issues that we have to be very tough on.”
Parker pointed out backstage that she will be doubly impacted by a strike since she is also a producer. “The issues are very real, and it will change people’s lives if it happens,” she said. “I hope it’s a short one if it does.”
The ceremony at the Los Angeles Shrine Exposition Center included presentation of the life achievement award to Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. “Labor unions are more important than ever,” Davis asserted.
Benicio Del Toro — “Traffic” (USA Films)
Julia Roberts — “Erin Brockovich” (Universal)
Albert Finney — “Erin Brockovich” (Universal)
Judi Dench — “Chocolat” (Miramax)
“Traffic” — Steven Bauer, Benjamin Bratt, James Brolin, Don Cheadle, Erika Christensen, Clifton Collins Jr., Benicio Del Toro, Michael Douglas, Miguel Ferrer, Albert Finney, Topher Grace, Luis Guzman, Amy Irving, Tomas Milian, D.W. Moffett, Dennis Quaid, Peter Reigert, Jacob Vargas, Catherine Zeta-Jones (USA Films)
ACTOR IN A TELEFILM OR MINISERIES
Brian Dennehy — “Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman” (Showtime)
ACTRESS IN A TELEFILM OR MINISERIES
Vanessa Redgrave — “If These Walls Could Talk 2” (HBO)
ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Martin Sheen — “The West Wing” (NBC)
ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Allison Janney — “The West Wing” (NBC)
ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Robert Downey Jr. — “Ally McBeal” (Fox)
ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Sarah Jessica Parker — “Sex and the City” (HBO)
“The West Wing” — Dule Hill, Allison Janney, Moira Kelly, Rob Lowe, Janel Moloney, Richard Schiff, Martin Sheen, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford (NBC)
“Will & Grace” — Sean Hayes, Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally (NBC)
LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee