Muddying the Oscar outlook, Screen Actors Guild voters on Sunday tapped “Gosford Park” as surprise winner of its ensemble cast award, while Russell Crowe and Halle Berry took the top thesp nods for “A Beautiful Mind” and “Monster’s Ball,” respectively.
USA Films’ “Gosford Park” also picked up supporting actress kudos for Helen Mirren, while Ian McKellen won the supporting actor trophy for “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.”
SAG’s show, the last major awards presentation prior to the March 24 Academy Awards, provides a major boost to its winners, particularly as no clear favorite emerges. Despite its seven Oscar noms, “Gosford Park” has been regarded as a dark horse in the running for the best picture Oscar, but the SAG award will upgrade its status since actors represent 23% of Academy voters.
In the ensemble cast category, “Gosford Park” topped “A Beautiful Mind,” “In the Bedroom,” “The Lord of the Rings” and “Moulin Rouge.” That lineup matches the list of nominees for the best picture Oscar, although the voting has only matched twice — three years ago for “Shakespeare in Love” and two years ago for “American Beauty.” SAG chose “Traffic” last year for the cast trophy, while Academy voters named “Gladiator” best picture.
Crowe’s win reinforces his status as the front-runner, topping Kevin Kline for “Life as a House”; Sean Penn, “I Am Sam”; Denzel Washington, “Training Day”; and Tom Wilkinson, “In the Bedroom.” Crowe now has a strong chance of becoming the first actor to win back-to-back Oscars since Tom Hanks took the awards for “Philadelphia” and “Forrest Gump.”
Continuing his low-key behavior after his recent spat at the BAFTA Awards, Crowe told the audience at the Shrine Auditorium, “This is a great job. I encourage you to give everything you can to the job.”
Berry also boosted her prospects for an Oscar by topping formidable challenges from Jennifer Connelly for “A Beautiful Mind”; Judi Dench, “Iris”; Sissy Spacek, “In the Bedroom”; and Renee Zellweger, “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”
“I am so proud to be an actor, I can’t tell you,” an elated Berry said. “It has saved my life.”
The SAG Awards — now in their eighth year — have reliably forecast the Oscars, with the lead actors winning in six of the last seven years while the actress winner has matched in five of the seven. Crowe lost out at SAG in 2001 to Benicio Del Toro, for “Traffic,” who went on to win the supporting Oscar.
With the supporting awards hard to predict already, the choice of McKellen for his portrayal of a wizard took the Brit thesp by surprise. He received the kudos a few minutes after opening the show and quipped, “I though that I’d had my turn.”
Mirren is also up for an Oscar in the wide-open supporting actress category along with castmate Maggie Smith, who was shut out in the SAG noms. “There were no trailers, there were no trainers,” she said. “There was just a group of rogues and vagabonds with a brilliant director, Bob Altman.”
SAG president Melissa Gilbert, appearing a day after winning decisively in the rerun election, issued a call for unity by noting that the show highlights what can be achieved through collaboration. “That is our craft at its finest and our guild at its best,” she added.
In response to questions backstage, however, Gilbert admitted SAG remains “a house divided” and said the best she can do is to take the differing points of view and then try meeting in the middle.
Rob Lowe, reflecting the evening’s lighthearted mood, said backstage, “The election was so nice they had to run it twice.”
In TV, NBC’s “The West Wing” repeated its impressive feat of sweeping the dramatic series category for the second straight year, with Martin Sheen and Allison Janney again taking the individual awards while the cast took the ensemble trophy. “ER” holds the SAG record with four consecutive cast wins from 1996-99.
NBC’s “Will & Grace” scored a double in the comedy series category, with Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally taking the individual awards.
“Sex and the City” won the ensemble cast award over “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Frasier,” “Friends” and “Will & Grace,” which took the nod last year. With Sarah Jessica Parker unable to attend due to the flu, castmate Cynthia Nixon gave the acceptance speech and credited the show’s writers: “Without them,” she asserted, “we would just be standing in front of the camera barking.”
Ben Kingsley, who many had expected to win a supporting award for “Sexy Beast,” took home a trophy for actor in a TV movie or miniseries for ABC’s “Anne Frank.” Judy Davis won the actress award in the category for ABC’s “Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows.”
Biggest applause of the night came for Ed Asner for the previously announced lifetime achievement award. Asner, a one-time cab driver and seven-time Emmy winner, urged his fellow thesps to keep taking risks.
“Let’s keep turning those lousy cab drivers into decent actors and never, never, never regret saying, ‘Why not?’ What are they going to do, shoot you?” he concluded.
Russell Crowe — “A Beautiful Mind” (Universal)
Halle Berry — “Monster’s Ball” (Lions Gate)
Ian McKellen — “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” (New Line)
Helen Mirren — “Gosford Park” (USA Films)
“Gosford Park”– Eileen Atkins, Bob Balaban, Alan Bates,Charles Dance, Stephen Fry, Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grant, Tom Hollander, Derek Jacobi, Kelly MacDonald, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Clive Owen, Ryan Phillippe, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Geraldine Somerville, Sophie Thompson, Emily Watson, James Wilby
ACTOR IN A TELEFILM OR MINISERIES
Ben Kingsley — “Anne Frank” (ABC)
ACTRESS IN A TELEFILM OR MINISERIES
Judy Davis –“Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows” (ABC)
ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Martin Sheen — “The West Wing” (NBC)
ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Allison Janney — “The West Wing”
ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Sean Hayes — “Will & Grace” (NBC)
ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Megan Mullally — “Will & Grace”
“The West Wing” — Stockard Channing, Dule Hill, Allison Janney, Rob Lowe, Janel Moloney, Richard Schiff, Martin Sheen, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford
“Sex and the City” — Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Sarah Jessica Parker
LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD