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‘Sideways’ bags SAG swag

Foxx, Swank snare guild's top pic prizes

See Winners

Call it a technical knockout: Most-nommed pic “Sideways” uncorked the trophy for ensemble cast in a motion picture at the 11th annual SAG Awards Saturday at the Shrine Auditorium. But “Million Dollar Baby” won the undercard bouts, carrying away both the lead actress and supporting actor trophies — kudos for which “Sideways” also was in the running.

Hilary Swank won for her lead perf in “Million Dollar Baby,” while Jamie Foxx clearly struck a chord with his peers, clinching the performance by a male actor trophy for his transformational turn as singing legend Ray Charles in “Ray.”

In the supporting thesp category, Cate Blanchett won for her uncanny channeling of Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator.” Looking at her Actor statuette, Blanchett said, “The head, shoulders, neck and toes of this belong to Martin Scorsese.” Morgan Freeman mopped up the supporting actor prize for his moving perf as a prizefighter-turned-janitor in “Million Dollar Baby.”

Elsewhere, TV ensemble casts winners showed that persistence pays off where beginner’s luck fails: After having been nommed twice before, the Eye’s “CSI” finally escaped the chalk outline to nab a win for dramatic ensemble cast. The cast of overnight ABC hit “Desperate Housewives” went home with the comedy ensemble award, edging out fellow newcomer “Arrested Development” and retirees “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Sex and the City.”

For all the world’s obsession with narrowing the Oscar odds, SAG’s Actor award has been reliably unreliable as an Oscar bellwether. True, the winner of SAG’s lead actor nod also won the Oscar in the first six years of the SAG Awards. And while actors make up the largest section of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ membership (roughly 23%), changes made by the guild in 2003 to SAG’s nominating committee allowed more branch members to vote. The result? Significantly reduced overlap between Oscar’s largely New York- and Los Angeles-centered voter base and SAG Award voters.

Even in earlier years, when SAG’s nominating committee overlapped more with the Acad’s membership, there was rarely a four-for-four correlation between SAG and Oscar acting winners.

Moreover, SAG’s ensemble awards have matched the Oscar for best picture only five out of 10 times. (Last year’s SAG ensemble cast winner, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” did go on to claim the best pic Oscar.)

Unlike the 2004 SAG Awards, held after Oscar ballots had been mailed in, this year a SAG win could still influence some Acad members whose minds aren’t yet made up.

The TV comedy categories played host to new faces, many of them “Desperate.” Teri Hatcher picked up the Actor for perf by a female actor in a comedy series, a long way from where she started, she said, “as a dancing extra in ‘The Love Boat’ in 1985.” Moments later, Hatcher returned to the stage with the rest of her cast to claim another “Housewives” prize, for comedy ensemble.

And who says you never return to the scene of the crime? “Monk” topliner Tony Shalhoub reprised his win as male actor in a comedy series, while the late Jerry Orbach received his first and, lamentably, last win as male actor in a drama series for “Law & Order.”

Orbach was nommed as a member of the “L&O” ensemble every year since 1995 except 2003, and his nom marked only the third SAG has presented to an actor posthumously. Accepting the statuette, his wife, Elaine, who met Orbach while they were performing in the original Broadway cast of “Chicago,” summed it up best: “Ah, how bittersweet — but it’s still sweet.” She went on to recount Orbach’s simple motto: “Never leave a hit show.”

Meanwhile, Blanchett wasn’t the only actor paying homage to Katharine Hepburn on Saturday. Glenn Close, who won for performance in a TV movie or miniseries for Showtime’s “The Lion in Winter,” recounted how, upon starting out as an actress, she’d told Hepburn her perf as Eleanor of Aquitaine was the reason she’d become a thesp. Days later, a letter arrived from Hepburn herself, which joked: “I’m glad I persuaded you, when you were a mere child, to join this terrible profession, this terrifying profession and, let’s face it, this delicious way to spend your life.”

For his part, Close’s category counterpart, Geoffrey Rush, who won for his perf in “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers,” looked curiously at his naked statuette and joked, “I delude myself into thinking that when I am nude, I look like this guy.” He added: “I love that he’s called ‘the Actor.’ Not ‘the celebrity,’ not ‘the sound-biter’ nor ‘the whore.’ ”

It would be wrong to call it a capstone, for James Garner will return to work next week on ABC sitcom “8 Simple Rules.” But he accepted the SAG lifetime achievement award for his 50-year membership in the guild with humility and grace: At times, he seemed nearly overcome with emotion while recounting his past work and friendships.

“Of course, I’m humbled,” Garner said, his voice quavering. “I don’t know if I deserve this award, but you’ll forgive me if, just for tonight, I act like I do.”

And the winners are…

FILM

Actor
Jamie Foxx – “Ray” (Universal)

Actress
Hilary Swank – “Million Dollar Baby” (Warner Bros.)

Supporting Actor
Morgan Freeman – “Million Dollar Baby”

Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett – “The Aviator” (Miramax)

Ensemble Cast
“Sideways” – Thomas Haden Church, Paul Giamatti, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh (Fox Searchlight)

TELEVISION

Actor in a Telefilm or Miniseries
Geoffrey Rush – “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” (HBO)

Actress in a Telefilm or Miniseries
Glenn Close – “The Lion in Winter” (Showtime)

Actor in a Drama Series
Jerry Orbach – “Law and Order” (NBC)

Actress in a Drama Series
Jennifer Garner – “Alias” (ABC)

Actor in a Comedy Series
Tony Shalhoub – “Monk” (USA)

Actress in a Comedy Series
Teri Hatcher – “Desperate Housewives” (ABC)

Drama Ensemble
“CSI” – Gary Dourdan, George Eads, Jorja Fox, Paul Guilfoyle, Robert David Hall, Marg Helgenberger, William Petersen, Eric Szmanda (CBS)

Comedy Ensemble
“Desperate Housewives” – Andrea Bowen, Ricardo Antonio, Marcia Cross, Steven Culp, James Denton, Teri Hatcher, Felicity Huffman, Cody Kasch, Eva Longoria, Jesse Metcalfe, Mark Moses, Nicollette Sheridan, Brenda Strong

Life Achievement Award
James Garner

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