SAG's working class get face time

Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett aren’t the only actors who will be recognized at this year’s 13th annual SAG Awards. The profession’s unsung heroes will also be acknowledged — via video.

The annual satellite salute allows the guild to pay homage to those performers who are not necessarily household names, including character actors, voice players, stunt men and women, commercial thesps, stand-ins, background singers and guest performers — in other words, those who keep the organization alive.

“The tribute profiles the working actors of SAG because we are the ones who basically pay all of the dues,” commercial thesp and 2006 tribute interviewee Jim Connor says. “… I think it’s good to see that, even though you are a celebrity, you are still part of a union of people who are working middle- or upper-middle class.”

This year Kiefer Sutherland will introduce the “Actors Who Are Heard But Not Seen” tribute film, which will focus on voiceover artists.

“It is really important for people to realize that (the ceremony) is not just all about the stars,” show producer Kathy Connell explains. “Being in the union, we are very aware of how much talent is involved and how many contracts they work.

“Of course, we can’t show that in two hours. Our awards are focused on the film and television actors, but there is so much that goes into TV and film that is not represented,” she adds.

Unfortunately, given the Shrine Auditorium’s space limitations, not all actors are created equal.

“It would have been nice to go,” Connor admits. “I thought that tickets would have been one of the perks. I did get a swag bag, so that’s kind of nice. But not being invited was kind of ironic. Then again, the stars, the agents, they all want to be there. Those tickets are the hottest thing in town.”

Invited or not, Connor and fellow 2006 commercials thesp tribute interviewee Wayne Wilderson agree that the salute not only gave credit where credit is due but illuminated the public on the fact that not all actors are famous.

“I think it shed light on how many actors do make a bulk of their living from commercials,” Wilderson says. “There are a lot of (famous) people who have been considered ‘overnight successes,’ but that is not really the case. Quite often they have been in a number of commercials.”

“It was valuable in the sense that it showed that an actor could be your next-door neighbor,” Connor adds.

Although the tribute did not lead to monetary gain for either thesp, Wilderson appreciates the guild’s recognition.

“This is a rejection-filled occupation,” Wilderson says. “So things like that tribute help (your self-esteem) a lot, especially since (SAG) told my agent that they wanted to talk to recognizable working actors. It was a compliment.”

Connor received a few compliments due to the appearance, however dubious.

“I got a lot of people who really loved seeing me on the Oscars or the Emmys,” he says. “I’d say, ‘No it was the SAG Awards.’ They would say, ‘No. No. No. I saw you on the Oscars.’ ”

Despite not having reached Oscar glory, both actors, who have been working in commercials since the late 1980s, are doing just fine outside of the limelight.

“In the past I used to supplement my income with carpentry or something like that,” Connor says. “But for the past five years I have just done acting. An actor like me diversifies. I do radio work, voiceovers, TV and film, voices for videogames. You try to do as much as you can to make an income.”

“I’m not striving for fame,” Wilderson adds. “I’m striving for work.”

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