The cast of “The Birdcage,” overlooked for Oscar nominations, took a top Screen Actors Guild Award, as did Geoffrey Rush for “Shine” and Frances McDormand for “Fargo.”

In TV categories, NBC’s “Seinfeld” won two awards, one for ensemble cast in a comedy series, and another for Julia Louis-Dreyfus as female actor in a comedy series.

The awards, held Saturday at the Shrine Auditorium ballroom, were the first of Hollywood’s above-the-line guild fetes in the weeks leading up to the Oscars. The Directors Guild of America hands out its awards March 8, and the Writers Guild holds its fete on March 16.

The thesps awards are only in their third year, but they did foreshadow key Oscar winners such as Nicolas Cage for “Leaving Las Vegas” and Susan Sarandon for “Dead Man Walking” last year. The guild’s 86,000 members are all eligible to vote for the awards.

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Rush, an Australian native who already has won the Golden Globe and critics honors, said that the SAG honor had extra importance because it is coming from a “peer group from another country, and that peer group is made up of some of my heroes of my childhood and my working life as an actor. It is a very special experience.”

Supporting feature honors went to Lauren Bacall, who won a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for her role in “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” and to Cuba Gooding Jr. for “Jerry Maguire.” Both were no-shows.

“I’m unemployed for the moment, but this is really exciting,” McDormand said on winning her award. She is married to Joel Coen, the film’s director, who wrote the film with brother Ethan.

Her performance as Marge Gunderson, the pregnant Minnesota highway patrol officer who investigates a murder, has been viewed as one of the more unique roles of recent years, although her character and others in the film have raised the hackles of some Minnesotans as making fun of those in the north country.

“I don’t think they are mad at me, they are mad at Joel and Ethan,” McDormand said backstage to a roar of laughs. But she said the Coens drew on what they remembered from growing up in Minneapolis. “The Minnesota dialect was like a musical score,” she said. “In the script, every single ‘ya’ was in there, every single ‘you betcha,’ because that was the music they remembered from their childhood … The music in their minds may have been exaggerated because it had been so long, in fact.”

Birds of a ‘feather’

Nathan Lane accepted the ensemble cast award for “The Birdcage” along with Hank Azaria and Christine Baranski. Lane believes that it was passed over in the Oscars because it was a light comedy and it was released earlier in the year. Likewise, the SAG award was a surprise. “It was pretty apparent you could knock us over with a feather,” he quipped.

In TV awards, John Lithgow continued his run of kudos for “3rd Rock From the Sun,” winning for male actor in a comedy series. He already has taken home an Emmy and a Golden Globe.

Drama series honors went to Dennis Franz for “NYPD Blue” and Gillian Anderson for “The X-Files,” as well as to the cast of NBC’s “ER.”

In the TV movie/miniseries category, Alan Rickman won for his performance in “Rasputin,” while Kathy Bates won for “The Late Shift,” in which she portrayed Jay Leno’s late manager, Helen Kushnick.

“This one is for you, Helen,” she said in accepting the award. Bates next will direct an episode of “NYPD Blue.”

The cast of “Seinfeld” all showed up to accept their award, but they said little about the status of their talks to do another season of the show, except to say they were optimistic something would be worked out. The question is how soon that will happen. “We don’t know,” Seinfeld said. “It’s not our money.”

One of the evening’s high points was the life achievement award to Angela Lansbury, presented by Glenn Close.

Overnight Nielsens showed that the awards finished third in their time period.

The awards:


Actor — Geoffrey Rush, “Shine”

Actress — Frances McDormand, “Fargo”

Supporting actor — Cuba Gooding Jr., “Jerry Maguire”

Supporting actress — Lauren Bacall, “The Mirror Has Two Faces”

Cast — Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane, Dianne Wiest, Hank Azaria, Christine Baranski, Dan Futterman, “The Birdcage”


Actor, movie or miniseries — Alan Rickman, “Rasputin”

Actress, movie or miniseries — Kathy Bates, “The Late Shift”

Actor, drama series — Dennis Franz, “NYPD Blue”

Actress, drama series — Gillian Anderson, “The X-Files”

Actor, comedy series — John Lithgow, “3rd Rock From the Sun”

Actress, comedy series — Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Ensemble, drama series — George Clooney, Anthony Edwards, Laura Innes, Eriq LaSalle, Julianna Margulies, Gloria Reuben, Sherry Stringfield, Noah Wyle, “ER”

Ensemble, comedy series — Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards, Jerry Seinfeld, “Seinfeld”