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SAG Awards: Breaking Down the 2021 Ballot

SAG Awards Preview Ma Raineys Black
Courtesy of Netflix/Apple TV+/Amazon Studios

Variety breaks down each category at the 27th annual SAG Awards ceremony, to be held on April 4.

Cast in a Motion Picture
There was a time when it seemed a film couldn’t win a best picture Oscar without a SAG ensemble nom, but in recent years, several films — such as “Green Book” and “The Shape of Water” — have done away with that theory. The five contenders have great casts and numbers in common, from “One Night in Miami” to “Da 5 Bloods” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Also nominated are “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” whose two leads are individually nommed, and “Minari,” which scored in the male lead and female supporting categories. It all feels too close to call at this point.

Stunt Ensemble (Film)
Of the five stunt ensembles, “Da 5 Bloods” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” are the two films also nominated for cast performance, while “News of the World” has an individual nom for young star Helena Zengel. The other two nominees, “Mulan” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” might feature showier work thanks to their legendary heroines and the action sequences integral to the plots. This category does tend to favor the superheroes — see “Avengers: Endgame,” “Black Panther” and the first “Wonder Woman,” the past three winners of the category. “Mulan” might have an edge, thanks to its stunning martial arts sequences.

Male Actor in a Leading Role
“Mank” star Gary Oldman is a recent winner here, as is “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” lead Chadwick Boseman for his work in the “Black Panther” ensemble. “Sound of Metal” star Riz Ahmed has been nominated on the television side, while Anthony Hopkins landed his seventh nomination for “The Father.” The newcomer to the field is Steven Yeun for “Minari.” Many perceive this as a race between Golden Globe winner Boseman and Hopkins, who has never won a SAG Award, but Ahmed has been picking up critical accolades and could pose a serious threat.

Female Actor in a Leading Role
Four of the nominees here were also Golden Globe nominees — Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”), Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) and Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”). But the Globes brought no clarity to the race, as they were all bested by Andra Day, who wasn’t nominated here. The fifth nominee, Amy Adams (“Hillbilly Elegy”) landed her 10th nod. Davis is the only actor whose film was nominated in ensemble, which gives her an edge. But many are predicting Mulligan, whose fearless performance and timely film seems to be gaining momentum.

Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Boseman is also nominated here for his work in “Da 5 Bloods” and he stands a good chance of winning, especially if voters go another way in lead. But he faces stiff competition from Daniel Kaluuya, whose performance as Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” just landed him a Golden Globe. Also nominated are previous winner Jared Leto for “The Little Things,” and two actors from films that earned ensemble noms, Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) and Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”). Cohen is coming off a great year thanks to dual turns in “Chicago 7” and “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” which earned him Golden Globes for lead actor and best film, and could give him the needed momentum to push him to a win.

Female Actor in a Supporting Role
The hardest category to predict is a match-up of previous winners and newcomers, with SAG Award winners Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”) and Olivia Colman (“The Father”) facing off again after their match-up in the lead category two years ago. The newcomers include Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”), Yuh-Jung Youn (“Minari”) and Helena Zengel (“News of the World”) — all making their American film debuts. Bakalova and Youn have been dominating the critics’ awards and many perceive this to be a race between the two. But never count out Close, the heart of her film and beloved by her peers.

Drama Series Ensemble
When it comes to television series, the Screen Actors Guild often takes a little while to catch on. That is why it was surprising to see the org nominate both HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” and Netflix’s “Bridgerton” immediately for their freshman seasons. AMC’s “Better Call Saul” picked up a new nom in this category after its initial nomination in 2019 for its fourth season, while Netflix’s “Ozark” received its second nom in this category (its first was for its sophomore season, also in 2019). Netflix’s “The Crown” is back with its fourth nomination after winning last year and, after hitting its stride with its cast’s peers, is the one to beat.

Comedy Series Ensemble
This category probably won’t come down to a two-way tie in the end, but right now it appears neck-and-neck for Apple TV Plus’ “Ted Lasso” and Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek.” Both are feelgood series, but while “Ted Lasso” is just getting into the awards game with its first season, “Schitt’s Creek” is taking its final run after signing off last spring. “Schitt’s Creek” is also the only series to see its second nomination in this category; in addition to “Ted Lasso,” HBO Max’s “The Flight Attendant” and Hulu’s “The Great” are nominated for their first seasons, while Netflix’s “Dead to Me” scored its first ensemble nod for its second season.

Stunt Ensemble (TV)
All five nominated series delivered jaw-dropping events from physical fight choreography to car chases and
explosions, but this race looks to come down to the bigwigs. Amazon Prime Video has gone all-out to support “The Boys,” and constantly putting it in front of voters certainly helps. However, it is hard to argue with the power of the “Star Wars” universe, and therefore Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian” is currently a leading contender. Also in the running are HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” Netflix’s “Cobra Kai” and the only veteran, HBO’s “Westworld,” now seeing its third nomination.

Male Drama Actor in a Series
After winning this category in 2019, “Ozark’s” Jason Bateman is back on the ballot once again. SAG is no stranger to repeating a winner in this category, so after a season that saw his character experience deeper trauma, he stands a strong shot at another statue. However, his streamer-mate Josh O’Connor from “The Crown” is giving him a real run for his money at the moment, especially after winning a Golden Globe for his turn as Prince Charles in Season 4. Also nominated are 2017’s winner Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”), four-time nominee Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”) and rookie Regé-Jean Page (“Bridgerton”).

Female Drama Actor in a Series
Sometimes sharing a ballot with a co-star can split votes, but in this category all five nominees will be affected by that. “The Crown” has three spots — for lead performers Olivia Colman and Emma Corrin and supporting actor Gillian Anderson — while “Ozark” has two: lead Laura Linney and supporting Julia Garner. Anderson stole scenes with her full body commitment to capturing the polarizing political leader Margaret Thatcher, so coupling that with the guild’s longtime love for her (she already has two wins in the category from her work on “The X-Files” in the 1990s), it looks like it’s her year to take another.

Male Comedy Actor in a Series
Incredibly all the nominees in this category are first-timers, despite having a wide range of credits among them. Both “Schitt’s Creek” creators and male stars, Eugene Levy and Daniel Levy, are nominated this year, each for the first time. The elder Levy has been a beloved comedy legend for decades but has not yet gotten his due from his peers. While many may want to rectify that now, it may prove too hard a task to choose between him and his son. This pushes “Ted Lasso’s” titular star and recent Golden Globe winner Jason Sudeikis into a front-runner position for the win. Also nominated are “The Great’s” Nicholas Hoult and “Ramy’s” Ramy Youssef.

Female Comedy Actor in a Series
Christina Applegate (“Dead to Me”) and Catherine O’Hara (“Schitt’s Creek”) both see second consecutive nominations in this category for their respective comedies. But the duo, who once played mother and daughter in the holiday film “Surviving Christmas,” not only sees tough competition from each other this year, but also from their co-stars, Linda Cardellini and Annie Murphy, respectively. A combination of vote-splitting and the fact that the guild has nominated Kaley Cuoco seven times in the comedy ensemble category (six for “The Big Bang Theory,” as well as one this year for “The Flight Attendant”) but only once here may help her come out on top.

Male Limited Series/TV Movie Actor
Two-time SAG winner Mark Ruffalo (“I Know This Much Is True”) has real heat in this race after winning both the Emmy and the Golden Globe for his role playing twins. But all the other performers are nominated for more recent roles, so it’s not a done deal yet. Hugh Grant (“The Undoing”) and Ethan Hawke (“The Good Lord Bird”) are also proven SAG favorites, with three prior noms apiece, although notably this is Hawke’s first on the TV side, while Tony and Grammy winner Daveed Diggs (“Hamilton”) and Bill Camp (“The Queen’s Gambit”) are first-timers. Of those with newer projects, Grant has the most buzz at the moment, but this is one category that could surprise on April 4.

Female Limited Series/TV Movie Actor
Nicole Kidman was the 2018 winner in this category (then for “Big Little Lies”) up now for another collaboration with David E. Kelley (“The Undoing”). Looking to take the title anew are Cate Blanchett (“Mrs. America”), Michaela Coel (“I May Destroy You”), Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”) and Kerry Washington (“Little Fires Everywhere”). Blanchett is a three-time winner seeing her first nod on the small-screen side of the ballot, while Washington is receiving her career fourth nom. But it is actually the newcomers who have the most buzz: After Coel was snubbed by the HFPA, this nom pushed her to the top of conversation; however, Taylor-Joy has been stirring discussion ever since her Netflix series dropped, and she is drawing renewed interest after taking home the Golden Globe last month.