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SAG Awards Preview: A Look at the 2023 Race

How hit shows like "House of the Dragon" and films like "Top Gun: Maverick" could fare

House of the Dragon Season 1 - Episode 7 Emma D'Arcy, Matt Smith Credit: Ollie Upton/HBO
HBO

The 29th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards are set to take place on Feb. 26 and while it’s that time of year to ponder what and who will be nominated, this season presents more questions than ever, as neither a venue nor a network have yet to be announced. Regardless, we take a look at what we do know — who the voting body is, what they mean to the industry and some of the titles that could be popping up at the nominations on Jan. 11. 

Who Are the Voters? 

The SAG Awards hold a special significance for many because they are  actors voting on their peers. They are voted on by members of SAG-AFTRA, the union for actors and performers who work in screen, radio and voiceover. While the group has more than 160,000 members, they have to be in good standing with fully paid dues in order to vote. The SAG Awards website notes: “The number of eligible final voters varies but in the past few years, the count has been between 124,000 and 130,000.” 

But prior to the awards, the nominees are selected by two smaller groups called the SAG Nominating Committees — one for motion pictures and one for TV. They are 2,500 people on each committee who are selected at random and comprise “paid-up and active SAG-AFTRA members who have not served previously in the past eight years.” To encourage voters to see all the performances, “nom comm” members are invited to screenings and events, often with films that aren’t available for general release.  

The SAG Award nominations will be announced on Jan. 11. All members in good standing can vote for the winners between Jan. 18 and Feb. 24. The SAG Awards will then be announced on Feb. 26.

Does a SAG Award equal Oscar glory?  

One of the reasons the SAG Awards are so closely watched is that winners on the film side tend to line up with the eventual Academy Award acting winners. While on the TV side it’s unknown how much overlap there is between SAG Award and Emmy Award voters, the overlap on the film side is significant. Of the 17 branches that vote on the Oscars, the largest by far is the actors’ branch, with more than  1,300 members. It stands to reason those actors are in good standing with their union and also vote on the SAG Award. 

This year, all four acting winners went on to take home Academy Awards. In fact, many point to the SAG Awards as a turning point for Jessica Chastain, who won for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and then became the frontrunner, eventually snagging the lead actress prize at the Oscars.  

In 27 years, the SAG Awards have matched the Oscar acting races perfectly nine times. But many of those matches have been recent years, with a few notable exceptions such as in 2019, when Olivia Colman won the Oscar for “The Favourite” after Glenn Close took home every prize. including the SAG Award, for “The Wife.”  

Some of those anomalies are because an actor isn’t nominated at the SAG Awards or the categories differ. For example, in 2012, “Django Unchained” was a late arrival to the scene and screeners were not available to nominating committee members so it failed to register at the SAG Awards. But Christoph Waltz went on to be nominated for — and win — the supporting actor Oscar. In 2008, Kate Winslet was nominated for the SAG Award for “The Reader” in the supporting category,  but at the Oscars she was bumped up to lead for the same film. Winslet won both. 

All About Ensemble 

The SAG Awards are one of the few major kudos that recognize the value of the ensemble, bestowing honors in five categories: motion picture, motion picture stunt, TV comedy, TV drama and TV stunt ensemble. There is some debate on how the ensemble SAG Award lines up with best picture at the Oscars. For the most part, it’s not an equal correlation. In recent years, both “The Shape of Water” and “Green Book” have won best picture at the Oscars without even landing an ensemble nomination at the SAG Awards. However, it’s certainly not a bad sign for your film to win the SAG ensemble prize — both “Parasite” and “CODA” started to look like frontrunners for best picture after claiming the cast trophy.  

The Year of the Woman 

A quick glance at the main film contenders and it’s hard not to notice what a strong year it’s been for female actors. The female actor in a leading role is already packed with contenders including previous winners Cate Blanchett (“Tár”), Olivia Colman (“Empire of Light”), Viola Davis (“The Woman King”) and Jennifer Lawrence (“Causeway”), or previous nominees, from Michelle Williams (“The Fabelmans”) to Rooney Mara (“Women Talking”) and Margot Robbie (“Babylon”). And that’s not even taking into account actors who would be first-time solo nominees such as Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) and Danielle Deadwyler (“Till”). 

Female actor in a supporting role is equally packed with no clear consensus yet emerging, complicated by the fact that several movies — “The Whale,” “She Said,” “The Woman King,” “Women Talking” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once” — have actors competing against each other. 

Newcomers Welcome 

On the male actor in a leading role side, there could be an entire lineup of first-time nominees in the category including Austin Butler (“Elvis”), Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”), Bill Nighy (“Living”), Jeremy Pope (“The Inspection”) and Jonathan Majors (“Devotion”). Actors who have been nominated here before could include Hugh Jackman (“The Son”), Adam Driver (“White Noise”), Tom Cruise (“Top Gun: Maverick”) and 2022 winner Will Smith (“Emancipation”).  

Male actor in a supporting role also looks full of rookies. These could include Ke Huy Quan (“Everything Everywhere”), Brendan Gleeson and Barry Keoghan (“Banshees”), Paul Dano and Judd Hirsch (“The Fabelmans”), Brian Tyree Henry (“Causeway”), Ben Foster (“Emancipation”), Jeremy Strong (“Armageddon Time”) and Ben Whishaw (“Women Talking”). Eddie Redmayne, who has two SAG Awards — one for lead actor for “The Theory of Everything” and the other  for “The Trial of the Chicago Seven” ensemble — would be new to supporting for his turn in “The Good Nurse.” Previous winner Brad Pitt (“Babylon”) and supporting nominees Woody Harrelson (“Triangle of Sadness”) and Mark Rylance (“Bones and All”) could also return. And then there’s Anthony Hopkins, who could find himself in the running for two very different supporting roles in “The Son” and “Armageddon Time.”  

Will Voters Say ‘Yes, Chef’? 

On the TV side, this is the first time FX’s “The Bear” is eligible, and after it became one of the buzziest shows of the year with its intense, yet digestible, 30-minute episodes, it’d be surprising if the series wasn’t recognized. With SAG’s ensemble category, it’s the perfect opportunity for Jeremy Allen White, Ayo Edebiri, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Abby Elliott, Lionel Boyce, Oliver Platt and Liza Colón-Zayas to earn a much-deserved nom — and actors love to honor other actors who may not be the stars but who are fully bringing their A-game. However, since SAG Awards don’t differentiate between leads and supporting players, it may be tougher for the supporting actors — who are just as important to the show’s charm as the leads — to land a coveted spot. 

After a discussion, producers decided the show will be placed in the comedy category. Since it doesn’t seem a new season of “Ted Lasso” will be out in time, “The Bear” is likely to go up against ABC’s “Abbott Elementary” and the very popular “Hacks. “Only Murders in the Building” could be back, as well as CBS’ “Ghosts,” which didn’t earn any Emmy love but still garners a strong weekly audience. 

A Notable Category Switch   

Although “The White Lotus” stars Murray Bartlett and Jennifer Coolidge were nominated in 2022  in the limited series acting categories, 2023 will see  a shift and Season 2 will be entered in the drama category. During the debut season it was missing in the ensemble category but in the soph session will likely earn a nomination for its stellar cast of Coolidge, Jon Gries, Haley Lu Richardson, Aubrey Plaza, Will Sharpe, Meghann Fahy, Theo James and others. 

Last year’s acting winners in the drama category, “Squid Game” stars Jung Ho-yeon and Lee Jung-Jae, are no longer eligible, giving a big opening for the Mike White hit. That said, with an all-new cast for “The Crown” in the running and “Better Call Saul,” “Ozark” and “Stranger Things” still in contention, it won’t be  easy. 

It’s also important to note that HBO’s “House of the Dragon” and Amazon Prime Video’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” will also be entering the drama race and won’t go unnoticed. 

Who Can Stage a Break-In? 

After its major success at the Emmys, “Abbott Elementary” could make quite the splash at the SAG Awards. Not only could creator, writer and star Quinta Brunson earn multiple nominations, but also the cast could really benefit from the ensemble award, with so many strong supporting actors — including Emmy-winner Sheryl Lee Ralph and fellow nominees Tyler James Williams and Janelle James. 

However, it’s been tough to find  non-streaming shows that get recognition from  SAG-AFTRA. Paramount Network’s “Yellowstone” earned its first nom last year and has the chance of earning recognition again in 2023. Additionally, Sheridan’s spinoff “1883,” which stars Tim McGraw, Sam Elliot, Faith Hill and Isabel May, could also land a nom or two. Despite the “Yellowstone” universe’s popularity — another spinoff starring Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren debuts in December on Paramount+ — it’s yet to bring home any trophies. 

Will ‘This Is Us’ Go Out on Top? 

 NBC’s drama has been a hit among actors for years, earning five best drama nominations and noms for Sterling K. Brown, Milo Ventimiglia, Asante Blackk, Justin Hartley, Chrissy Metz and Susan Kelechi Watson. 

After the final season was shut out at the Emmys — and the uproar around those who couldn’t ignore Mandy Moore’s strong performance playing Rebecca Pearson in different stages of her life — Moore could see some much-deserved attention from her fellow actors. The only downside that “This Is Us” is facing is that the finale aired in May, so it could be simply forgotten among voters who don’t realize it’s still eligible one last time. 

The show won the best drama award at SAG in both 2018 and 2019 — beating out multiple shows that will likely be nominated this year, including “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Ozark,” “Better Call Saul,” “The Crown” and “Stranger Things.”