SAG Awards Exec Producer Kathy Connell Announces Retirement, Previews Her Final Ceremony (EXCLUSIVE)

SAG Awards Executive Producer Kathy Connell poses for a protrait at the 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards Ceremony 'Cocktails with the SAG Awards' behind the scenes event at the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)
Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

SAG Awards executive producer Kathy Connell, who helped launch the awards show 28 years ago and has been with the show ever since, has confirmed that this weekend’s ceremony will be her last.

“I am retiring,” she tells Variety. “It’s been 28 wonderful years. Well, last year was sort of interesting, but 27 wonderful years. It is time and I am looking forward to family and traveling. I couldn’t be more proud. I call it one of my two babies. One of my babies is a Title IX officer at UC Irvine. And this is my other baby and, they’re both doing great and don’t need me anymore.”

Jon Brockett, who will executive produce Sunday’s SAG Awards with Connell, calls it a bit of an end of an era for the show. “Kathy’s been the leader of this ragtag band for a long time. I have learned a boatload from her in terms of how to produce the show and I am very humbled and honored to follow in her footsteps — her leopard print, kitten heel footprints.”

At least, for Connell’s final show, the SAG Awards will return in-person this year on Feb. 27 — but at a new venue, Santa Monica’s Barker Hangar. After scrambling to map out contingencies amid the most recent COVID surge, the producers say they’re relieved that the event is back on track, and heartened by the number of nominees and presenters who have already RSVP’d to attend the ceremony.

Among the stars who will appear include the casts of “Belfast” (Caitríona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Jude Hill, Ciarán Hinds), “Coda” (Daniel Durant, Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin), “Don’t Look Up” (Cate Blanchett, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tyler Perry), “House of Gucci” (Lady Gaga, Jared Leto) and “King Richard” (Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Will Smith).

Daveed Diggs, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr. are confirmed to open the ceremony, while additional show presenters include Alexandra Daddario (“The White Lotus”), Rosario Dawson (“Dopesick”), Ross Butler (“To All The Boys”) and Vanessa Hudgens (“Tick, Tick…Boom”).

“There were a lot of unknowns for a long time,” says Brockett. “We were always hopeful that we would have an in-person show and we kept driving to that fact — but knowing that we may have to pivot.”

This marks the return to an in-person event after last year’s pretaped, one-hour special, and producers have created an open design to alleviate COVID concerns.

“It’s a big, wide open airy space, which allows us to create something aesthetically interesting,” Brockett says. “We have a design theme that we’re lovingly calling our ‘deco garden’ that is different sort of look for us. It’s going to be a bit more immersive in terms of the guests in the room. It’s going to be more experiential. And we also think more engaging to a TV audience to a viewing audience. It will also have an indoor/outdoor quality to it.”

Chef Curtis Stone is overseeing the menu, which precautions taken in terms of how it’s being served. “We are making this a modified version of the traditional SAG Awards in terms of food and beverage,” Brockett says.

A handful of nominees will make virtual appearances, particularly if they are at international locations and can’t make the trip. And vaccination is mandatory for anyone in attendance.

“We are the union, and SAG-AFTRA has been very involved with the protocols for our industry to work during this period,” Connell says. “We have been very involved with making sure that the protocols are such that our members who are going to go back into bubbles and work the next day feel safe.”

There’s no host for this year’s ceremony (there have only been two in the show’s 28-year history, in 2018 and 2019), which Connell says is a nod to running time. “We have the tightest show; it’s two hours,” she says. “It’s really about giving as many as actors the opportunity to get up on stage and be a part of the evening.”

Helen Mirren will be honored with this year’s SAG Life Achievement Award, which will be presented by Kate Winslet. “I wish I could give her a half hour of salute out of our two hours because it is Helen Mirren,” Connell says.

Other SAG Award staples, like the show’s opening “I’m an Actor” speeches, will return, while the producers promise a few surprises.

Says Connell: “But it’s not a surprise if we tell you!”