Stars and Strike
The Awards Season Is Under a Cloud, but Hollywood Throws a Party With SAG Honors

By William Booth and Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 28, 2008

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 27

With the Golden Globes a bust and the Oscars looking iffy, Hollywood migrated to the Screen Actors Guild Awards Sunday night for a little star-studded self-congratulatory silliness.

The three-month-old writers' strike has put next month's Academy Awards show in jeopardy, but the SAG Awards rolled out the red carpet (under a big tent, under rainy skies) and went ahead with the serious business of TV and film promotion. "Welcome to the most glamorous and exciting evening in the history of the world," says comedian Steve Carell, getting the tone just about right at the beginning of the show.

The nice thing about the SAG Awards is they clock in at two hours, with no clutter -- no trophies for cinematographers, composers, costumers. No Best Picture (though "No Country for Old Men" won the ensemble cast award, which sort of feels like a top film prize). Just Best Actors. Actors loving actors. It's like MySpace.

So Carell announces the winner for best male actor in a television drama and the winner is . . . James Gandolfini for "The Sopranos." It appears the former HBO hit is still participating in trophy shows, even though Tony and the family faded to black in a Jersey diner a long time ago. "This is our last official act as the Sopranos all together," Gandolfini promises. "It's been 10 years. It's been an honor." Then he sits down.

But there's more. The winner for best actress in a television drama goes to Edie Falco for "The Sopranos," who appears a little surprised. "Oh, my gosh," Falco says. "This is so not supposed to happen."

And finally, for best ensemble in a TV drama, the award goes to "The Sopranos," raising the question of what all those other shows are doing cluttering up the dial. Paulie Walnuts (a.k.a. Tony Sirico) stands and says: "Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. What a hell of a way to go." The entire cast has a group hug onstage, and America says ciao.

After the "Sopranos" sweep, television sets in the media room backstage go dead, which is in keeping with the whole seat-of-the-pants proceedings. In a normal year, the SAG Awards are just a blip in trophy season, but Sunday night, no surprise, the show is packed with press, who learn not to call these awards the SAGs (they don't like that).

Has the rain blown a fuse? A publicist finally appears and screams above the din, "Javier Bardem won for best actor in a supporting role!" That would be for his turn as the psychopathic assassin in "No Country for Old Men," the film whose directors, Joel and Ethan Coen, won the Directors Guild award on Saturday.

A couple more awards speed by while reporters are (literally) in the dark about the winners. Then the power returns, and to the media room comes the cast of . . . "The Sopranos." To what do they owe their success? "It's just a good show, ba-da bing!" says Sirico. They may have been the greatest ensemble ever to appear on television, but tonight, this group is out of gas. When the awards show is viewable again, we see Burt Reynolds onstage, speaking warmly, lovingly of veteran character actor Charles Durning ("The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and "The Sting," among dozens of films), who is being given a lifetime achievement award. Following sustained applause, Durning quips, "That it?"

Tina Fey of "30 Rock," who won for best actress in a TV comedy, comes backstage and is mostly asked about the writers' strike. "I do think the issues in the strike are important, though most people at home are 'What?'" Fey explains.

Mickey Rooney, who has had a SAG card for 74 years, comes onstage to present the prize for best actress in a television movie or miniseries. "People ask me, 'Mickey, are you still working?' I'm here to open an envelope, and when you're 87, that's work," Rooney says. Ah, the award goes to Queen Latifah. This will be fun! "Miss Latifah?" Rooney begs. "Unfortunately, Miss Latifah could not be with us this evening."

Ditto, Kevin Kline, a winner for best actor in the TV movie "As You Like It." Apparently, Klein liked it elsewhere.

(For those who are new to the SAG Awards, the nominees in the 13 acting categories are chosen by two panels, composed of 2,100 members each, one for TV, one for film. Then, about 100,000 active members of the Screen Actors Guild vote for the winners, making these awards way more numerically representative than, say, the Nevada presidential caucuses.)

Then there's last year's deceased. A list of the departed is read, showing film or TV clips of Beverly Sills, Dabbs Greer, Suzanne Pleshette, Tom Poston, Jack Williams, Luciano Pavarotti, Jane Wyman, Betty Hutton -- and it ends with Heath Ledger, shown as the young cowboy in "Brokeback Mountain."

Hey! Ruby Dee gets a statuette for her tough mama in "American Gangster" and says, "What an exciting time to be an actor," but we're not sure the audience of the SAG show would agree. Everything feels a little stuffy.

It does pick up at the end. Daniel Day-Lewis, winning for his oilman in "There Will Be Blood," talks about the challenges of the profession, its emotional toll, and then honors Ledger. "In 'Brokeback Mountain,' he was unique, he was perfect," Day-Lewis says. "That scene in the trailer at the end is as moving as anything I've seen -- and I'd like to dedicate this to him." Backstage, Day-Lewis says of Ledger: "It's all I've been thinking about the last few days. I'd never met him [but] I have a very strong feeling I would have liked him as a man."

Josh Brolin, speaking for the cast honored for "No Country for Old Men," thinks this an especially fine year for films with an independent streak. "The studio system is backfiring badly," he says, happily, "and it's fun for actors." Brolin says this as Tom Cruise, who presented the award, stands by, perhaps as a symbol of the studio system backfiring badly.

On the red carpet before the show, actors tried to strike the right note -- not too we-got-a-waiver happy, not too many-people-are-out-of-work-and-Heath-Ledger-just-died sad. Designers had not designed gowns for many actresses this year, citing the uncertainty of the strike. (The Writers Guild, which refused to let its members work on the Golden Globes earlier this month, issued a waiver for the SAG ceremony, because of the actors union's support for the strike.) This may be be remembered as the off-the-rack red carpet.

"I have an aversion to competition -- I'm not sure actors should be competing," SAG President Alan Rosenberg says while strolling the carpet before things really got rolling. This seemed an odd thing to say.

Marc Cherry, creator of "Desperate Housewives," breezes by on the other side of the red carpet, over by the fans, avoiding the press.

Dana Delany is looking lovely in a knee-length strapless black Romona Keveza dress with black matching shawl lined in pink. She says she chose the dress because of its "sense of humor." She mentions Audrey Hepburn, but we didn't get the connection. "That's my style," she explains. "Classic with a sense of humor."

Ed Helms, a funnyman on "The Office," walks up. His show was the very first shut down by the writers' strike. Is he eager to get back to work? "I just bought a hammock," he says. How does he feel about SAG throwing a trophy show when actors refusing to cross the writers' picket line had shut down the Golden Globes and they could wind up shutting down the Oscars? "It's important to compartmentalize issues," Helms explains. The SAG Awards ceremony is "a Hollywood union recognizing its brothers and sisters," he explains. The strike is a "horrible, upsetting issue." The trophy show, it follows, is therefore a "bright spot in a depressing season."

The strike isn't bothering Ricky Gervais, because he likes sitting around. "Why, was I frivolous?" he says, wondering if he can take the words back, before adding that he likes to sit home in his pajamas "and eat cheese." Who are you wearing? a reporter shouts. "Giorgio Armani and thank you for asking," Gervais taps his nose and winks.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company