Who will strike it lucky at the SAG Awards?

by Aaron Barnhart

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

21 January 2009


The Screen Actors Guild likes to boast that the SAG Awards for outstanding film and television performances are “the award show where only actors vote for actors.” This year, however, that claim is proving to be a double-edged sword.

The 120,000-strong union lets all its members vote for the SAG Awards. Currently, though, SAG is deeply divided over a vote of much greater consequence: namely, whether to allow its leadership to call for a strike. SAG has been operating without a contract since June 30 and is no closer to a deal with the big film and TV studios. A national board meeting called earlier this month to deal with dissenters instead ended in acrimony.

Who will strike it lucky at the SAG Awards?

Now, the ill will within SAG’s ranks is casting a troubling shadow over its annual televised trophy ceremony, the SAG Awards, which air 8 p.m. EST Sunday on both TNT and TBS.

And it’s all because of an e-mail sent out by a member of the SAG board, Frances Fisher. The British actress - who had a recurring role on “The Shield” last season - created some drama herself by forwarding, without comment, an anonymous e-mail urging all members not to vote for any SAG Award nominee who had come out against a strike. More than 100 A-listers had signed an open letter that read in part, “We feel very strongly that SAG members should not vote to authorize a strike at this time.”

The anonymous e-mail named the actors who signed the letter and are also up for SAG Awards: Josh Brolin, Kevin Spacey, Susan Sarandon, Michael C. Hall, Sally Field, Alec Baldwin, Steve Carell and Tony Shalhoub.

SAG leadership denounced the e-mail, saying it was “unfortunate that a few people have chosen to attempt to politicize” the awards. Oddly, Fisher waited a week before issuing a statement and apology to the actors. “My intention in forwarding the anonymous e-mails regarding the SAG Awards was to alert my private e-mail list of opinions and feelings that were circulating,” she sort of explained.

Don’t expect this ugliness to ooze into the SAG Awards. But if any of the above actors fails to take home an Actor - the official name for the statuette given to winners in the 15 categories - remember that e-mail.

Last year’s SAG Awards honored two actors who later took home Oscars (Daniel Day-Lewis, Javier Bardem) and two actresses who didn’t (Julie Christie, Ruby Dee). SAG Awards are not the best predictor of Emmy winners because they happen in the middle of the TV season. Last year’s Emmy locomotive, “John Adams,” hadn’t started when the Actors were handed out - it’s up for SAG Awards this year.

The strangest omission from the ballot is the AMC drama “Breaking Bad,” for which Bryan Cranston won the acting Emmy last year. It wasn’t even nominated for a SAG Award, perhaps because it had been off TV for months when nominating ballots were sent out.

Up this year for SAG Awards:

Actor, film: Sean Penn’s Harvey Milk takes on Frank Langella’s Nixon and Mickey Rourke’s “Wrestler.”

Actress, film: Meryl Streep in “Doubt” and Kate Winslet in “Revolutionary Road.”

Supporting actor, film: Heath Ledger for “Dark Knight” is favored in a tough field that includes Brolin for “Milk” and Philip Seymour Hoffman for “Doubt” and Dev Patel in “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Supporting actress, film: This is a tricky one. Viola Davis’ brief but emotion-packed appearance in “Doubt” has won a lot of fans. Also competing: Penelope Cruz in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler.”

Actor, drama: Jon Hamm for “Mad Men” could edge Hugh Laurie in “House” and multi-Emmy winner James Spader (“Boston Legal”).

Actress, drama: Cable leads Kyra Sedgwick in “The Closer” and Holly Hunter in “Saving Grace” compete with network ensemble star Sally Field in “Brothers & Sisters.”

Actor, comedy: It’s Alec Baldwin’s to lose.

Actress, comedy: It’s not even Tina Fey’s to lose.

Actor, TV movie: Ralph Fiennes should win for his unheralded role in “Bernard & Doris,” but he has to compete with Paul Giamatti of “John Adams” and Kiefer Sutherland for November’s “24.”

Actress, TV movie: Ditto for “Bernard & Doris” lead Susan Sarandon versus Laura Linney of “John Adams.”

SAG also gives awards to best ensembles, which I find ridiculous since it’s patently a “best show” competition, ostensibly judged purely on acting talent.

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