In an upset, the deaf family drama 'CODA' took top honours at an unpredictable and history-making 28th Screen Actors Guild Awards that also saw wins for the leads of 'Squid Game,' the cast of 'Ted Lasso' and Will Smith.
The ceremony, held at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California, and broadcast on both TNT and TBS, saw history made in a number of categories. Troy Kotsur, best supporting actor in a film, is the first deaf actor to ever win an individual SAG award. And for the first time, actors in a non-English language series - the Korean phenomenon 'Squid Game' - took home awards. Lee Jung-jae won best male actor in a drama series and Jung Ho-yeon won best female actor in a drama series.
Kotsur, a veteran 53-year-old actor who gave a breakthrough performance in Sian Heder's film, had already been the first deaf actor nominated individually for a SAG award. When his name was read, Kotsur plunged his head into his hands. On stage, he praised 'CODA' as the rare film to portray a deaf family authentically. But he concluded comically.
"Thank you for my wife for reminding me to check my fly before walking the red carpet," said Kotsur.
The 'Squid Game' wins for Lee and Jung came over big names like 'Succession' stars Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong, and Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston of 'The Morning Show.'
"I have sat many a times watching you on the big screen dreaming of one day becoming an actor," Jung told the crowd, fighting back tears.
The SAG Awards are considered one of the most reliable predictors of the Academy Awards - actors make up the largest percentage of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Kotsur's win suggested he may have emerged as the Oscar favorite over the competition, notably Kodi Smit-McPhee of 'The Power of the Dog.'
Meanwhile, Ariana DeBose of 'West Side Story' confirmed her frontrunner status with a win Sunday for best supporting performance by a female actor.
"It's taken me a long time to feel comfortable calling myself an actor," said DeBose. "My roots come from the dance world and the Broadway stage, and the Anita that we see on screen took every bit of me but she took 10 years to make."
The SAG Awards are presented by the Hollywood actors guild SAG-AFTRA. After the January Golden Globes were a non-event, the Screen Actors Guild Awards were Hollywood's first major, televised, in-person award show - complete with a red carpet and teary-eyed speeches - this year.
The 'Hamilton' trio of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr. and Daveed Diggs kicked off the broadcast with the declared theme of "together again.''
"We've returned to a world where all we have to do to hang out like this is get dressed up, show up, get swabbed, sanitised, screened, masked, vaccinated, boosted, rapid-tested and PCR-cleared within 24 hours,'' said Odom Jr. "Now who's ready to party?''
Some casts, citing quarantine regulations related to production schedules, appeared remotely - including the lead television nominee, 'Ted Lasso.' Appearing by video link with his castmates around him, Jason Sudeikis accepted the award for best actor in a comedy series. The Apple TV+ show was later named best comedy series ensemble.
While the Academy Awards aren't mandating vaccination for presenters (just attendees), it was required for the SAG Awards, which are voted on by the Hollywood actors' guild SAG-AFTRA. One actor in the cast of the Paramount series 'Yellowstone,' Forrie J. Smith, has said he wouldn't attend because he isn't vaccinated.
Jean Smart, star of 'Hacks,' won for best actress in a comedy series.
"I love actors," said Smart. "Nobody gets us.''
A pair of blockbusters on both the big and small screen took stunt ensemble awards announced before the show: Netflix's 'Squid Game' and the James Bond film 'No Time to Die.'
Kate Winslet presented the actors' lifetime achievement award to Mirren, a five-time SAG Award winner.
The leading Oscar nominee, Jane Campion's 'The Power of the Dog,' failed to land a best ensemble nominations but three of its actors - Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Smit-McPhee - scored individual nods.
Winning best ensemble doesn't automatically make a movie the Oscar favorite, but actors hold the largest sway because they constitute the largest percentage of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Last year, the actors chose Aaron Sorkin's 1960s courtroom drama 'The Trial of the Chicago 7,' while best picture at the Oscars went to 'Nomadland. The year before, SAG's pick of 'Parasite' presaged the Oscar winner.
SAG's track record may also mean Will Smith, star of the Williams family tennis drama 'King Richard,' is heading for his first Oscar. Smith took best actor, scoring his first SAG award.
"That may have been one of the greatest moments of my career just now because my name was called for `King Richard' sitting next to Venus Williams," beamed Smith.
Best actress has been more difficult category to track. Many have seen Olivia Colman ('The Lost Daughter') as the favorite to win her second Oscar. In an especially competitive category, those snubbed have often drawn the most focus. Kristen Stewart of 'Spencer' was passed over by SAG, while Lady Gaga ('House of Gucci') missed with the film academy.
Yet it was Jessica Chastain, who plays the infamous televangelist in 'The Eyes of Tammy Faye,' who won Sunday, notching her first individual SAG award. Heading into the Oscars on March 27, no category may be more uncertain.