Entertainment

2015 Screen Actors Guild Awards: Birdman, Downton Abbey win cast awards

Birdman topped the 21st annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, winning best ensemble cast, even though star Michael Keaton was upset by Eddie Redmayne in the most outstanding actor category.

Eddie Redmayne over Golden Globe winner Michael Keaton in best actor category

Oscar hopes for Birdman got an enormous updraft over the weekend with big wins from the acting and producing guilds, possibly sending the comedy soaring over the perceived Academy Awards front-runner Boyhood.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's elegantly crafted backstage romp won best ensemble Sunday night at the 21st annual Screen Actors Guild, a day after it also won the top honour at the Producer Guild Awards. Both guilds are seen as highly predictive of which film will triumph at the Oscars, which will be held Feb. 22.

Richard Linklater's Boyhood, the acclaimed indie made with the unprecedented real-life time-elapse of 12 years, has long held as the awards seasons favourite. But Birdman fills the role of a classic Oscar winner, like Shakespeare in Love, as a celebration of showbiz. Its fortunes look especially bright considering the last seven Producers Guild Awards winners have also won best picture at the Academy Awards.

"Actors love this movie for showing the courage actors have to kind of go out there and lay it on the line," Birdman star Michael Keaton said backstage at the SAG Awards. He accepted the best ensemble award with his co-stars including Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Zach Galifianakis.

Yet Keaton also lost at the SAGs, held Sunday at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Instead, most outstanding actor went to The Theory of Everything star Eddie Redmayne, whose exceeding technical performance as Stephen Hawking has equally drawn raves. Looking down at his blue statuette — "this very wonderful skinny man," he said — Redmayne dedicated the SAG Award to sufferers and victims of ALS.

The other Oscar favourites — Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette and J.K. Simmons — all cemented their front-runner status in a glamorous, self-congratulatory ceremony that can serve as a test-run for acceptance speeches.

Moore, widely considered the best-actress favourite, won most outstanding actress for Still Alice, in which she plays an academic with early onset Alzheimer's Disease. Accepting the award, she recalled an early lesson on the soap opera "As the World Turns," in which she played twin sisters, good and evil.

"Then I realized it was super boring to act by myself," said Moore.

Accepting the award for most outstanding supporting actor for his performance as a domineering jazz teacher in Whiplash, Simmons thanked all 49 actors who appear in the drama.

"All of us actors are supporting actors," said Simmons, a veteran character actor. "Each of us is essential, completely crucial to the story because if there's one false moment, the train comes off the rails."

Boyhood star Arquette added the latest in a nearly uninterrupted string of supporting actress awards. "This little movie is about human beings and it's about bringing real life onto the screen," she said backstage.

Predictive powers of the SAGs​

Actress Patricia Arquette accepts her SAG award for outstanding performance for her role in Boyhood at the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards Sunday night. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Because actors make up the largest portion of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the SAG Awards are also considered one of the most telling Oscar previews. Last year, the top four winners — Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Lupita Nyong'o, Jared Leto — all went on to win Academy Awards after first scooping up SAG awards.

The predictive powers of the SAGs have been more checkered in matching its top award with eventual best-picture Oscar winners. In the last six years, SAG best-ensemble and Academy Award best-picture winners have lined up three times (ArgoThe King's Speech and Slumdog Millionaire), while diverging just as often. Last year, the actors chose American Hustle over eventual Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave; in 2011, they picked The Help over The Artist; and in 2009, Inglourious Basterds defeated The Hurt Locker.

So Sunday's SAG Awards made two things clear: the Oscar race will be a nail-biter that likely pits Birdman against Boyhood; and the other best source of drama will probably be Keaton and Redmayne vying for best actor.

Big wins from the small screen

Sunday's show kicked off with a pair of wins for the Netflix prison series Orange Is the New Black, honouring it as best ensemble in a comedy and naming Uza Abuda most outstanding actress in a comedy series.

From left to right, actresses Joanne Froggatt, Sophie McShera, Laura Carmichael, and Phyllis Logan, winners of Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series for 'Downton Abbey,' pose in the press room. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Best ensemble cast in a drama series went to Downton Abbey, the second time the series has won the category.

Two actors who usually reside on the big screen won the SAG awards for performances in a miniseries or TV movie: Mark Ruffalo (for HBO's A Normal Heart) and Frances McDormand (for HBO's Olive Kitteredge). Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), William H. Macy (Shameless) and Viola Davis (How to Get Away With Murder) also collected awards.

Mother-daughter moment

Debbie Reynolds, the Singin' in the Rain star, was honoured with the SAG lifetime achievement award, which her daughter, Carrie Fisher, presented.

Actress Debbie Reynolds, left, accepts the life achievement award from her daughter actress Carrie Fisher at the 21st annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)
The 82-year-old Reynolds embarrassed Fisher with a story, recalling that her bun in the famous musical led her to warn her daughter ahead of playing Princess Leia in Star Wars.

"I said, 'Well, Carrie, be careful of any weird hairdos,"' said Reynolds. "So luckily George gave her two buns."

She also remembered 1964's The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

"In that movie I got to sing a wonderful song 'I Ain't Down Yet,'' said Reynolds. "Well, I ain't."

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