*”The Help” got the upper hand in the Oscar race on Sunday when the movie won three awards from the Screen Actors Guild, including best cast in a surprise over silent movie romance “The Artist.”
“The Help,” which came into the show with a leading four nominations, also earned the best actress award for its star Viola Davis, and a supporting actress trophy for Octavia Spencer. They both played maids who face discrimination in the film set in Mississippi during the 1960s.
Davis thanked her co-star Cicely Tyson, who inspired her as a child and was in the audience. Davis talked of dreaming big as a child when she wanted to become an actress. She encouraged others to do so, too.
“Dream big and dream fierce,” she said.
Davis also took the opportunity to remind the celebrities in attendance, including A-listers George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Meryl Streep, as well as TV audiences, that change is still necessary in current U.S. culture.
“The stain of racism and sexism is not just for people of color or women,” she said. “It’s all of our burden. All of us, and we can, absolutely all of us, we can inspire change.”
Silent movie “The Artist” only claimed one trophy. Jean Dujardin was named best actor in a drama for his role as a fading screen star at the end of the talkies who is ultimately saved by love. Dujardin beat out Clooney and Pitt in the category, seemed genuinely surprised as he held his statue and thanked SAG.
Others winning SAG film honors included Christopher Plummer for supporting actor. Plummer, 82, who plays an elderly man who reveals his homosexuality, much to the chagrin of his family, thanked his fellow actors from the stage, calling them a wacky but wonderful bunch of artists.
SAG’s film awards are closely watched for their impact on Oscars because actors make up the biggest voting group at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences which picks winners. The Academy Awards take place in Los Angeles on February 26.
Coming into the SAG Awards, “The Artist” had been favored by pundits because it has claimed a string of victories in recent weeks at the Golden Globe and Critics Choice honors, as well as among industry groups like the producers and directors guilds.
But pundits may now have to re-calculate their odds back toward “The Help” with its SAG wins. Another key Oscar contender, “The Descendants,” was shut out by SAG voters.
Meanwhile, on the TV side:
“Boardwalk Empire” was named best drama series for the second straight year and “Modern Family was chosen top comedy, also for the second year running.
Jessica Lange took her first SAG trophy for best dramatic actress in new show, “American Horror Story,” and Steve Buscemi was named best actor in a drama for critically acclaimed “Boardwalk Empire.” Both thanked their cast and crew members.
Alec Baldwin, Betty White and the “Modern Family” were the three TV winners in comedy categories. Kate Winslet was named best actress in a small-screen movie or miniseries for “Mildred Pierce,” and Paul Giamatti won the trophy for actor in a movie or mini-series with “Too Big to Fail.”
Among the humorous moments, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph from the raunchy film comedy “Bridesmaids” played a game in which everyone had to take a drink when director Martin Scorsese’s name was mentioned. The game became a running joke throughout the show.
“You have to take a drink every time, and I mean every time, you hear the word Scorsese,” explained Rudolph, to which McCarthy swigged from a bottle of vodka, saying: “You would be surprised how much that comes up in casual conversation because people like to throw that thing around.” Meanwhile, Rudolph clutched a glass of champagne while Wiig held a glass of beer, bragging that the beverages and food backstage were “free.”
And of the more poignant points, Mary Tyler Moore – a star on comedy “The Dick Van Dyke” show in the 1960s, who cemented her fame in the ’70s on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and starred in critically acclaimed 1980 movie “Ordinary People” – was given a lifetime achievement honor.
“It means so much, it really does,” she told Reuters about her honor backstage.