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“The Help” Wins Best Ensemble Prize at SAG Awards

The civil rights-era drama “The Help” made a statement to Oscar voters tonight by claiming Screen Actors Guild Awards for best cast, best actress for Viola Davis and supporting actress for Octavia Spencer, while “The Artist’s” Jean Dujardin was named best actor.

“Modern Family” and “Boardwalk Empire,” meanwhile, repeated their wins for best television ensemble casts.

But “The Help” was easily the toast of the 18th annual SAG Awards ceremony. Davis — whose win for best actress was her first SAG victory — said it was a “joy” to be part of a film that made a bold statement about race relations.

“We arrived on the set in July in 2010 with such a heavy load on our shoulders,” she told the Shrine Auditorium crowds. “Such great expectations were already there for this book that was so beloved. And it’s been such a labor of love. And they say that the ensemble is just a group effort, just brought together to create a singular effect. And all these actors on the stage gave up their ego and were able to just work, and it’s been such a joy just to be a part of this cast.

“… I just want to say that the stain of racism and sexism is not just for people of color or women, it’s all of our burden, all of us,” she said. “And we absolutely, I don’t care how ordinary you may feel, all of us can inspire change. Every single one of us.”

Despite the big night for “The Help,” “The Artist” will likely remain as the top contender for the best-picture Academy Award, particularly given the honors it has already received at the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, Producers Guild and Directors Guild awards.

Dujardin beat out Hollywood favorite George Clooney of “The Descendants” to claim the Actor — the name given to the SAG Award — for his mostly silent role as silent-film star George Valentin in “The Artist.”

“Thank you, it’s too much,” the primarily French-speaking Dujardin said while accepting his award, appearing to grasp for words.

“I was a very bad student,” he said “I didn’t listen in class. I was always dreaming. My teachers called me … Jean of the moon. And I realize now that I never stopped dreaming. … thank you for this dream.”

Spencer and Christopher Plummer continued their respective marches toward the Oscars, taking home the supporting-acting awards.

“I just can’t tell you what fun I’ve had being a member of the world’s second-oldest profession,” Plummer said while accepting his supporting-actor award for his work in “Beginners,” in which he plays an aging father who announces he is gay and battling cancer.

He heaped praise on his co-star, Ewan McGregor, saying he “makes acting look so impossibly easy.”

Spencer, who won for her role as an outspoken maid in “The Help,” paid tribute to the women portrayed in the film.

“I have to say that it was really a privilege to work on a film that gave a voice to so many women who made it possible for me to be standing here tonight,” she said at the 18th annual SAG Awards at the Shrine Auditorium. “These women represented our mothers, our grandmothers, and it was their courage and them facing the challenges that they faced every day and living their life in dignity and grace, and I thank you. By honoring me you honor them.

“… Finally I want to thank all the people out there who went to support this movie and after watching it felt something, you felt compelled to make a change in your lives,” Spencer added. “So I’m gonna dedicate this to the downtrodden, the underserved, underprivileged, overtaxed, whether emotionally, physically or financially.”

Plummer and Spencer had already won Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe awards.

“Boardwalk Empire” won its second straight prize for ensemble cast in a television drama, and Steve Buscemi took home the award for best actor in a drama for the second consecutive year.

“This is really an honor to be amongst everyone in this room tonight,” said Buscemi, who plays politician/gangster Nucky Thompson.

Buscemi gave particular thanks to series creator Terence Winter, putting in a plug to keep his character alive on the series.

“Terry Winter, I will thank you to my dying day, but please don’t kill me, I don’t want to die prematurely,” Buscemi said.

Jessica Lange won the award for best actress in a drama series for her work on FX’s dark “American Horror Story.”

“This is such a pleasure coming from the actors,” she said. “It means the world to me, so I thank you. Thank you to FX and all the crazy, wild, imaginative people who put this thing together. It was a real leap of faith for me to jump into it, but it’s been a wonderful ride.”

“Modern Family” also won its second straight SAG Award for best ensemble cast in a comedy series.

“We honestly have the greatest jobs any actor could ever ask for,” one of the show’s young stars, Sarah Hyland, said in accepting the award for the cast. “The opportunity that we get to make people laugh each week is, you know, we take that very seriously.”

The top comedy acting awards also went to familiar faces.

Alec Baldwin won his sixth consecutive SAG Award for best actor in a comedy series for “30 Rock.”

“It’s been a real pleasure, a real honor,” he said. “This is so amazing for me to have this happen so many times in a row, I’m so happy, I’m so touched.”

He also thanked the show’s writing team, particularly Tina Fey.

“It’s just not gonna work unless you have great writing, and no offense to anyone else, but we have great writing, we have the greatest writers,” he said.

Betty White, meanwhile, won her second straight award for best actress for her work on “Hot in Cleveland.” She said she would be sharing the award with her co-stars, Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick

“You can’t name me without naming those other wonderful women on “Hot in Cleveland,”‘ White said. “They are, this nomination, I was thrilled, of course, but the nomination belongs to four of us, and please, please, know that I’m dealing them right in with this.

“I’m not going to let them keep this, but I’ll let them see it,” she joked.

Paul Giamatti won the SAG Award for best actor in a television movie or miniseries for his role in “Too Big to Fail,” while Kate Winslet won best actress for “Mildred Pierce.”

Copyright © 2012 City News Service

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