Joaquin Phoenix and Renee Zellweger solidified their Oscar front-runner titles Sunday evening, taking home Screen Actors Guild Awards for their respective roles in “Joker” and “Judy,” while Brad Pitt and Laura Dern continued to distance themselves from the competition in the supporting categories.
The South Korean thriller “Parasite” walked off with the top honor of the evening — best ensemble cast, which is SAG’s rough equivalent of a best-picture Oscar. It was the first time in the 26-year history of the SAG Awards that the ensemble cast honor went to a foreign-language film.
“Although the title is `Parasite,’ I think the story is about coexistence and how we all can live together,” actor Kang-ho Song said through an interpreter while accepting the award with his castmates at the Shrine Auditorium. “But to be honored with a best ensemble award, it occurs to me that maybe we haven’t created such a bad movie.”
With their SAG wins Sunday night, Phoenix, Zellweger, Pitt and Dern completed a sweep of all the major pre-Oscar acting awards, perhaps draining some drama from the Feb. 9 Academy Awards ceremony.
Phoenix, who won for his chilling portrayal of burgeoning comic-book villain Joker, had never won a SAG Award, despite four prior nominations, including a lead-actor nod for “Walk the Line” and supporting-actor bid for “Gladiator.”
“I was here many years ago and I couldn’t fully appreciate it at the time,” Phoenix said while accepting his lead-actor prize. “I now realize how fortunate I am to be part of this community. I have such reverence for actors and what we do.”
Phoenix individually praised the other acting nominees — Christian Bale, Leonardo DiCaprio, Taron Egerton and Adam Driver — but he concluded his remarks with a tip of the hat to the late Heath Ledger, who won a SAG Award and Oscar for playing the role of Joker in “The Dark Knight.”
“I’m standing here on the shoulders of my favorite actor, Heath Ledger,” Phoenix said.
Zellweger was named best actress for her portrayal of the late Judy Garland in “Judy.” It was her fourth career SAG win, previously collecting a supporting actress prize for 2003’s “Cold Mountain” as well as awards for lead actress and as a member of the ensemble cast of 2002’s “Chicago.” She won an Oscar for her “Cold Mountain” role.
“What an honor. What an honor from my actor family,” she said. “Thank you so much for this and thank you for inviting me here alongside my extraordinary sisters.”
She gave high praise to Garland, saying, “I’m just so grateful for the privilege of reflecting on the life of one of our own and most beloved.”
“Sharing the celebration of Judy Garland’s legacy will always be one of my greatest life blessings,” she said. “… Judy Garland, 50 years later, your community is thinking of you tonight. This is for you.”
Pitt, who won the supporting-actor award for his role as stuntman Cliff Booth in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” previously won as a part of the ensemble cast of another Quentin Tarantino film, “Inglourious Basterds.”
As he looked at his statuette, he joked that he was going “to add this to my Tinder profile.”
Reflecting on his role, he poked more fun at himself, quipping, “Let’s be honest. It was a difficult part — a guy who gets high, takes his shirt off and doesn’t get on with his wife. It’s a big stretch.”
But taking a more serious tone, he added, “Thank you, my brothers and sisters. This means so much more than I can possibly fathom.”
Laura Dern, collecting her supporting-actress prize for her role as divorce attorney Nora Fanshaw in “Marriage Story,” hailed her co-stars, writer-director Noah Baumbach and “the casting directors who have found us, discovered us.”
“To all you actors, I literally, literally wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for actors, so thank you Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd,” she said, a nod to her famous parents.
The win was the first SAG Award victory of Dern’s career.
The SAG honors, which are voted upon and awarded by actors, are generally considered strong indicators of how things will go in the acting categories on Oscar night, but they are also coveted by performers as a sign of peer recognition.
On the small screen, Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which swept the SAG Award comedy series categories last year, won the prize again for best comedy ensemble Sunday, although its stars were convinced the honor should have gone to the British series “Fleabag.”
“I voted for `Fleabag.’ This is really weird. This makes no sense,” actress Alex Borstein said as the cast took the stage to accept the ensemble award, giving love to the Emmy-winning British comedy series. “`Fleabag’ is brilliant.”
The show’s star, Rachel Brosnahan, also heaped love on “Fleabag,” saying, “This is a mistake, but thank you.”
Tony Shalhoub won his second straight SAG Award for best actor in a comedy series for his work on “Maisel.”
During his acceptance speech, Shalhoub paid tribute to co-star Brian Tarantina, who died in November, calling him, “Our brother.”
“I share this Actor with my fellow `Maisel’ castmates,” he said. “It is a joy to know you, a privilege to work alongside you.”
Phoebe Waller-Bridge followed up her Emmy and Golden Globe victories with a SAG Award for best actress in a comedy series for “Fleabag.”
“Thank you for being so supportive of our show on these shores,” the British actress told the crowd — in a room “I never imagined I would ever be in.”
“… At some point it will all hit me and I’ll just go into a corner and cry about it,” she said.
Netflix’s “The Crown” won its first SAG prize for best ensemble cast in a drama series.
Speaking on behalf of the cast, Helena Bonham Carter noted that only a few members of the production were on hand because they go back to work Monday. But she praised the entire production team.
“It’s the most fun job, and I’m amazed we get a prize on top of the fun of doing it,” she said. “… I’ve had the time of my life, we all have. … I really recommend it if you want to have a job.”
Jennifer Aniston collected her first individual SAG Award for her work in the Apple+ series “The Morning Show.” She previously received a SAG honor as a member of the cast of “Friends.”
“Oh my gosh, this is so unbelievable,” she said. “What a room. I was thinking back to when I was a little girl and, I didn’t have a VCR but I had a tape recorder, and I would tape `Laverne and Shirley’ and `Happy Days’ … and I would think, `One day I’m gonna do that. I’m gonna be that.”’
She said her first break was a Bob’s Big Boy commercial.
“You have to start somewhere,” she said.
But she hailed all the performers in the room, saying, “Your performances inspire me. For years, I feel we’ve grown up together.”
Peter Dinklage also collected his first career SAG Award for his work in “Game of Thrones.”
“I would like to thank the people of Northern Ireland who put up with us for nine years,” he said.
He also thanked the cast members in the audience, saying they also “put up with each other for nine years.”
Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell won the prizes for best actress and actor in a television miniseries or movie for their work in “Fosse/Verdon.”
Robert De Niro, who starred in Netflix’s “The Irishman” but wasn’t nominated for an individual honor on Sunday, received the SAG Life Achievement Award during the ceremony, presented to him by Leonardo DiCaprio.
DiCaprio said De Niro’s “characters have echoed through our culture,” and — having appeared on screen with him in “This Boy’s Life” — added that “to share scenes with an artist of his magnitude was monumental. It was a life-changing experience.”
De Niro spoke in support of SAG-AFTRA and unions in general and called on the audience to support politicians who back unions and union causes. He also joked that “as actors we don’t take victory laps. We’re too worried about what our next job will be.”
Noting that he will be appearing in an upcoming Martin Scorsese film also starring DiCaprio, he quipped, “At least I know I’ve got another year of health insurance.”
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