In an upset, the deaf family drama CODA took top honors at an unpredictable 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 Sunday at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California, and broadcast on both TNT and TBS, was notably border-breaking, with historic wins for deaf actors, Korean stars and some of Hollywood’s biggest names. It culminated with “CODA,” Sian Heder’s heartwarming Apple TV coming-of-age film and Sundance Film Festival sensation, winning best ensemble.
“This validates the fact that we, deaf actors, can work just like anybody else. We look forward to more opportunities for deaf actors,” said Marlee Matlin on stage before teaching the crowd sign language for “I love you.”
Matlin is the only deaf actor to win an Oscar, but her “CODA” co-star, Troy Kotsur, may be in line to join her. Kotsur won best supporting actor Sunday, becoming the first deaf actor win an individual SAG award. When his name was read, the 53-year-old veteran actor plunged his head into his hands. On stage, he thanked his wife for “reminding me to check my fly before walking the red carpet.”
Netflix’s “Squid Game,” the first non-English language series nominated by the actors guild, came on strong with three awards, including Lee Jung-jae for best male actor in a drama series and Jung Ho-yeon for best female actor in a drama series. Those wins came over the likes of “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.
Still, HBO’s “Succession” ultimately reigned in the best drama series category. Cox fittingly accepted the award with an expletive printed on his face mask, and another uttered as he struggled to take it off. But Cox turned serious when discussing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the evening’s bluntest remarks on the invasion, he noted that the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was a comic — a fellow performer. He urged censored dissenters in Russia to speak out.
“The people in Russia who don’t like what’s going on — and particularly the artists — I think we should join and celebrate them and hope that they can make a shift, as I believe they can,” said Cox while the audience stood and applauded.
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, and their picks often align. In 2020, when the cast of “Parasite” and Brad Pitt won, they matched exactly.
Though the actors guild and the academy diverged last year when Aaron Sorkin’s 1960s courtroom drama “Trial of the Chicago 7” topped the SAG Awards and “Nomadland” triumphed at the Oscars, the win for “CODA” suggests it’s a major threat to win best picture over Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” (which went winless Sunday) and Jane Campion’s leading Oscar nominee “The Power of the Dog” (which failed to get an ensemble nod even though three of its actors were individually nominated).
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.
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, which will be available to stream Monday on HBO Max, are presented by the Hollywood actors guild SAG-AFTRA. After the January Golden Globes were a non-event, they 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, sanitized, 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, attended 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. Other awards went to Jean Smart of “Hacks,” Kate Winslet of “Mare of Easttown and Michael Keaton of “Dopesick,” who dedicated his award to his nephew, Michael. Keaton has previously said he died from fentanyl and heroin use in 2016.
Helen Mirren, a five-time SAG winner, was honored with a lifetime achievement award.
“Honestly, any achievement that I’ve succeed in is the result of my mantra which is basically: Be on time and don’t be ass,” said the 76-year-old actor. “Thank you, thank you, S-A-G so much for this. I hate to say the word ‘sag’ at my age.”
Here’s the complete list of winners:
Outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture
Don’t Look Up
House of Gucci
Outstanding performance by a female actor in a leading role
Jessica Chastain, The Eyes of Tammy Faye (WINNER)
Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter
Lady Gaga, House of Gucci
Jennifer Hudson, Respect
Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos
Outstanding performance by a male actor in a leading role
Javier Bardem, Being the Ricardos
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog
Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick… Boom
Will Smith, King Richard (WINNER)
Denzel Washington, The Tragedy of Macbeth
Outstanding performance by a female actor in a supporting role
Caitríona Balfe, Belfast
Cate Blanchett, Nightmare Alley
Ariana DeBose, West Side Story (WINNER)
Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog
Ruth Negga, Passing
Outstanding performance by a male actor in a supporting role
Ben Affleck, The Tender Bar
Bradley Cooper, Licorice Pizza
Troy Kotsur, CODA (WINNER)
Jared Leto, House of Gucci
Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Power of the Dog
Outstanding performance by an ensemble in a comedy series
The Kominsky Method
Only Murders in the Building
Ted Lasso (WINNER)
Outstanding performance by an ensemble in a drama series
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Morning Show
Outstanding performance by a female actor in a miniseries or television movie
Jennifer Coolidge, The White Lotus
Cynthia Erivo, Genius: Aretha
Margaret Qualley, Maid
Jean Smart, Mare of Easttown
Kate Winslet, Mare of Easttown (WINNER)
Outstanding performance by a male actor in a miniseries or television movie
Murray Bartlett, The White Lotus
Oscar Isaac, Scenes from a Marriage
Michael Keaton, Dopesick (WINNER)
Ewan McGregor, Halston
Evan Peters, Mare of Easttown
Outstanding performance by a female actor in a comedy series
Elle Fanning, The Great
Sandra Oh, The Chair
Jean Smart, Hacks (WINNER)
Juno Temple, Ted Lasso
Hannah Waddingham, Ted Lasso
Outstanding performance by a male actor in a comedy series
Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method
Brett Goldstein, Ted Lasso
Steve Martin, Only Murders in the Building
Martin Short, Only Murders in the Building
Jason Sudeikis, Ted Lasso (WINNER)
Outstanding performance by a male actor in a drama series
Brian Cox, Succession
Billy Crudup, The Morning Show
Kieran Culkin, Succession
Lee Jung-jae, Squid Game (WINNER)
Jeremy Strong, Succession
Outstanding performance by a female actor in a drama series
Jennifer Aniston, The Morning Show
Jung Ho-yeon, Squid Game (WINNER)
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
Sarah Snook, Succession
Reese Witherspoon, The Morning Show
Outstanding action performance by a stunt ensemble in a comedy or drama television series
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Mare of Easttown
Squid Game (WINNER)
Outstanding action performance by a stunt ensemble in a motion picture
The Matrix Resurrections
No Time to Die (WINNER)
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
(With updates from AP)