By Jake Coyle
David O. Russell’s American Hustle won the Screen Actors Guild award for outstanding cast, setting up the con-artist comedy as the film to beat at the Academy Awards.
The other nominees Saturday night at the ceremony at Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium were 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers Club, August: Osage County and Lee Daniels’ The Butler.
Saturday’s awards were a somewhat low-key affair with a few memorable speeches but no earthquakes in a rapidly solidifying award season. The night’s acting winners — Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) — are each probably the favorites of their categories.
“It really shines a great light on this bull ride we call acting,” said McConaughey, honored for lead actor in the Texas HIV drama. “I’ve been able to recently find some characters that I can humble myself to their humanities and get feverishly drunk on their obsessions.”
Coming two days after Academy Award nominations, the SAG Awards are particularly monitored for predicting Oscar momentum. The outstanding cast category, the night’s top honor, was perhaps a showdown between American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave. The two very different films were kept separated by drama and comedy categories at the Golden Globes.
Nyong’o won for supporting actress for her performance as the singular slave Patsy in Steve McQueen’s historical drama. She thanked McQueen “for taking a flashlight and shining it underneath the floorboards of this nation and reminding us what it is we stand on.”
The Kenyan actress, who has been hailed for her red-carpet grace this awards season, recalled her celebratory phone call to her father when she got the part — her first feature film.
“ ‘Daddy, do you know who Brad Pitt is? I’m going to be in a movie with him!’ ” recalled Nyong’o.
Leto was honored for supporting actor for playing the gaunt transsexual Rayon, alongside McConaughey’s Texas cowboy. He dedicated the award to those who have died of AIDS and to “the Rayons of the world.”
The Breaking Bad victory lap continued as the show took honors for outstanding dramatic cast and for lead actor Bryan Cranston. For his indelible performance as teacher-turned-meth dealer, Cranston added his second lead actor SAG Award, to go with his recent Golden Globe win and his numerous Emmys.
“We have the nicest bunch of white supremacist Nazis I have ever worked with,” said Cranston, looking over his former cast mates. “I swear to you I would kill you all over again.”
Two big-screen veterans won awards for TV films: Michael Douglas for HBO’s Liberace drama Behind the Candelabra, and Helen Mirren for the biopic Phil Spector, also on HBO.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus won a SAG trophy for female actor in a comedy series for Veep.
The ABC sitcom Modern Family enjoyed another round of awards, winning for ensemble in a comedy series and taking the male actor in a comedy series honor for Ty Burrell.
SAG’s lifetime achievement award was given to Rita Moreno, the 81-year-old West Side Story actress whose career has spanned Broadway, television and music. Introduced by Morgan Freeman, the much-honored Latina legend danced to the podium before a standing ovation and let out a gleeful expletive.