A Look Back At SAG Awards ‘I’m An Actor’ Speeches

This article published in the Jan. 2 issue of AwardsLine.

Here’s some of our favorite “I’m an Actor” speeches from SAG Awards shows over the years.

2006

“My first memory of wanting to be an actor came when I saw my mother play the title role in Evita. I watched her die on stage and come back to life in time for the applause, and I thought, Hi-diddly-dee. My name is Anne Hathaway, and I’m an actor.”

2008
“I performed my first scene ever when I was 12 years old in the 7th grade at Birmingham High School. I was very shy, and I had no idea what I was doing, so I just flung myself off the cliff and felt like I was falling. I’ve been falling ever since. I think that’s kind of what it is, informed falling. I’m Sally Field, and I’m an actor.”

“My favorite thing about acting is that it truly allows you to transform yourself into another person. I’m Johnny Depp, and I’m an actor.” [as delivered by Jane Krakowski]

2009
“I’ve talked my way out of 11 fights. I’ve cried more this year than most women do in a lifetime. Wherever I go, I seek out a mirror, and when one’s not available, I’ll make due with a car window or a dark picture. I’m Will Arnett, and I’m an alcoholic [quickly corrects himself], actor!”

“On Jan. 15, 2009, a US Airways pilot named Chesley Sullenberger performed an exacting, perfect emergency landing into the icy cold waters of Hudson River. It’s a good thing I was not behind the controls of that plane, because I’m Steve Carell, and I’m an actor.”

2011
“When I was waitressing right out of college, I went on my first television audition. The casting director told me to move to Europe because my looks would never make it on TV in America. I’m Julianna Margulies, and I’m proud to be an actor.”

2012
“When I was a kid, I agonized about whether I wanted to be an actor when I grew up or an astronaut. And both of them have their advantages. Actors get to meet and work with the most beautiful women in the world, and astronauts get to spend long-duration space flights in pressure suits filled with their own urine. I’m Jon Cryer, and I’m an actor.”

SAG Awards’ ‘Actors Stories’ Remain Enduring Tradition

Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of AwardsLine.

And the winner was: Angela Lansbury.

When the Screen Actors Guild Awards first came on the scene in 1995, Lansbury was nominated for her role as Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote. She lost to Kathy Baker of Picket Fences.

But even though she did not go home with the Actor statuette, Lansbury’s introductory speech at the ceremony was such a hit that it launched a tradition that has become a highlight of the annual SAG Awards: the Actors Stories—unofficially known as the “I Am an Actor” speeches.

Lansbury gave the audience some background information on the new awards, but she also added a personal touch via a list of some of her more memorable roles: “I’ve been Elizabeth Taylor’s sister, Spencer Tracy’s mistress, Elvis’ mother, and a singing teapot.” She added: “Tonight is dedicated to the art and craft of acting by the people who should know about it: Actors. And remember, you’re one too!”

Then, as now, SAG Award winners have plenty of time to thank their agents, parents, partners, pets, and assorted deities for their success when they take the stage. But in an industry overwhelmed with awards ceremonies and endless opportunities for self-congratulation, the Actors Stories mark a refreshing change of pace, a chance for the TV audience to learn more about the craft of acting and the often-rocky road to stardom. And, for the all-actor crowd at the live awards, it was a chance to learn little-known facts about each other.

For the first eight years, the SAG Awards appointed one actor to make such a speech, says Kathy Connell, producer of the awards since their inception. That list includes such distinguished stars as John Lithgow, Ian McKellen, James Woods, Kathy Bates, and Whoopi Goldberg. Borrowing from Lansbury’s speech—or maybe Alcoholics Anonymous?—remarks have always included some variation on the phrase: “I am (name here), and I’m an actor.”

Goldberg’s 2000 speech illustrates the typical actor’s blend of pride and insecurity: “I’m an actor. I strut and fret my hour upon the stage, and I’ve done a lot of strutting because I am an actor. Am I the right age to play a mother? OK, I don’t sweat that one so much. Am I the right sex to play a Roman slave? Am I the right color to play a maid? Ha, ha. Is anybody going to believe that I could pass for a nun? Am I going to eat next week?”

For the ninth annual SAG Awards in 2003, Connell says supervising producer Gloria Fujita-O’Brien suggested replacing a single one- to two-minute speech with multiple Actor Stories of 15 to 30 seconds. The 2003 speakers included Alfred Molina, Kathy Bates (who confessed to starting her career as a singing waitress in the Catskills), Kristin Davis, Keith Williams, Halle Berry (who once dreamed of being an Olympic gymnast but “wasn’t quite good enough”), and David Hyde Pierce, who joked: “I’m still looking for a movie to do this summer. My name is David Hyde Pierce, and I’m an actor.”

At the awards ceremony, attended only by actors and closed to the press, the actors sit at tables rather than in rows. Those chosen to speak deliver their Actors Stories from their seats. Executive producer and director Jeff Margolis says the actors who will speak are miked in the green room, and nobody, including their tablemates, knows in advance who will tell a personal story to the roving Steadicam.

“I think it’s sort of become our signature—we’re the only show that does it,” Margolis says. “It gives the actors a chance to do something other than thank 40 people that nobody knows. The people at home, as well as some of the other actors, don’t know how these people got started.”

In the years of the longer speeches, Writers Guild members wrote the comments with the actors’ input. Now actors provide their own material, giving the producers an advance copy. But that doesn’t mean there are no surprises, Connell observes. “They have thought about it, but it is also live television. Sometimes (the speech) gets tweaked, so we are all having a live moment.”

Some speeches are comic. Some are heartfelt. And some, like this 2004 Actor Story, are just plain bemused: “In 1978, I got my SAG card and since then I’ve been asked to give it back on six separate occasions. I’m Brad Garrett, and I don’t belong here.”

SAG Sticks to Favorites While Globes Anoint Newbies

Ray Richmond is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of AwardsLine.

The Golden Globes are the awards that love you immediately and without reservation. The SAG Awards are the ones that—while somewhat more tentative—like to honor their favorites repeatedly. Those tendencies held form yet again in the TV nominations announced last month, bringing a certain consistency to exercises that typically lack it.

Katharine McPhee stars in Smash.
Katharine McPhee stars in Smash.

Indeed, if you’re looking for a red carpet to be rolled out to welcome the new kids, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is your go-to gang. Rarely does a first-year show with even moderate buzz escape Globe voters’ attention. This year, it heaped attention on freshmen including HBO’s Aaron Sorkin cable-news drama The Newsroom and star Jeff Daniels; the HBO comedy Girls and its multihyphenate young star Lena Dunham; Julia Louis-Dreyfus from the rookie HBO comedy Veep; star Don Cheadle from Showtime’s House of Lies; lead Connie Britton and supporting player Hayden Panettiere from the ABC soap Nashville; and, most surprisingly, a comedy/musical series nod for NBC’s Smash.

The inclusion of Smash was perhaps easy to predict, because it’s the rare comedy/musical series that is both comedy and musical. It took the spot previously held down by Fox’s Glee, the category winner in 2010 and ’11 that failed to make the Golden Globe cut this year. Evidently, only one musical comedy per year is permitted.

But shaking things up is simply the HFPA being the HFPA. And often, the omissions are often as noteworthy as the inclusions. For instance, three-time Globes victor Mad Men from AMC was unable to crack the top drama list for the first time. HBO’s Game of Thrones was in last year—its first year of eligibility—and out this time, along with star Peter Dinklage.

There also seem to be certain shows that simply don’t resonate with the Hollywood Foreign Press as they do elsewhere. It never nominated Everybody Loves Raymond for comedy series, and star Ray Romano was nominated just twice (both losses). Moreover, for the first time this year, the Globes finally honored AMC’s Breaking Bad for drama series. Star Bryan Cranston wasn’t nominated for his three-time Emmy-winning role until 2011.

Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom earned Globes attention in its first season of eligibility.
Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom earned Globes attention in its first season of eligibility.

As for the SAG Awards, it, too, likes to honor the ensembles of series fresh out of the starting gate along with their individual stars, though not so much this year. Daniels from HBO’s Newsroom is alone in cracking the list on a first-year series. It ignored Veep and Louis-Dreyfus as well as the white-hot Girls and Dunham, not to mention Fox’s New Girl and star Zooey Deschanel. Youth doesn’t seem to carry much weight with this crowd.

On the other hand, no one will ever be able to charge SAG with ageism, unless it’s the reverse kind. Betty White, who turns 91 on Jan. 17, has won two consecutive comedy lead SAG honors in a row for her role on TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland and is nominated with a chance for a third. Steve Buscemi, age 55, might make it three wins in as many nominations for his work in the HBO mob drama Boardwalk Empire. And Alec Baldwin, age 54, has won the comedy actor trophy an astounding six consecutive times and could make it seven in a row this year for NBC’s 30 Rock. He’s been a relative flop at the Globes, taking home a mere three.

Yet while the SAG Awards look to be a mere popularity contest on the one hand, on the other it has yet to honor with a win any cast member from ABC’s Modern Family (though the show has won the best comedy ensemble award two years in a row). It’s nominated Ty Burrell, Sofia Vergara, and Eric Stonestreet again. Yet this is the first year that two-time Emmy victor Jim Parsons has received an individual SAG nom for the CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory.

It’s clear that there have been some curious irregularities in SAG voters’ choices in the awards’ 18-year existence dating to its first year in 1995, when it failed to recognize a freshman NBC comedy called Friends. It also completely snubbed the cast of NBC’s The West Wing in 2000, its initial eligibility year. But voters corrected that oversight the following two years, when the ensemble won for drama series along with individual leads Allison Janney and Martin Sheen.

Jessica Lange earned SAG and Globe Awards last year for her work in American Horror Story.
Jessica Lange earned SAG and Globe Awards last year for her work in American Horror Story.

A similar phenomenon could be gaining speed at the SAG Awards this time for Showtime’s Homeland, which was the darling of both the Emmys and the Globes in 2012. It was shut out at the SAG Awards in its maiden season a year ago, like West Wing before it. This time, it’s nominated for drama ensemble along with actor/actress Emmy winners Damian Lewis and Claire Danes. It would surprise no one were voters to make amends by honoring the much-praised series with three statuettes.

The Globes set the Homeland awards bandwagon in motion with wins a year ago for both the series and Danes. It’s back this time looking for two in a row, taking on The Newsroom, 2011 winner Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, and PBS’ Downton Abbey, making a smooth transition from the movie/miniseries to drama series category with a trio of noms. Conversely, FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum had a tougher time of it in switching the other way, from drama series to movie/mini. After landing a drama honor in ’12, it earned one nom for star Jessica Lange this time. (Lange also won for supporting last year.)

If recent Globe history holds, it might be wise to bet on the newbies, as the Hollywood Foreign Press often appears to look upon even second-year shows as aging veterans. That would mean Smash or Girls for comedy/musical and Newsroom for drama—all seeming longshots on paper, but not with the HFPA.

In 2012, all six series lead and supporting acting winners at the Golden Globes represented first-year shows: Laura Dern (the HBO comedy Enlightened), Matt LeBlanc (Showtime’s comedy Episodes), Kelsey Grammer (the Starz drama Boss), Danes (Homeland), Lange (Horror Story), and Dinklage (Thrones). If we extrapolate this trend to 2013, it would mean Cheadle (Showtime’s House of Lies) has the inside track for comedy actor, with Louis-Dreyfus and Dunham battling it out for comedy actress.

But just when you think you have the Globes figured out, the voters defy conventional wisdom and their own history to cross up the experts. Never was that more clear than when NBC’s Friends earned its first win in 2003 for best comedy actress Jennifer Aniston. The show, first nominated in its second year, saw five best comedy TV shows noms, but zero wins in that category.

The SAG Awards, by contrast, seem at least somewhat easier to gauge. And again, the trend is that the guild likes to honor those whom it honors over and over again. Besides Baldwin and White, Maggie Smith has four nods this year alone—two for her work in the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, two for Downton Abbey. Cranston has three (two for Breaking Bad, one for feature ensemble in Argo). Then there is Edie Falco, who just reeled in another pair of nominations for her work in Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. That brings her career total to a whopping 19, tying David Hyde Pierce for the SAG career noms record.

Another thing that distinguishes SAG is a dogged determination to go its own way and follow no one else’s lead. This was obvious back in 2006, when the awards permitted David E. Kelley to submit for comedy (rather than drama) consideration for his ABC hour Boston Legal. It landed four—for comedy ensemble as well as stars James Spader, William Shatner, and Candice Bergen—while winning none. It submitted as a drama the following year. This year, the guild refused to allow American Horror Story to submit as a miniseries, categorizing it as a drama ensemble. Lange earned a nomination; the series ensemble did not.

One trend that continued for both the SAG Awards and the Globes is the cable domination in drama and broadcast in comedy, a direction that doesn’t figure to be changing anytime soon. SAG comedy is still about 30 Rock (Baldwin, three-time winner Tina Fey), Modern Family, Parks and Recreation (Amy Poehler), and The Big Bang Theory, while drama has only Julianna Margulies from CBS’ The Good Wife breaking the cable-PBS logjam. In the Globes, no freshman broadcast series has generated a single top drama nod since NBC’s 
Heroes in 2006.

But it’s worth pointing out that half of the 10 lead comedy acting nominees at the Globes are featured on cable shows as stars: Louis C.K. and Dunham generate substantial buzz and critical acclaim with their personally crafted half-hours.

What about longform? As usual, it’s dominated on both the Globes and SAG lists by HBO and its made-for-TV movies Game Change, Hemingway & Gellhorn, and The Girl along with stars including Nicole Kidman, Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, and Sienna Miller. That’s not to mention the mega-rated History Channel mini Hatfields & McCoys and its lead Kevin Costner.

Having a feature-star pedigree is no guarantee of success at either the Globes or the SAG Awards, however, what seems to help is youth (if you’re a series) and age (if you’re an actor). And it never, ever hurts to be named Alec Baldwin.

Do Precursor Awards Really Predict Oscar Fortunes?

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of AwardsLine.

With freshly minted nominations from the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Movie Awards, SAG, AFI, and a slew of critics groups chiming in every day, there are many voices trying to influence the race for Oscar’s best picture of 2012. But does it matter, or is all of this just a lot of white noise as far as Academy voters are concerned?

The effect all this has is an even bigger question this year than in the past because of the earlier timetable the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences introduced for voting coupled with the new online electronic voting options. With ballots going out Dec. 17 and due back Jan. 3 (essentially right in the heart of the holidays) and a big rush for members to see the major contenders, which are mostly November and December openings, the influence factor of other awards could be more significant than ever, if only to get voters to focus on key films these

In the darkest hour of the night, elite Navy SEALs raid Osama bin Laden's compound in Zero Dark Thirty.
In the darkest hour of the night, elite Navy SEALs raid Osama bin Laden’s compound in Zero Dark Thirty.

groups are singling out. My own survey of Academy members indicates that as late as the second week in December, many had not yet seen most of the films pundits are saying will be the major players in the best picture race. By forcing an earlier vote on their members, the Academy is putting enormous pressure on them to see these films and make a judgment of Oscarworthiness. My guess is this means this will be another year, like 2011, when nine or 10 pictures will be nominated (it can be anywhere from five to 10), as there seems to be a dedicated but smaller constituency so far for a number of movies, rather than an obvious frontrunner. Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Misérables, and Silver Linings Playbook are consensus titles that have popped up in significant ways on most of the important lists so far, including SAG. SAG is the first glimpse of the race from a guild and often mirrors Academy tastes—as do the PGA, DGA, and WGA along with below-the-line guilds—making it the most important barometer. But we have to put an asterisk next to it this year because Pi is not actorcentric and most members of the SAG nominating committee likely did not see Quentin Tarantino’s bloody homage to spaghetti westerns, Django Unchained,simply because the Christmas Day release was not ready in time and DVD screeners could not be sent. It was AWOL at SAG, but its strong showing with AFI, the Golden Globes, and Critics Choice, despite limited screening opportunities, means it also belongs with those aforementioned six other films in an unprecedented 7-pack of genuine contenders, all of whom have shots at the prize depending on the way the wind blows in the next few weeks.

Daniel Day-Lewis is considered a frontrunner for his role as the 16th president in Lincoln.
Daniel Day-Lewis is considered a frontrunner for his role as the 16th president in Lincoln.

With best picture nominations likely for those seven, and a longer period of six weeks instead of four between Oscar nominations on Jan. 10 and the show on Feb. 24 ,the postnom period is going to be more crucial than ever. It is where the race can really be won by the savviest of campaigns and, more importantly, momentum. In the Oscar race, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish, and each film has a chance to build—or in the case of October release Argo, rebuild—that frontrunning status. This is where smart campaign moves can make all the difference. With restrictive rules governing postnom parties, Q&As, etc., getting your film noticed is key. Lincoln’s Dec. 19 command screening for the entire U.S. Senate is the kind of thing that smells “important” and can have an effect in swaying Oscar votes, if not those in the Senate. “Who knew we would be the last thing they see before jumping off the fiscal cliff?” Steven Spielberg told me at a Lincoln party last week.

In addition to the key seven, don’t discount Michael Haneke’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner Amour,which is also Austria’s official entry for foreign-language film. Although it’s not common, there are several examples of foreign films making the best picture cut including The Emigrants, Cries and Whispers, Life Is Beautiful,and Il Postino. Sony Pictures Classics is making a big play not only for foreign film but acting, directing, writing, and best picture recognition for this extraordinary movie. The problem is many voters don’t seem to be aware it is eligible in those other categories,even if it becomes a foreign-language nominee. This one could be a wild card in the picture race, and even for Haneke as director, even though that field is incredibly crowded. In fact, it’s the directors’ race that will be the one to watch for clues on which of these films has the mojo to go all the way. With only five possible nominations and so many truly viable contenders, someone is getting cut. But who among Ben Affleck, Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee, Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper, and David O. Russell, not to mention Haneke, will be in or out, even as their picture gets nominated?

On top of these films, there is still hope for the likes of The Master, Flight, Moonrise Kingdom, Beasts of the Southern Wild, a recent surge for May’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and even hope of a first-ever best picture nomination for James Bond with Skyfall.

It’s anybody’s game right now but who will triumph in the end? This thing is just getting started.