Actors are the face of Hollywood’s celebrations around awards season; they are the most visible representations of screen work being honored. But the Screen Actors Guild Awards—more than any other event—are their night and their night only.
Though the guild only began handing out the trophies known as “Actors” to, well, actors a couple decades ago, the annual ceremony has become a crucial stop for any movie stars gunning for Oscar or TV stars in the running for Emmy. And while it’s plenty glitzy, there’s also often a charming camaraderie on display; the show opens with testimonials from attendees about their early acting experiences. (The official website credits Angela Lansbury, who opened the inaugural evening, with this invention.)
Given that both film and television work is considered, certain stars on the broadcast side have historically cleaned up. Some trivia: at the 24th ceremony, Julia Louis-Dreyfus of “Veep” earned her eighth and ninth statues, beating Alec Baldwin and Julianna Margulies’ record of eight. And Edie Falco holds the distinction of most nominations ever, with 22.
To celebrate and prepare for this awards season, Backstage is rounding up all the basics you need to know about the big awards ceremonies. Here’s everything you’ve ever wondered about the sensational SAG Awards.
- When did the SAG Awards first take place?
- Who votes on them?
- How do they vote?
- When and where are they held this year?
- Who do they honor?
- What is the complete list of SAG Award categories?
- How can I join the fun?
- What is their relation to other major awards shows?
- How can I become a SAG Award winner?
You might be surprised to learn that the SAGs are actually relatively new. The first celebration only took place in 1995, with trophies going to Tom Hanks for “Forrest Gump” and Jodie Foster for “Nell,” among others. Check out our interview with executive producer Kathy Connell for more on the history of the awards.
Why, the actors, of course! These festivities are all about the performers, hence winners usually thanking their peers in speeches. It’s self-explanatory, yes, but all SAG-AFTRA members who have paid all their dues are allowed to cast their ballots. Nominations are decided upon by two special SAG Awards committees.
While everyone (who has paid up) can vote for the winners, the nominating process is a little more exclusive. To choose who will be up for the prizes, nominating committees in film and TV are randomly selected from SAG-AFTRA members. The same people can’t choose the nominees every year; those who sit on a committee must wait eight years before being on the same one again.
The 27th annual SAG Awards will be held April 4, 2021. The event will be simulcast live on TNT and TBS, and further details are forthcoming.
Nominations for this year’s SAG Awards will be unveiled Feb. 4, 2021. With the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption of the industry pushing the Academy Awards all the way to April 25, the awards calendar has been stretched; unlike the SAG Awards’ typical eligibility window spanning a calendar year, film and TV projects “first exhibited or broadcast during the period of January 1, 2020 – February 28, 2021 may qualify,” per a statement from the guild.
Performers across film and TV! That means for film, the guild presents the standard honors for women and men in leading and supporting roles, but also for ensemble casts as a whole. That’s where eligibility can get a little tricky. To get on stage as part of the prestigious Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture award, rules state that a performer must have been credited on a separate title card. So some in memorable but smaller roles that share billing are left out. (Those who are in the cast crawl receive certificates.)
To be considered part of the ensemble of a TV series, a contender must appear in more than half of the episodes within the nominating time frame and be either a series regular or guest star. Certificates are doled out to those who have appeared in at least three episodes within eligibility.
This is also one of the few awards bodies that pays attention to stunt performers. Also each year, SAG names a recipient of the Life Achievement Award; past winners include Alan Alda, Morgan Freeman, Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, Debbie Reynolds, Rita Moreno, and Robert De Niro.
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series
Outstanding Action Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series
Getting your SAG card is a right of passage for any actor, so knowing how to join the union is crucial. The first step: Getting hired. Then you can supply your paycheck stubs or the “original activity print-out or report from the payroll company that states your name, social security number, the name of the production company, the title of the production, the salary paid in dollar amount, and the specific date(s) worked” to SAG-AFTRA. You can also apply for membership in SAG-AFTRA if you’ve been a member for a year in another affiliated organization. Those include Actor’s Equity and the Canadian ACTRA, among others. For more practical tips, click here!
People looking to dominate their Oscar pools tend to watch the SAG Awards pretty closely because their film nominees and winners often align. That’s because—as scholars of this type of thing like to repeat—actors make up the largest branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Thus, people voting for SAG also have a say in who becomes the season’s ultimate victors. Twelve out of 25 of the last winning films for the outstanding ensemble performance Actor ended up with the Oscar for Best Picture, including “Parasite” last year., the first-ever foreign language film to win both. The Emmys and other TV awards also boast a large voting block of actors, so depending on eligibility windows, small-screen contenders often overlap with SAG.
- Sharpen your skills by studying the ins and outs of acting
- Or start by learning the basics online
- Get an agent
- Sign that contract
- Master the audition process, and get cast. Then keep applying to every role that fits your type!
- Network with your fellow actors and artists
- Once your buzzy project is out, you may want to hire a publicist
- For more info on submitting to the SAG Awards, visit their site
Follow those steps and do your best, and you may just find yourself thanking your peers with an Actor statue in hand. You may even go so far as to join the exclusive club of performers we’ve dubbed “ESOT.” Break a leg!
This article was originally published on Jan. 4, 2018. It has since been updated.
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