On Jan. 19, the 26th Screen Actors Guild Awards will honor the best onscreen performances, both individually and collectively. The SAG ensemble cast awards are unique in the entertainment biz, recognizing the cohesion that great acting demands. As SAG-AFTRA members across the country consider their favorite stars of the 2019 calendar year, Backstage is once again here to help. Read on for a cheat sheet to this year’s film and television ensemble nominees!
OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A CAST IN A MOTION PICTURE
Make room on your ballot for “Bombshell,” the dramatization of former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes’ 2016 sexual harassment scandal, with Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, and Ailes played by industry heavyweights Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and John Lithgow, respectively. Add to the mix Margot Robbie and Kate McKinnon as fictional amalgams of so many young Fox News employees under Ailes’ reign, and you’ve got one of the year’s timeliest dramas—one that really let actors sink their teeth in and play.
Martin Scorsese’s retelling of a real-life hit man’s life follows Robert De Niro’s Frank Sheeran from his days as a truck driver in the 1950s to his unlikely involvement with Joe Pesci’s head of the Bufalino crime family to eventually befriending Al Pacino’s Jimmy Hoffa and becoming his personal guard. It’s a decades-sprawling tale brought to vivid life by never-before-seen motion-capture technology of three screen legends, plus compelling performances from Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Stephen Graham, and Anna Paquin.
How do you find levity in one of the darkest periods in human history? How could an actor today portray Adolf Hitler as silly? Writer-director-star Taika Waititi somehow does so in this comedic spin on the tale of a young German boy joining the Hitler Youth in the last, desperate days of World War II. Led by young Roman Griffin Davis as Jojo, the cast (Thomasin McKenzie, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, and Alfie Allen) imbues this antihate satire with both humor and humanity.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
As the casting news for Quentin Tarantino’s ninth feature film began to trickle out, headlines became a who’s who of Hollywood’s past, present, and future. The film is a master class from the idiosyncratic auteur, grounded by Leonardo DiCaprio as insecure leading man Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as his trusted stunt double Cliff Booth, and bolstered by a peerless ensemble: Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Timothy Olyphant, Al Pacino, Margaret Qualley, and Margot Robbie as the lovingly rendered Sharon Tate.
Does Bong Joon-ho make films? Or does the Korean writer-director surgically remove his imagination and implant it into the big screen? His latest cinematic mindfuck combines witty satire and edge-of-your-seat horror to tell the story of two vastly different but increasingly entwined families, played by Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Chang Hyae-jin, Jung Hyun-jun, Jung Ziso, Lee Jung-eun, Lee Sun-kyun, Park Myung-hoon, Park So-dam, and the particularly wonderful Song Kang-ho. It also marks the first foreign-language ensemble to achieve SAG Award recognition since 1998’s “Life Is Beautiful.”
OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY AN ENSEMBLE IN A COMEDY SERIES
In writing, directing, and acting as Barry Block, Bill Hader is not only challenging what we consider comedy, he’s dissecting the notion of an antihero. Helping him test the limits of morality (and our suspension of disbelief) are Emmy nominees Henry Winkler as acting guru Gene Cousineau, Sarah Goldberg as frustrated actor Sally Reed, Stephen Root as slimy Monroe Fuches, and Anthony Carrigan as daffy NoHo Hank. The reason we believe this story every shocking step of the way is its players.
Watching Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s dark comedy about a hapless woman known only as Fleabag feels like watching magic: You know it’s just a TV show, but you can’t help but feel it’s much more. As well as a profound meditation on grief, purpose, and emotional bonds, it’s an impeccable comedy thanks to Sian Clifford, Olivia Colman, Brett Gelman, Bill Paterson, and Andrew Scott. And Waller-Bridge shines, her straight-to-camera asides deepening in nuance while still getting laughs.
“The Kominsky Method”
Chuck Lorre’s homage to Hollywood and its wacky characters continues to find opportunities to show off the talents of an impressive cast. Michael Douglas gives one of the most lived-in performances of his career as acting coach Sandy Kominsky, creating a kind of onscreen magic opposite Alan Arkin’s dry Norman Newlander. Sarah Baker, Nancy Travis, and the many actors playing Sandy’s students are also standouts, working together to bring a smile to your face.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
Few series today are as delightful and, well, marvelous as Amy Sherman-Palladino’s tale of a 1950s Jewish woman’s divorce and unorthodox fling with standup comedy. The gorgeously rendered comedy continues to give its ensemble (Alex Borstein, Marin Hinkle, Jane Lynch, Tony Shalhoub, and Michael Zegen) room to earn laughs apart from the central Midge Maisel, embodied by the infectiously charming Rachel Brosnahan.
It’s a real testament to Eugene and Dan Levy’s writing, and to the fabulous ensemble that includes Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy, that the Rose family of “Schitt’s Creek” manages to remain endearing and lovable. The narcissistic 1-percenters, penniless and making do in the titular town, continue to dazzle and delight with their oddball ways, along with the terrific Emily Hampshire, Chris Elliott, and Noah Reid.
OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY AN ENSEMBLE IN A DRAMA SERIES
“Big Little Lies”
Of course there was more story to tell about the infamous moms of Monterey; delighting and intriguing and expanding upon their characters, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoë Kravitz, and Laura Dern dug to new depths and reached for higher highs. It helped that they could spar with Meryl Streep’s resolute yet zany Mary Louise Wright, one of the most passive-aggressive characters ever to appear onscreen.
The Season 3 cast of Peter Morgan’s beloved prestige drama had to play real public figures while also following in the footsteps of other actors. Olivia Colman is commanding and nuanced as Queen Elizabeth II, making the viewer understand the weight of the crown she must singularly bear; Helena Bonham Carter brings her trademark charm to Princess Margaret; and Tobias Menzies makes us feel for the directionless Prince Philip. Compelling supporters include Erin Doherty as Princess Anne, Josh O’Connor as Prince Charles, and Emerald Fennell as Camilla Shand.
“Game of Thrones”
Roaring to its conclusion, the David Benioff and D.B. Weiss–led adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s classic fantasy novels kept us captivated, not just with unpredictable plots but with characters given life by a stellar, sprawling ensemble: Alfie Allen, Gwendoline Christie, Emilia Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Sophie Turner, and Maisie Williams, all Emmy-nominated, plus four-time winner Peter Dinklage. The Iron Throne is no more, and we’ll miss it.
“The Handmaid’s Tale”
The dystopian world Margaret Atwood created in her 1985 novel—a military theocracy using female bodies as breeding vehicles—has always packed a political punch, but it takes a cast of nuanced performers to make the premise of “The Handmaid’s Tale” urgently distressing. Alexis Bledel, Madeline Brewer, Amanda Brugel, Ann Dowd, O-T Fagbenle, Joseph Fiennes, Max Minghella, Yvonne Strahovski, Bradley Whitford, and Samira Wiley do just that, with producer-star Elisabeth Moss, laid bare in those stunning close-ups, leading the revolution.
David Harbour and Winona Ryder are still magnetic on the Duffer Brothers’ binge-worthy ’80s adventure, but it’s the cast of kids, led by wunderkind Finn Wolfhard, who are the heart of “Stranger Things.” Noah Schnapp and Millie Bobby Brown are particular standouts, grappling with the supernatural in emotionally trying ways. Caleb McLaughlin and Sadie Sink play off each other with ease, as do Gaten Matarazzo and Joe Keery, providing scene-stealing comic relief with newcomer Maya Hawke.
This story originally appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.
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