LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Solidifying its status as an awards season contender, "Birdman" nabbed the top prize at the 21st annual Screen Actors Guild awards, winning best cast in a film.

27 Jan 2015 - 1:10 AM  UPDATED 27 Jan 2015 - 1:32 PM

"Actors love this film," admitted Birdman star Michael Keaton backstage at the Shrine Auditorium.

The story of actors putting on a Broadway play won the ensemble award over Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything.

It was a big weekend for Birdman, which moved into front-runner status with its SAG win, combined with the Darryl F. Zanuck award for best picture from the Producers Guild of America on Saturday night.

The winner of the SAG ensemble trophy has matched the Oscar best picture winner just nine times in 19 years, and last year American Hustle won the SAG cast award and was shut out at the Oscars. Argo won both awards two years ago.

Fox Searchlight-New Regency's Birdman fulfilled forecasts that it would resonate with the performers union members. Directed by Alejandro Gozalez Inarritu, Birdman was shot from the point of view of the actor, played by Keaton. Birdman also stars Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Ryan.

"Actors understand better than anyone how connected you are with one another," Watts said backstage.

Julianne Moore won the best actress in a film award for Still Alice, playing a professor suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's, while Eddie Redmayne won best actor in a film for The Theory of Everything, portraying theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.

"Thank you for allowing someone who gave up science when they were 14 years old to enter your orbit," Redmayne said. "Thank you for reminding me of the overwhelming power of the will to love and the will to live every second of your life as fully and as passionately as possible."

Redmayne won over Keaton in Birdman, Benedict Cumberbatch as codebreaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, Steve Carell as John du Pont in Foxcatcher and Jake Gyllenhaal as a videographer in Nightcrawler.

Moore won over Jennifer Aniston for Cake, Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything, Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl and Reese Witherspoon for Wild. She won the Golden Globe two weeks ago and is the favorite for the Oscar.

"It's hard not to think about when people keep bringing it up," she said backstage when asked about her front-runner status.

SAG winners have a strong record as an Oscar predictor in the individual acting categories. The last 10 winners of the SAG best actor award have gone on to win the Oscar, including Matthew McConaughey last year for Dallas Buyers Club.

The cast of Downton Abbey took home the prize for best ensemble in a drama series for the second time in three years. The final season of Breaking Bad won last year.

Viola Davis nabbed the best actress in a drama series award for How to Get Away With Murder, while Kevin Spacey won best actor in a drama series for House of Cards.

Davis won the best actress SAG Award for The Help three years ago, then lost out on the Oscar to Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady. She said backstage that the viewing public is hungry for truthful depictions of females.

"We don't want to keep seeing these fictionalised versions of women," Davis said.

Frances McDormand won best actress in a TV movie or miniseries for Olive Kitteridge, and Mark Ruffalo took home the prize for male actor in a TV movie or miniseries for HBO's The Normal Heart. Ruffalo, along with Spacey, was a no-show to the ceremony.

McDormand portrayed a retired schoolteacher in Olive Kitteridge. The award came 18 years after she took the SAG award and the Oscar for her portrayal of pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson in Fargo.

In the middle of the show, Debbie Reynolds was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by her daughter Carrie Fisher.

"One of my favorite movies was The Unsinkable Molly Brown and there's a song, 'I Ain't Down Yet.' Well, I ain't," Reynolds concluded her acceptance speech.

J.K. Simmons won best supporting actor for Whiplash, while Patricia Arquette nabbed supporting actress for Boyhood. Both won the Golden Globe two weeks ago.

"Each of us is completely crucial to the story," Simmons said during his speech. "I would like thank the 49 actors who appear in Whiplash."

Arquette, whose father was the late actor Lewis Arquette, acknowledged her family.

"I can't tell you what this means to me," she said. "I'm a fourth-generation actor. My family have been committed actors for over a century, through feast or famine."

The cast of Orange is the New Black won best ensemble in a comedy TV series. Modern Family had won the comedy ensemble trophy for four consecutive years before Netflix's Orange is the New Black broke the streak.

William H. Macy won best actor in a comedy series for Shameless, just after Uzo Aduba won actress in a TV comedy for Orange is the New Black.

"I've written so many great acceptance speeches that I've never gotten to give," Macy, who won a dozen years ago for the TV movie Door to Door, said during his acceptance speech.

The stunt performers of Unbroken and Game of Thrones were the first winners at the SAG Awards, announced Sunday before the official ceremony on the red carpet.

The nominees were selected by panels of 2,100 SAG-AFTRA members. Winners were based on voring by the 111,000 eligible members of the performers union.


See below a full list of winners:

Best cast in a motion picture: Birdman

Best actress in a film: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Best actor in a film: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Best ensemble in a drama series: Downton Abbey

Best actress in a drama series: Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder

Best actor in a drama series: Kevin Spacey, House of Cards

Best actress in a TV movie or miniseries: Frances McDormand, Olive Kitteridge

Best actor in a TV movie or miniseries: Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart

Best supporting actor in a film: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Best supporting actress in a film: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Best ensemble in a comedy series: Orange is the New Black

Best actor in a comedy series: William H. Macy, Shameless

Best actress in a comedy series: Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black

Stunt performers in a TV series: Game of Thrones

Stunt performers in a film: Unbroken


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