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Among themselves

With the executives and directors corraled upstairs, the actors have the floor. It's a night for visiting, meeting and celebrating with their peers.

January 28, 2008|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

Leaving the spotlight and applause behind them, the cast of "No Country for Old Men" ambled down the side stairs of the stage area, exchanging one-liners and cracking jokes, easing the tension of the moment. "I just found out that Tommy Lee Jones was in the movie," actor Josh Brolin offered. "This is the ensemble that never met."

Although the Coen brothers' film -- which was up against "American Gangster," "Hairspray," "Into the Wild" and "3:10 to Yuma" for the Screen Actors Guild Awards' top prize Sunday night -- had 47 speaking parts, it was probably Javier Bardem's laconic killer who made the greatest impression. Fittingly, Bardem took home a SAG Award for his performance and couldn't stop looking at his two statuettes backstage.

"Can you believe I have two of these?" Bardem said, giving the hardware the once-over. "They are so heavy! Wow!" A photographer asked Bardem to pose with his trophies, then announced: "It's the only time that I'm going to ask you to take a picture with two naked men; I promise!"

The SAG trophy, dubbed "the Actor," is an anatomically incomplete naked man that weighs in at a hefty 12 pounds. None of these characteristics seemed to bother Brolin and Bardem, though, who toasted their win by touching their Actors.

After a couple of minutes of private celebration, the winners were sent to the "Entertainment Tonight" area, where host Mary Hart asked Bardem how "they would celebrate in Spain." When the actor appeared perplexed by the question, she added: "What would they say?"

"What do they say? I don't know, 'Que contento estoy' (I am so happy)."

Trying to help his costar out, Woody Harrelson offered: "Orale?"

"No, that's Mexican, man," Bardem replied.

For the actors, whether they win or lose, the SAG Awards are different than any of the other red-carpet galas they are asked to attend.

"It's a party in their own house," producer Kathy Connell said, meaning that during the two hours the 250 actors dined on an antipasto melange and sipped Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon and Fume Blanc, they had only each other's company to enjoy.

Connell and two other SAG employees see to it that the actors get the best seats in the house: on the main floor and away from everyone else. The other VIPs -- producers, directors and network and studio executives -- sit on the upper level, close enough to see their favorite stars but too far to hear any of their conversations. Reporters are not allowed anywhere in the room; interviews can be conducted only on the red carpet or backstage after someone has won.

"It's the actors' night," Connell emphasized. "There's an emotion in this room that's very interesting. You get on the stage and you look down at the actors with whom you've either worked with and admired or always wanted to work with and admire. And they're looking up at you. And it becomes very personal and very emotional."

This year, Connell saw fit to seat the cast of AMC's "Mad Men" next to the actors of "No Country for Old Men," who, in turn, were adjacent to sweet America Ferrera and the rest of ABC's "Ugly Betty" gang.

One first-time attendee and nominee who could not wait to meet her neighbors was "Hairspray" star Nikki Blonsky, who was seated at a table with her cast next to Angelina Jolie and lifetime-achievement honoree Charles Durning.

Blonsky said she was happy that SAG keeps casts together because it's been two years since "Hairspray" was filmed and she was excited to reunite with her colleagues, especially John Travolta, who played her mother.

"John was an incredible mother to me and an incredible friend to me while making 'Hairspray,' " she said. "I know, I know. It's an interesting sentence. But he really nurtured me, and he really took care of me."

It was Blonsky who made the first celebrity entrance tonight, and it became evident that though seating arrangements inside may be democratic -- with movie and TV stars sitting side by side -- on the red carpet there is a definite pecking order. Small screen goes first, as Christina Applegate, Sara Ramirez, Ana Ortiz, Brenda Strong, Tichina Arnold, Angela Kinsey and Jenna Fischer came through, preening in designer gowns and answering sometimes awkward questions from journalists planted along the red carpet.

The film stars showed up much later, some of them only minutes before the event began, scurrying inside to take their seats and largely avoiding the press gantlet.

Recognizing that the SAG Awards might be the only major televised awards show to broadcast this year, SAG President Alan Rosenberg said the evening was both a commemoration of the year's best performances as well as a celebration of the union's solidarity with the Writers Guild of America.

"I think a celebration like this is a good way to galvanize people and say there's nothing wrong with having a good time and celebrating accomplishments while you're talking about serious issues," Rosenberg said.

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