From left; Anthony Andrews, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter and Colin… (Paul Buck / EPA )
In the span of about two weeks, "The King's Speech" has gone from Oscar underdog to front-runner.
The World War II-era British drama took the Screen Actors Guild's top honor Sunday evening, winning the movie ensemble acting award and essentially completing the trifecta of top Hollywood guild honors; its director, Tom Hooper, captured the top Directors Guild of America award on Saturday night, and last weekend the movie walked away with the Producers Guild title.
The movie about King George VI and his stammer is now riding a wave of momentum with just four weeks to go before the Academy Awards, stealing thunder from "The Social Network." That movie, about the founding of Facebook, had been seen as the leading best picture Oscar contender after receiving the National Board of Review's top prize in December, largely sweeping the nation's main film critics awards, and taking home a best picture statue at the Golden Globes on Jan. 16. But the film received no trophies at the SAG ceremony.
In the acting categories at the SAG awards, Colin Firth and Natalie Portman took home the top two prizes for their roles in "The King's Speech" and "Black Swan," respectively.
Portman kept her acceptance speech more compact than she did at the Golden Globes, but she was bleeped by TV censors when she thanked her parents who "taught me to work my hardest and never be an [expletive.]"
After accepting his statue, Firth took a moment backstage to send a text message his wife, who was back in England, with the news. He then assessed the biggest challenge of his role.
"[I wanted to] make sure it was respectful and real and true to what people [who stutter] go through. It needed to be because nothing would matter if it wasn't," he said.
The other big winner of the night was "The Fighter," with Christian Bale and Melissa Leo taking home acting prizes for their supporting roles in the boxing drama. The cast was particularly celebratory since both Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund — the real men on whom the film is based — were in the audience to root on their newfound Hollywood friends.
Bale was joined on stage briefly by Eklund, who throughout the ceremony cheered loudly whenever "The Fighter" was mentioned. "Thank you for living the life and thank you for letting me play you," Bale said to Eklund upon accepting his statue. He added, "It's so silly what we do, sometimes it's like playing dress-up. Other times it's so meaningful."
Leo continued the awards romp that began for her and Bale at the Golden Globes, this time giving a shout-out to the six women who accompanied her to the awards show — six of the seven actresses who played her colorful daughters in the movie. "Thanks for helping me get a man to take home tonight," she quipped in reference to her solid bronze statue.
Leo also got a bit political, likely surprising non-Hollywood viewers with her union shop talk. "Let's join together," she said during her acceptance speech. "Let's make it a real voice." She was referring to a possible merger between the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. SAG represents 125,000 members, while AFTRA has 70,000. Many actors belong to both unions, and the two guilds conduct some joint bargaining. If the two unions were to unite, it's unclear what next year's awards might be called.
Meanwhile, in the television categories, the cast of HBO's drama "Boardwalk Empire" won for best ensemble in a dramatic series just two weeks after taking home the top TV prize at the Golden Globes. Steve Buscemi won the actor award for his work on the series, just as he did at the Globes.
Julianna Margulies won best female actress in a drama series for the second year in a row for her role in "The Good Wife." (Katey Segal won the Globe for her work on "Sons of Anarchy.")
Alec Baldwin was named best lead actor in a comedy series — his fifth win in a row for his work on "30 Rock" — while 89-year-old Betty White, who last year was honored with the SAG lifetime achievement award, won for her work on TV Land's "Hot in Cleveland." "Modern Family" took home the award for best ensemble in a comedy series, besting "Glee," which won last year (and captured a Globe two weeks ago).
The guild handed its lifetime achievement award to 94-year-old Ernest Borgnine, recognizing a body of work spanning about six decades. Most recently, Borgnine appeared in the 2010 action-comedy "Red" opposite Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren, and presenter Tim Conway noted it was Borgnine's 164th movie. But Borgnine remains best known for his film roles in "From Here to Eternity, "The Wild Bunch," and "Marty," for which he won a best-actor Oscar, as well as for his television work on the popular 1960s show "McHale's Navy."
Yet Borgnine had his priorities in order for the evening. After accepting his award he told his wife: "Let's get back to the table and eat before they take the plates."
Times staff writer Geoff Boucher contributed to this report.