The cast of "Argo" poses backstage with the award for performance… (Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated…)
You would think nothing could surprise multi-hyphenate Ben Affleck after he'd promoted his CIA thriller "Argo" for the past five months, but the actor-director-producer was clearly stunned Sunday night when the movie nabbed the ensemble prize at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.
As Affleck walked off stage at the Shrine Auditorium, his eyes wouldn’t focus, his jaw was slack, he appeared to be gasping for breath. He stood still for a moment, taking it all in, as around him members of his cast pumped their fists in the air, hugged one another and shouted.
“I’m shocked, whatever amateur handicap I thought I had was completely false,” he said, speaking in an excited, breathless stream. “These were all amazing ensemble casts, you could make 25 different films just with the casts of ‘Lincoln’ and ['Les Misérables']. I was fine to tip my hat to them and be done.”
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Affleck picked up his already quick pace as he neared the tent where the statues for the cast award were being handed out, staring for a moment into its brightly lighted depths, and then continued.
“You can say a lot of things about a lot of awards shows, but this is an unimpeachable honor because it’s from my peers and I would put myself last among them," he said.
At that moment, SAG winner for lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis emerged from the tent holding his statue and smiling broadly. The two men hugged and Day-Lewis exclaimed something about “Argo's” winning and his missing Affleck's speech.
“You can watch the clip on YouTube,” Affleck joked before heading into the tent after his cast.
Inside, the scene was pure chaos with cast members including Tate Donovan, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin mugging with their statues and joking, while news people pressed in around them and shouted.
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“Hi, my name is Tate, how are you?” joked Donovan to Goodman, holding his award up to his face. “I just won an award.”
“This is unreal, just unreal,” said a blinking and bald Cranston, holding not one but two awards -- the first for his leading role in the AMC series "Breaking Bad" and the second for "Argo."
Affleck looked at Cranston for a moment and then cracked a sly smile. “He’s got two of those! He shouldn’t make us feel bad by holding both of them.”
Soon the crowd swept out of the statue tent and surged to the general photo area. Asked if he thought the SAG win bodes well for “Argo” to take home the Oscar, Affleck shook his head.
“I am truly thrilled, and I have been each step of the way,” he said. “I just feel amazed and grateful.”
When it was pointed out that he didn’t answer the question, he fell silent and stared straight ahead. A few pregnant moments passed before he spoke.
“The nice thing about print is you can not answer and it doesn’t look awkward, you can just stop talking.”
After he emerged from the glare of a thousand flashes he stumbled to the autograph station to sign the SAG posters. He was clearly overwhelmed. He kept shaking his head. “I’m shocked,” he said over and over.
Behind him, Cranston curled his statue as if it were a gym weight.
Clea DuVall, who played one of the trapped diplomats in "Argo," followed behind, clearly amped over the film's big win. Asked if she thinks it was an oversight that Affleck wasn’t nominated for a best director Oscar, she said sharply, “He should have been nominated.”
“I don’t know what it proves,” she says, referring to the SAG Award. “Other than that this is very, very special.”
In the SAG photo booth, Goodman’s cummerbund rode up to mid-belly as he pushed in with the cast to fit into the frame. He mooed like a cow.
“This thing weighs 50 pounds, just shoot it and get it over with,” shouted Arkin.
“Yes, Ms. Landers,” crooned Goodman.
At this point, the cast was punch-drunk, giddy, ready to be done with the backstage grind. By the time they entered the People magazine photo booth Affleck had caught his stride. Gone was the glazed look of shock; in its place was a warm confidence and a sense of calm and peace. He looked like a man who knows the value of what he’s earned and understands why he should be proud.
“Smile,” shouted a photographer.
“Alan Arkin says that in the ‘60s they didn’t smile,” said Affleck.
“What’s our next stop in the carnival?” asked Goodman.
Jennifer Garner, actress and wife of Affleck, appeared in a lovely gold gown by the general media room. She hugged her husband and they kissed warmly.