If it feels like we were just writing about the 2021 Screen Actors Guild Awards, well, that’s probably because they got pushed to later in 2021 than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That ceremony, the 27th of its kind, took place on April 4. That shift of the awards calendar is resulting in some changes to this year’s races as well.
The eligibility period for both films and television series, and their respective performers, this year is condensed — from March 1 to Dec. 31. Submissions for all categories were due Nov. 5, with balloting opening Dec. 6 and continuing through 5 p.m. PT on Jan. 9. The 28th annual SAG Awards nominations will be announced Jan. 12 with final voting opening Jan. 19 and continuing through noon PT on Feb. 25. The winners will be announced at the live ceremony on Feb. 27.
Ahead of all that, Variety highlights important ballot areas to keep your eye on when voting.
Late Bloomers Could Fare Better
The initial round of nominations is decided by two nominating committees — one for film, one for TV — each comprising 2,500 selected randomly from active SAG-AFTRA members. The final award is then voted on by the entirety of SAG-AFTRA members, a body of more than 165,000. Because of earlier deadlines for the nominating committee members, there have traditionally been later film releases that seemed to miss out on SAG Awards love because they just couldn’t screen in time or they were the last screeners to arrive. In the past, if voters didn’t have screeners to watch over the Thanksgiving holiday, the films likely weren’t getting in — this includes “Django Unchained” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which fared well at Oscars but were completely snubbed by the SAG Awards. With the awards date delay, that means later deadlines could be a blessing for some upcoming releases. Later films from “House of Gucci” and “Licorice Pizza,” to “Tick Tick … Boom!” to “Being the Ricardos” and “Don’t Look Up” will have time to build momentum. Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley” and Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” will be coming in at the very end of November or in early December. But with these pushed deadlines, voters should be able to see pretty much everything before voting — especially as they’ll have the precious holiday vacation period to check out their screeners.
Actors for Actors
Because the audience comprises actors voting for their peers, the SAG Awards have a special significance for many. The show regularly opens with its patented “I’m an actor” speeches, in which a wide variety of performers talk about their beginnings and achievements. In speeches, winners regularly discuss what it means that the award was given to them by their fellow performers. On the film side, it can also result in some surprising nominations. Though the SAG Awards are generally a good indicator of how the Academy is thinking, and you tend to see the same films up for prizes, every once in a while there can be a surprise, usually in the form of a showy performance. At the 27th annual SAG Awards, Amy Adams was recognized for her work in “Hillbilly Elegy,” a role that was dismissed by all other major awards groups. While both Jared Leto of “The Little Things” and Helena Zengel of “News of the World” were on voters’ radar, they failed to land Academy Award nominations but were recognized by SAG-AFTRA voters. Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” landed nominations for supporting actor Chadwick Boseman and the ensemble, but came up empty at the Oscars. Additionally, in 2019, Emily Blunt won for her supporting turn in “A Quiet Place” and was nominated for her lead role in “Mary Poppins Returns” but failed to score an Oscar nom for either. Similarly, in 2016, Helen Mirren was a double individual SAG Awards nominee for “Woman in Gold” and “Trumbo” despite coming up empty at the Oscars. That same year, Sarah Silverman’s serious turn in “I Smile Back” was recognized by the SAG Awards after being ignored by Globes, the Academy and Critics’ Choice Awards. So expect some surprises and keep a lookout for showy performances by actors working the circuit.
Lack of Limited Series Ensemble
It’s beginning to sound a bit like a broken record when we lament the fact that the SAG Awards still have not added an acting ensemble category for limited series. (Every time we ask why, the reason provided is that they don’t want to add time to the show since they are beholden to a linear network time slot, the same reasoning for not splitting lead and supporting TV performers into individual races.) But every year, the absence of such a category feels more problematic. Limited series are consistently some of the most exciting pieces of storytelling, not only for tight, closed-ended character arcs, but also for the talent they attract. With such a wealth of performers to choose from and only a handful of ballot spots for individual male and female actors in a limited series, too many are going to be overlooked. Just think about the stellar ensembles in series such as Amazon Prime Video’s “The Underground Railroad,” HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” and “The White Lotus,” Hulu’s “Dopesick” and “Nine Perfect Strangers,” and FX’s “Impeachment: American Crime Story” alone. This year the SAG Awards also added the specific designation that anthologies are eligible in the limited series categories, which means actors who appeared in one episode of FX on Hulu’s “The Premise,” for example, are competing against season-long performers in the other aforementioned shows, as well as many more.
Changing Comedy Landscape
The comedy series ensemble nominees at the SAG Awards were not a very inclusive or diverse list until the late-aughts. “Ugly Betty,” with America Ferrera in the lead role, was nominated in 2007 and 2008, and then the tide turned more fully in 2015 when “Orange Is the New Black” was nominated (and won) for the first time. That tide began to turn back two years ago, with the 10 nominees between 2020 and 2021 — including winners “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Schitt’s Creek” — featuring predominantly white casts. Although odds are good that the two returning nominees from last year that are eligible again (Hulu’s “The Great” and Apple TV Plus’ “Ted Lasso”) will score consecutive nods, there is also an abundance of fresh talent telling a wider berth of stories than usual that are worth a closer look. At the top of that list is FX on Hulu’s “Reservation Dogs,” which gives a rare glimpse into Indigenous life and is making stars out of its young cast members. Additional new series with several breakout performances include Amazon’s “Harlem,” Starz’s “Run the World” and ABC’s reboot of “The Wonder Years.” However, the list of returning series for SAG Awards voters to finally celebrate is even longer, topped by the final season of HBO’s “Insecure,” as well as the final season of Netflix’s “Dear White People” and the second seasons of Comedy Central’s “Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens” and Peacock’s “Saved by the Bell.”
Stranger Than Fiction
As with every year, the film acting races look to be filled with true stories. “King Richard” stars surefire leading actor nominee Will Smith as Richard Williams, the driven father of tennis greats Venus and Serena. Don’t be surprised to see the film pick up multiple nominations with a supporting cast that also includes Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal and Saniyya Sidney. The cast of “House of Gucci” is a murderers’ row of previous nominees and winners: While Lady Gaga should be a lock for her role as the murderous Patrizia Reggiani, her co-stars — lead Adam Driver and supporting players Al Pacino and Jared Leto — are also on the radar. “Being the Ricardos” stars Oscar-winners Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem and J.K. Simmons and features a standout turn by Tony-winner Nina Arianda. For individual noms, Kristen Stewart has to be a surefire ballot check for her work as Princess Diana in “Spencer,” while Jessica Chastain has been earning raves in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” And while it may not technically be a true story, Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical “Belfast” could pull off four nominations for Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench.
Will ‘Succession’ Finally Succeed?
HBO media conglomerate family drama “Succession” has been an awards powerhouse between the Emmys, Golden Globes, Critics Choice, TCA, PGA, DGA, WGA and Peabodys. Yet, no one from the stellar ensemble has scored attention with SAG-AFTRA voters — yet. Historically, it has taken these voters some time to warm to new series, so this should be “Succession’s” year. Now in its third season, the question really is not if actors will be nominated, but rather how many will receive solo accolades. Since the SAG Awards still do not separate lead and supporting performers for the TV categories, there is a serious chance of this one show dominating the male drama actor race — and still not having space to celebrate everyone individually.
Kings of Comedy and Chameleon Queens
Only a (literal) couple of television performers are eligible for consecutive nominations for the same roles: Jason Sudeikis, who won male comedy series actor last year for the freshman outing of Apple TV Plus’ “Ted Lasso,” and Nicholas Hoult, who was nominated in the same category for the first year of Hulu’s “The Great.” However, there are also two women who were nominated last year who could see year-over-year attention, just in new roles. In 2021, Nicole Kidman was nominated in the female limited series/ TV movie actor race for HBO’s “The Undoing” and now stands a strong chance at a return to the category for Hulu’s “Nine Perfect Strangers.” Additionally, Annie Murphy, who was nominated in the female comedy actor category in 2021 for “Schitt’s Creek” could be celebrated now for AMC’s “Kevin Can F**k Himself.”
One of the many things that’s great about the ensemble category and SAG Awards voters in general is that they aren’t put off by populist fare. In only their second year of presenting the film ensemble award, “The Birdcage” was honored with the prize, besting several Oscar-nominated films. Both “Straight Outta Compton” and “The Big Sick” earned ensemble nods while failing to land any acting noms at the Oscars (in 2016 and 2018, respectively). In 2019, “Crazy Rich Asians” found itself competing with best picture contenders “A Star Is Born,” “Black Panther,” “BlackKklansman” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” for the ensemble prize. (“Black Panther” won.) They have also never shied away from recognizing foreign-language films. Though they made history by awarding the ensemble prize to “Parasite” in 2020, they previously nominated “Life Is Beautiful” in 1999. And it doesn’t always have to be big, starry casts. Over the years, smaller films including “Little Voice,” “Waking Ned,” “Billy Elliot” and “The Station Agent” have all been recognized. In 1998, “The Full Monty” went on to win over films with huge stars including “Titanic,” “Good Will Hunting,” “L.A. Confidential” and “Boogie Nights.”
The film side of the SAG Awards ballot explicitly states that “films need not be in English” and that “films shot completely outside of the U.S. with an entirely foreign cast may be eligible.” The television side of the ballot does not get that specific, but Netflix is certainly hoping to score big with local-language entries in the drama performance categories this year, specifically for “Lupin” from France and “Squid Game” from South Korea. The former series streamed its first two seasons in 2021, but due to the shifted eligibility window for this year’s SAG Awards, only Season 2 is in contention. Meanwhile, “Squid Game” launched its first and only season so far this fall. The SAG Awards’ rules for series, in addition to launching within the designated window of time, are more focused on episode length and order than country of origin or primary language for dialogue. What is entered as a drama series for categories such as ensemble, for example, must be “a 60-minute scripted program with an ongoing theme and storyline in a minimum of four continuous episodes.” Should performers from either or both of these series end up on the ballot, it should open the door for even more local-language series to see U.S. awards attention in the future.