LOS ANGELES — The Screen Actors Guild on Sunday picked the actors in drama "The Help" as the top ensemble cast of 2011 and gave it two other awards for best lead actress and supporting actress, in a surprise over heavily favored silent movie romance "The Artist."
"The Help" earned three awards overall and "The Artist" only one for French actor Jean Dujardin as best actor in a drama for his role as a fading actor at the end of the talkies.
Dujardin seemed genuinely surprised as he held his statue, thanking the audience of A-list actors including Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams.
He noted that as a kid he was always a dreamer and that his teachers called him "Jean of the moon."
"I was always dreaming," he said. "I realize now that I never stopped dreaming. Thank you very much. Thank you for this dream."
Viola Davis was named best actress in a movie for civil rights-era drama "The Help," and she too talked of dreaming big as a kid and encouraged others to do so.
"Dream big and dream fierce," she said.
Others winning SAG film honors included Christopher Plummer with the first film honor for supporting actor. Plummer, 82, who plays an elderly man who reveals his homosexuality, much to the chagrin of his family, thanked his fellow actors from the stage, calling them a wacky but wonderful bunch of artists.
"I just can't tell you what fun I've had being a member of the world's second oldest profession," Plummer joked on stage. "When they honor you, it's like being lit by the holy grail. Thank you, thank you, thank you."
Octavia Spencer won supporting actress in a movie with her role as a poor maid "The Help." It proved to be a surprise over Berenice Bejo of silent film romance, "The Artist."
SAG's film awards are closely watched for their impact on Oscars because actors make up the biggest voting group at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences which picks winners. The Academy Awards take place in Los Angeles on February 26.
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But unlike academy voters focused on film, SAG members also pick winners in TV awards, and in that arena, "Boardwalk Empire" was named best drama series for the second straight year and "Modern Family was picked top comedy, also for the second year.
Alec Baldwin was named best actor in a TV comedy for the sixth year for his role as a TV executive on "30 Rock," and Betty White, who turned 90-year-old earlier this month, took the comedy actress trophy for a second time in "Hot in Cleveland."
An obviously surprised White acknowledged her co-stars Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick.
The win "belongs with four of us," she said, then looked at her statuette with a gleam in her eye and a joke on her mind. "I'm dealing them right-in with this. I'm not going to let them keep this, but I will let them see it."
In other TV awards, Kate Winslet was named best actress in a small-screen movie or miniseries for "Mildred Pierce," and Paul Giamatti won the trophy for actor in a movie or mini-series with "Too Big to Fail."
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