Jamie Foxx’s uncanny re-creation of Ray Charles in “Ray” earned him the Screen Actors Guild Award for best actor Saturday, while Hilary Swank won the best-actress prize for “Million Dollar Baby,” playing a spirited boxer whose life takes a tragic turn.
The cast prize for best movie ensemble went to the road-trip comedy “Sideways.”
Cate Blanchett won the supporting-actress honor for her role as Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator,” and Morgan Freeman took the supporting-actor prize for “Million Dollar Baby,” playing a sage-like ex-prizefighter.
“Thank you for Ray Charles for just living so complex and so interesting, and making us all just come together,” said Foxx, the front-runner to win the best-actor prize at the Academy Awards on Feb. 27. Addressing his director on “Ray,” Foxx added, “Thank you for Taylor Hackford for taking a chance with an African-American film. Taylor, you’re my director of the year.”
Swank offered gushing praise for her director and co-star, Clint Eastwood.
“I bow down to you,” Swank said to the 74-year-old Eastwood. “You are a talent beyond compare. If I’m half the person you are and half the talent you are when I’m 74, I will know that I’ve accomplished something great.”
The SAG honors presented the first big head-to-head competition between Swank and Oscar rival Annette Bening, a nominee for the theater farce “Being Julia.” At the Golden Globes, Swank won for best dramatic actress while Bening was honored for best actress in a musical or comedy.
The two actresses are the front-runners at the Oscars, a rematch of the showdown five years ago, when underdog Swank pulled an upset best-actress win for “Boys Don’t Cry” over Bening, who had been the favorite for “American Beauty.”
The wins gave all the actors an Oscar boost just as voting gets under way for Hollywood’s top honors. Oscar ballots were mailed Wednesday to academy members, with voting scheduled to end Feb. 22, five days before the ceremony.
Freeman paid respect to fellow contender James Garner by singing a verse from the theme song of Garner’s old TV Western “Maverick.” Garner was nominated as supporting actor for the romantic drama “The Notebook” and received the guild’s lifetime-achievement award.
Covering all his bases, Freeman added, “I want to thank everybody I ever met.”
Blanchett thanked co-star Leonardo DiCaprio and especially “The Aviator” director Martin Scorsese. Looking at her trophy, a statue of a performer holding the comedy and tragedy masks that symbolize actors, Blanchett said, “I think the head, shoulders, knees and toes of this belong to Martin Scorsese, who led us all and brought us great courage.”
For dramatic TV series, the late Jerry Orbach won the actor honor for “Law and Order.” Orbach died in December.
“How bittersweet. But it’s still sweet,” said Orbach’s widow, Elaine. “Jerry had a motto: Never leave a hit show. ... May you all never leave your hit show.”
Jennifer Garner earned the dramatic actress honor for “Alias,” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” received the dramatic ensemble award for the entire cast.
Tony Shalhoub, star of “Monk,” won the guild prize for the second straight year as actor in a TV comedy. Teri Hatcher won the TV comedy actress honor for “Desperate Housewives,” which also won the comedy ensemble award.
The 11th annual guild awards provided a warmup bout for “The Aviator” and “Million Dollar Baby” before they duke it out for best-picture at the Oscars. Although “Sideways” won the guild ensemble honor, “The Aviator” and “Million Dollar Baby” are still considered the best bets for the top prize at the Oscars on Feb. 27.
The winner of the SAG cast-performance prize has gone on to receive the top Oscar four times in the nine years since the guild added that category.
Guild nominees were chosen by 4,200 randomly selected union members. The union’s full membership of 98,000 was eligible to vote for winners.