SAG’s Great History of the ‘Makeup Win’ and How It Will Affect This Oscar Race

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When the Oscars were celebrating their 67th year, the SAG Awards were just being born. In 1994, the Screen Actors Guild began handing out their own year-end film and TV awards, creating the great trifecta of the Golden Globes, SAG and Oscars. But while the Oscars were always the cool, athletic older sister and the HFPA the hard-partying middle child, the SAG Awards quickly developed a desire to overcompensate for their tardiness to the festivities.

Starting 67 years late to the party quickly proved problematic to the SAG voters, who naturally did not want to feel like they were ignoring greatness that perhaps other awards bodies recognized years before. Because of this, I’m going to impute a certain…personality… onto the SAG Awards. I think this personality is a mix of overcompensation and a desire to make up for lost time. Let’s take a quick look at the mere 25 SAG winners who failed to cross over to an Oscar win:

1994: Best Actress – Jodie Foster, “Nell”
1995: Best Supporting Actor – Ed Harris, “Apollo 13”
1995: Best Supporting Actress – Kate Winslet, “Sense & Sensibility”
1996: Best Supporting Actress – Lauren Bacall, “The Mirror Has Two Faces”
1997: Best Supporting Actress – Gloria Stuart, “Titanic” (tied with Kim Basinger)
1998: Best Supporting Actor – Robert Duvall, “A Civil Action”
1998: Best Supporting Actress – Kathy Bates, “Primary Colors”
1999: Best Actress – Annette Bening, “American Beauty”
2000: Best Supporting Actor – Albert Finney, “Erin Brockovich”
2000: Best Supporting Actress – Judi Dench, “Chocolat”
2001: Best Actor – Russell Crowe, “A Beautiful Mind”
2001: Best Supporting Actor – Ian McKellen, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”
2001: Best Supporting Actress – Helen Mirren, “Gosford Park”
2002: Best Actor – Daniel Day-Lewis, “Gangs of New York”
2002: Best Actress – Renée Zellweger, “Chicago”
2002: Best Supporting Actor – Christopher Walken, “Catch Me If You Can”
2003: Best Actor – Johnny Depp, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”
2005: Best Supporting Actor – Paul Giamatti, “Cinderella Man”
2006: Best Supporting Actor – Eddie Murphy, “Dreamgirls”
2007: Best Actress – Julie Christie, “Away from Her”
2007: Best Supporting Actress – Ruby Dee, “American Gangster”
2008: Best Actress – Meryl Streep, “Doubt” (Winslet, Supporting SAG winner, won Lead at Oscars)
2011: Best Actress – Viola Davis, “The Help”
2012: Best Supporting Actor – Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
2015: Best Supporting Actor – Idris Elba, “Beasts of No Nation” (we all know what happened here)

Now, let’s take a close look at these wins, and a few wins that actually managed to translate a SAG win to an Oscar win. Ten of these 25 winners had an Oscar prior to their first SAG film win (Foster, Duvall, Bates, Dench, Crowe, Day-Lewis [’02], Walken, Christie, Streep and Lee Jones). There’s a sense of “Do We Want to Let These Great Actors Go Unrewarded By Our Organization?” going on here.

Add to those ten Dianne Weist, Tom HanksKevin Spacey, and perhaps most famously Michael Caine, all of whom won their first Oscar before their first SAG and managed to translate that into an Oscar No. 2. Perhaps most interestingly, SAG awarded Hillary Swank and Sean Penn SAGs No. 1 en route to their Oscars No. 2. Indeed, SAG tends to be more sentimental than the AMPAS, given SAG’s longer list of elder vets winning: Bacall, Stuart, Duvall, Finney, McKellen, Dench, Walken, Christie, Lee Jones, and most famously, Dee.

Sometimes this can seem to clog the natural flow of awards season, with SAG not desiring to give performers multiple individual film SAGs. In fact, in the 22 years of the SAG Awards, only five performers have won two or more individual film SAGs: Kate Winslet (“Sense & Sensibility” and “The Reader”), Cate Blanchett (“The Aviator” and “Blue Jasmine”), Renée Zellweger (“Chicago” and “Cold Mountain”), Helen Mirren (“Gosford Park” and “The Queen”), and the only three-time winner Daniel Day-Lewis (“Gangs of New York,” “There Will Be Blood” and “Lincoln”). Roughly translated: SAG doesn’t often give multiple awards to the same film performer.

“Why NOT make up for lost time with Duvall rather than re-reward Harris,” I imagine SAG saying to itself. 

“Why give it to Jack Nicholson again when I can give it to Day-Lewis for the first time,”  it said to itself in 2002.  

“We gave it to Bening in 1999, why give it to her now,” they asked themselves in both 2004 and 2010.  

“Hey, didn’t we just give it to Meryl,” they queried in 2009 and 2011.

“JLaw again,” they remarked as they ticked off another name in 2013.

Nicole Kidman and Sunny Pawar star in LION Photo: Mark Rogers © Long Way Home Productions 2015
Nicole Kidman and Sunny Pawar star in LION Photo: Mark Rogers © Long Way Home Productions 2015

It’s the natural human urge to spread the wealth. Why award someone again when you can award someone else for the first time? Sure, some of these performers may have won regardless of their SAG bump, but certainly some would not. Thus the main premise of this article rears its ugly head: due to this erratic, over-corrective behavior of the SAG electorate, who in the 2016 Oscar race will benefit?

Three names come to mind for three vastly different reasons.

  1. Denzel Washington.  Washington won his first Oscar in 1988 for “Glory.” He won a Golden Globe in 1999, but lost the SAG and Oscar to Spacey. In 2001, he won Oscar No. 2 for “Training Day,” but lost SAG to Crowe’s makeup SAG. Naturally, Washington also lost for “Flight” in 2012. If you’ve been following closely, you’ll notice the buried lead here: Washington has never won a SAG. That’s right, one of the most respected, veteran actors of his generation, the banner-man for black cinema, a double Oscar winner, doesn’t have a SAG. Will SAG voters be eager to give him his first naked man holding a mask? I wonder…
  2. Emma Stone.  Stone has two SAG Awards, but both in the Ensemble category (“The Help” and “Birdman”). However, as Stone heads into awards season with “La La Land,” she does not have an individual film trophy from SAG. Her projected chief competition, on the other hand, are SAG favorites. Natalie Portman, star of “Jackie,” and Viola Davis, star of “Fences,” each won Best Actress at SAG in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Stone has yet to be awarded outside of an ensemble. With SAG’s predisposition to not awarding actors twice, how is this not a boon for young Stone?
  3. Nicole Kidman (Kind of).  Like Washington, Kidman somehow doesn’t have a SAG (she lost to Zellweger in 2002). But with Kidman getting buzz for “Lion” in the Supporting Actress race, will her SAG-lessness be the key to finally winning a SAG and perhaps paving the way to her second Oscar? Probably not, but it’s a nice segue into speaking about the exceptions to the “Do We Want to Let These Great Actors Go Unrewarded By Our Organization?” syndrome. SAG-less Kidman could be passed over despite unlocked categories much like Robert de Niro/Alan Arkin were in 2012, George Clooney in 2011, Tilda Swinton in 2011 and Marion Cotillard in 2012.

In summary, SAG has a tendency to course-correct or issue makeup awards to performers who have been oft-celebrated in years past. While this was more endemic in the first decade of the SAGs, it nevertheless permeates the award show even now, as it undoubtedly is why Mickey Rourke has no Oscar. Additionally, SAG is often trigger-shy of issuing multiple individual film SAGs to a single performer, as they’ve only done so five times in their 22-year history. Certainly Portman and Davis are worthy enough performers to merit inclusion on that small multi-winner list. Could this play a critical role in the Oscar campaigns of Washington, Stone and Kidman? Maybe so, but only time will tell.

What do you guys think? Will being SAG-overdue pay off for Washington and Kidman (leading to a reunion of the 2002 Best Actress Oscar presentation when Washington declared Kidman had won “by a nose”)? Or, will SAG happily give Portman and Davis their second film SAGs, as one of them bests Stone?