How has Denzel Washington never won a Screen Actors Guild Award despite four previous nominations and two Academy Awards on his shelf? Will his latest film “Fences” finally bring him a trophy this year from SAG voters on his fifth and sixth try? The Oscar winner has nominations for Best Film Actor and Best Film Ensemble for his performance as Troy, an African American father struggling against race relations in 1950s Pittsburgh while trying to raise his family. The role has already brought him a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play in 2010.
Washington won Oscars for Best Supporting Actor for “Glory” (1989) and Best Actor for “Training Day” (2001). He lost at SAG to “Gladiator” (2000) Oscar-champ Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind,” who at the time was on his way to becoming the first person since Tom Hanks to win back-to-back prizes for Best Actor before an unfortunate phone-throwing incident derailed his chances. Washington’s victory for “Glory,” meanwhile, happened before the Screen Actors Guild began handing out awards. His other three nominations were for:
Best Film Actor for “The Hurricane” (1999); lost to Kevin Spacey (“American Beauty”)
Best Film Ensemble for “American Gangster” (2007); lost to “No Country for Old Men”
Best Film Actor for “Flight” (2012); lost to Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln”)
At SAG this year, Washington competes against Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”), Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”), Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”), and Viggo Mortensen (“Captain Fantastic”). Right now, the favorite to win is Affleck, who triumphed at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards. Yet the fact that Washington has never won a SAG Award, despite having two Oscars, could work in his favor.
The Screen Actors Guild has often tried to play catch-up with past Oscar winners, especially since they didn’t start giving our awards until the 1994 cycle. In fact, their first year they rewarded Jodie Foster for “Nell” (1994), perhaps as a way of making good on her previous Oscar victories for “The Accused” (1988) and “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) — she ultimately lost the Oscar to Jessica Lange in “Blue Sky.” Later SAG honorees like Kathy Bates (“Primary Colors”), Robert Duvall (“A Civil Action”), Christopher Walken (“Catch Me if You Can”), and Meryl Streep (“Doubt”) made good on past Academy Award wins to prevail at the guild, even though those SAG-winning roles didn’t ultimately translate to the Oscars.
Even if Washington loses Best Film Actor to Affleck, he’s still got a chance to prevail in Best Film Ensemble. Adapted from August Wilson‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Fences” is nothing if not an actor’s movie, and a prime example of a cast working as an ensemble.
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