Oscar flashback: Benicio Del Toro (‘Traffic’) wins at SAG in lead but in supporting at Academy Awards

Benicio Del Toro Traffic Sicario Best Actor Best Supporting Actor

The year 2000 was one of those rare times when the SAG Awards got it wrong in previewing the winner of Best Actor at the Oscars. A strategic studio switch put Benicio Del Toro into the lead race at SAG for “Traffic” instead of supporting where he’d been campaigned everywhere else. Let’s look back at that interesting derby, especially now that Del Toro is a frontrunner to return to the awards circuit this year for “Sicario.”

Related: Watch our exclusive ‘Sicario’ interview with Benicio Del Toro

Prior to the SAG Awards, none of the large ensemble in Steven Soderbergh “Traffic” was being campaigned as leads. The actor singled out the most during awards season was Del Toro for his performance as Javier Rodriguez, a Mexican police officer fighting the drug wars. He won Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes, BAFTA, National Society of Film Critics, and New York Film Critics Circle.

Then Del Toro was suddenly in the lead race for SAG. According to a 2001 article by Richard Natale in the Chicago Tribune: Del Toro swept many of the year-end critics’ polls as supporting actor, but he was submitted as best actor for the SAG award. “It was an experiment,” says Russell Schwartz, president of USA Films. “We felt we had nothing to lose if he didn’t win, and it would call more attention to his work if he did. It was a long shot. Amazingly, it paid off.”

But then he was nominated at the Academy Awards in supporting. 

In the first six years of the SAG Awards, the guild choice for Best Actor had also gone on to prevail at the Oscars: Tom Hanks (“Forrest Gump”), Nicolas Cage (“Leaving Las Vegas”), Geoffrey Rush (“Shine”), Jack Nicholson (“As Good As It Gets”), Roberto Benigni (“Life Is Beautiful”), and Kevin Spacey (“American Beauty”). The Del Toro victory meant pundits had no guidance from the Screen Actors Guild as to who would be winning that race.

Three of Del Toro’s SAG rivals — Russell Crowe (“Gladiator”), Hanks (“Castaway”), Rush (“Quills”) reaped Oscar bids — as did Javier Bardem (“Before Night Falls”) and Ed Harris (“Pollock”) with Crowe winning. (“Billy Elliot” star Jamie Bell contended at SAG but was snubbed by the Oscars.)

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At the Oscars, Del Toro defeated Jeff Briges (“The Contender”), SAG winner Albert Finney (“Erin Brockovich”), Joaquin Phoenix (“Gladiator”), and Willem Dafoe (“Shadow of the Vampire”).

There should be no confusion for Del Toro this year, as his “Sicario” campaign push has been in the supporting category all along.

The actor stars in the crime thriller as Alejandro, a mysterious operative who works with Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) to take down a drug cartel on the Mexican-American border.

Will he be nominated at the Oscars 15 years after his win for Best Supporting Actor? Make your Oscar predictions above or below beginning with that category and change them later as often as you wish. If you reap one of the top three scores forecasting nominations, you can win our top contest prizes: $500, $300 or $200 Amazon gift certificates. See contest rules. And you could earn a place of honor on our leaderboard and a starring role in next year’s Top 24 Users (the two dozen folks who do the best predicting this year’s Oscar nominations). 

Photo Credits: Laura Luongo/REX Shutterstock; Stewart Cook/REX Shutterstock

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