- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Helen Mirren of “The Queen” and Forest Whitaker of “The Last King of Scotland” won Screen Actors Guild Awards last night as best lead players, their latest prizes on the road to the Academy Awards.

The road-trip romp “Little Miss Sunshine” won the prize for best film ensemble, the guild’s equivalent of a best-picture award.

Solidifying their positions as Oscar favorites, Miss Mirren won for playing British monarch Elizabeth II and Mr. Whitaker for starring as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

It seemed the soft-spoken Mr. Whitaker was struck speechless, rambling through some awkward words of gratitude.

“I want to thank you for allowing me to have a moment like this,” Mr. Whitaker said.

Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson won supporting-acting honors as soulful singers in “Dreamgirls,” reinforcing their status as Oscar front-runners as well.

Mr. Murphy, who built his career as a fast-talking comic player, began with a serious thank-you speech, but his sober demeanor proved a gag.

“What a tremendous honor to be recognized by one’s peers. I’ve been acting for some 25 years now, and this is a tremendous honor,” said Mr. Murphy, talking in a British accent.

“No, I’m sorry,” said Mr. Murphy, cracking up in laughter. “I feel goofy up here, ‘cause I don’t be winning stuff.”

“Dreamgirls” gave Mr. Murphy a chance to show off his splashy and dramatic sides as a James Brown-like singer struggling to remain relevant in the 1960s and ‘70s music scene.

As a powerhouse vocalist in “Dreamgirls,” Miss Hudson continued her breakneck rise to movie stardom after becoming famous as an “American Idol” contender two years ago. Miss Hudson thanked her co-stars, who included Mr. Murphy, Jamie Foxx and Beyonce Knowles.

“Because of you, I was able to work and learn from the best. Yes, you are the best,” said Miss Hudson, who added thanks to the actors guild. “Just thank you for noticing little old me and accepting me.”

“Dreamgirls,” which had been considered a potential best-picture favorite at the Academy Awards, was among the guild nominees for best ensemble cast, yet was shut out of the nominations for the top Oscar.

The ensemble win for “Little Miss Sunshine” could give the film a best-picture boost at the Oscars. But academy voters tend to favor heavy drama such as fellow nominees “Babel” and “The Departed.”

The guild category has never been a reliable forecast for how the top Oscar might play out. In the 11 years since the guild added the ensemble honor, only five winners have gone on to receive the best-picture Oscar, including 2005’s “Crash.”

Past guild ensemble winners include “Sideways,” “Gosford Park,” “Apollo 13” and “The Birdcage,” none of which won the best-picture Oscar.

Mr. Whitaker, Miss Mirren, Mr. Murphy and Miss Hudson have dominated Hollywood’s acting honors this awards season, all four also taking home Golden Globes.

Miss Mirren was diplomatic backstage when asked if she wants the Oscar.

“I’m not going there right now,” said Miss Mirren, who also won the guild’s prize for best actress in a TV movie or miniseries as the current queen’s namesake in “Elizabeth I.” “But it’s been the most incredible year for me, ever. That’s been amazing at this end of my life.”

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