While it may have felt like the 2020 SAG Awards were hosted by Dan and Eugene Levy — even the “Schitt’s Creek” father/son duo had to tell the audience they weren’t hosting (twice) — the Screen Actors Guild knows how to put on a show without a central showman. They’ve gone without a host for 24 of their 26 ceremonies, with the two exceptions being Kristen Bell in 2018 and Megan Mullally in 2019. Both of those fine thespians did exactly that — fine! — but the SAGs wisely returned to what works and put on another streamlined, talent-focused broadcast that ran 12 minutes long, but still felt quick and should prove memorable.
Why? All the speeches!
OK, so the show wasn’t entirely speeches. There were two tribute montages to, um, superheroes and all the great shows that ended in 2019 (plus “Game of Thrones”). The Levys got an extended intro where Eugene droned on about acting with comedic persistence (it worked!) and then they took the stage to give out the first award. When returning from commercials, select actors told stories about their early days in showbiz (like Jason Alexander failing to light a cigarette) and their early resumes (let’s see that stage combat, Adam Scott!).
But that was about it. This is a show about acting, and while delivering a great speech isn’t exactly the same as nailing your big monologue, many of the same qualities matter: tone, delivery, timing, emotion, and the chosen or improvised words all make up a performance meant to arrest the audience, in the room and at home. So let’s look at the speeches to see who, exactly, helped carry the 2020 SAG Awards to new heights.
Laura Dern – B-
Kissing her dad, Bruce Dern, on the way to the stage and thanking him with her final words in the spotlight, Dern gave a solid enough speech for someone who’s been a lock to win for months, but a sly aside about she “literally — literally — would not be here if not for actors” played a little too quiet to be the main remembrance from her time on stage. Safe, but not much of a preview for her inevitable Oscars victory.
Tony Shalhoub – B
The somewhat-surprise winner for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” kicked off the night by taking the stage and muttering a rather dejected “Well, thanks.” Despite that downer note, Shalhoub justified his lack of enthusiasm by dedicating the trophy to his deceased “Maisel” co-star Brian Tarantina.
Robert De Niro – B
What, was Bobby still bummed about his Oscar snub? Though he managed a quick joke about keeping his health insurance to pivot into a politically focused speech, De Niro didn’t muster half the chutzpah he did for CNN while calling out President Donald Trump’s abuse of power. After quoting himself, he stopped short of a call to action, and instead left the stage before he could really say something bold about voting. Still, the supportive union comments were well put and, hey, it’s Robert De Niro. Even when he’s a bit muted, he’s got stage presence.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” Cast – B
Can you be too self-deprecating? Yes, yes you can, and Alex Borstein did it by not only saying she voted for “Fleabag” but repeating a version of “this makes no sense” one too many times — she believed it, and so did we. This award should’ve gone to “Fleabag,” and while she didn’t scold voters for picking them, the team didn’t help her make their time on stage feel earned. (Even if “I didn’t vote for Rachel, I didn’t vote for Tony” was pretty funny.)
“The Crown” Cast – B
Helena Bonham Carter never wins. She’s zero for two at the Oscars, zero for three at the Emmys, and she’s lost a stunning eight times at the Golden Globes. She even lost again tonight — to Jennifer Aniston for Best Actress in a Drama Series — so when she was chosen to speak on behalf of the few “Crown” members who could take time off shooting and attend the SAG Awards, no matter what she said, it was worth hearing. Granted, it could’ve been sillier or more sincere, but thanking their casting director Nina Gold and giving her first words over to her son were nice moments from a stunned winner.
Peter Dinklage – B
Quick and to the point, Dinklage managed to pull out a solid speech (for a long overdue win) without making any big jokes or digging too deep for sincerity — he thanked his fellow cast members, he thanked his wife (for making their home-away-from-home a real home), and he thanked… Northern Ireland? You know, what? I’ll buy it. “Game of Thrones” was a massive production with some rowdy cast and crew members — Northern Ireland deserves thanks for putting up with ’em.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge – B
Not her best speech of the long awards season, but Waller-Bridge was as smart and lovely as ever. “I normally try to be spontaneous in these speeches, but I don’t trust myself to bleep myself so I wrote some things down.” Mixing in a joke about her painted on six-pack abs, Waller-Bridge ended with an ideal wrap to her magnificent run: “This whole thing really has been a dream, and if I wake up tomorrow and realize it’s been just that, thank you — it’s been the most beautiful dream.”
Renee Zellweger – B
The Texas-born performer leaned into her “y’alls” during a rocky start, but her speech picked up steam as she went and closed strong. “Judy Garland, 50 years later, your community is thinking of you tonight. This is for you.” It may not have been surprising or invigorating, but it was fitting for the Screen Actors Guild and shouldn’t hurt her frontrunner Oscar odds.
Sam Rockwell – B+
The improv’d speech was absolutely fine, but Rockwell’s win gets a bonus point for Leslie Bibb’s ecstatic reaction. Hopping up and down next to the stunned recipient, Rockwell’s partner helped propel him onstage, and you believed it when he said, “Wow, I didn’t expect this at all.”
Michelle Williams – B+
It’s a classy move to dedicate your time on stage to your co-stars, and Williams’ thank you to co-star Sam Rockwell — who kept getting nominated for “Fosse/Verdon” and kept losing, until later in the ceremony when he pulled off a huge upset and won — was well-written, beautifully read, and hit home. She was efficient, too, which was appreciated after Pitt’s lengthy time on stage.
Joaquin Phoenix – B+
For an actor who never appears to be playing the game, Phoenix gave a very calculated speech to help elevate his Oscar chances (which are already great). Starting by acknowledging his flawed past and thanking his fellow actors for embracing him now, Phoenix played movie critic and hailed each of his fellow nominees individually. (Reminiscing about early auditions against Leonardo DiCaprio was pretty fun, I gotta admit.) Finally, Phoenix ended by crediting Heath Ledger for his his being there, calling the former Joker his “favorite actor.” The speech may not have been as weird and wild as his Globes victory, but, more importantly for Oscar voters, it was professional and sincere.
Jennifer Aniston – A-
When the shock is real, you can feel it. Though plenty of people predicted Jennifer Aniston to compete, there was no way of knowing if she could win, given she was representing the first Apple TV+ series to compete at the SAGs. Well, actors found a way to watch her, and she thanked them fully in a heartfelt speech. Shout-outs to Mimi Leder and Reese Witherspoon felt specific and genuine, but nothing compared to her last-second love for Adam Sandler, who was snubbed by the SAG Awards and Oscars for his work in “Uncut Gems.” “Your performance is extraordinary, and your magic is real,” Aniston said of her “Murder Mystery” co-star.
“Parasite” Cast – A
Kang-ho Song got out two words in English before letting his translator, Sharon Choi, take over, and “great honor” would’ve been more than enough to catapult this speech to the top of the list. But his succinct, excited, and respectful words should represent everyone’s favorite Oscars spoiler well in the coming weeks. “Although the title was ‘Parasite,’ I think the story is about coexistence and how we can all live together,” Song said. “But to be honored with the Best Ensemble award, it occurs to me that maybe we haven’t made such a bad movie. I am so honored to receive this award in front of so many actors I admire. I will never forget this night. Thank you.” Well said, Song! And you can relive it anytime you want because Bong Joon Ho was recording from his seat! (Forget the TNT broadcast — Bong certainly captured it better.)
Brad Pitt – A
OK, now this was a well-planned and properly executed speech. Pitt knew he was going to win, and prepared accordingly, starting with an iffy joke — “I gotta add this to my Tinder profile” — before unveiling his killer kicker. After thanking his female co-stars’ feet, he said, “Quentin [Tarantino] has separated more women from their shoes than the TSA.” That sent the room into hysterics, but Pitt wasn’t done. Showing off his self-deprecating side, he quipped, “Let’s be honest, it was a difficult part: a guy who gets high, takes his shirt off, and doesn’t get on with his wife.” The TNT cameraperson didn’t even need to cut to Jennifer Aniston for that one to work, and then Pitt tied it all together by earnestly appreciating the craft. After telling his “brothers and sisters” how much of their work he watches and appreciates, Pitt said, “Goddamn, I think that’s a worthy endeavor.” He sold that, too. Humor, grace, and command — now, don’t you want to hear that Oscar speech even more?
The 2020 Screen Actors Guild Awards were held Sunday, January 19 at 5 p.m. PT in Los Angeles, CA. TNT and TBS broadcast the ceremony live on both coasts.