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‘Squid Game’ Takes SAG Awards Showdown Over ‘Succession,’ Starts Emmy Race

"Squid Game" made history at the SAG Awards, as the series took home three prizes.

Lee Jung-jae, winner of Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series for Squid Game and HoYeon Jung, Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series for Squid Game at the 28th Screen Actors Guild Awards held at Barker Hangar on February 27th, 2022 in Santa Monica, California.

Lee Jung-jae and Jung Ho-yeon

Gilbert Flores for Variety

The Screen Actors Guild Awards returned in full force on Sunday night in its first live ceremony since 2020 to celebrate the finest performances in television (and film) and, in turn, delivered major — and historic — implications for the Emmy season to come.

First, the ceremony itself. The evening at the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica, a change of venue for the event which had been held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles since 1997. The traditionally host-less festivities again depended exclusively on the stage presence of the most talented talent in Hollywood and was again all the better for it, ushered in and out of the ceremony by the Hamilton-gone-Hollywood triad of Daveed Diggs, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Leslie Odom Jr. Most importantly, however, was the fact that the ceremony cleaved as closely as ever to its two-hour runtime, which it turns out is still the perfect length for any awards show.

Setting all that aside, before we start talking winners, it must be acknowledged that as much as some people would tell you otherwise, the SAG Awards are primarily a TV awards ceremony. Sure, people will talk about the correlation of the prizes to the Oscar race, but ultimately, when you break things down by the numbers there are more accolades being handed out to TV programs — nine — than there are for film — six.

Why does this matter? It’s just a reminder that though the Emmy Awards are six months away, the power players on the television landscape are always changing.

Take the drama series categories, where gauntlets were thrown and history was made. Headed into the evening, Netflix’s global phenomenon “Squid Game” had four nominations, the first non-English language series to garner such attention from the guild. By night’s end, not only had the show’s stunt cast won, so had Lee Jung-jae, who won outstanding male actor in a drama series.

“Oh my, thank you so much! This is truly huge that it’s happened to me,” Lee said from the stage. “Thank you so much SAG-AFTRA Awards and thank you to the global audience for all of your love for Squid Game.”

Lee co-star Jung Ho-yeon, also scored a win for outstanding female actor in a drama series. Jung’s win was of particular note as her turn as Kang Sae-byeok was her first ever acting role.

“First and foremost, thank you so much,” Jung said, tearfully. “I have sat many times watching you on the big screen dreaming of one day becoming an actor. I just want to say thank you so much.”

The victories made history as Lee became the first male actor from Asia and Korea to win an individual SAG Award. Jung became the second female actor of Asian as well as Korean descent to do the same. The first female actor to earn the achievement took place just last year as Youn Yuh-jung won female actor in a supporting role in a motion picture for “Minari.”

Dagmara Domińczyk, Jihae, Brian Cox, Scott Nicholson, Dasha Nekrasova, Kieran Culkin, Nicholas Braun and Jeremy Strong accept the award for Ensemble in a Drama Series for 'Succession' onstage at the 28th Screen Actors Guild Awards held at Barker Hangar on February 27th, 2022 in Santa Monica, California.

Dagmara Domińczyk, Jihae, Brian Cox, Scott Nicholson, Dasha Nekrasova, Kieran Culkin, Nicholas Braun and Jeremy Strong

Michael Buckner for Variety

Beyond being historic, the wins for “Squid Game” were also significant as it positions the series as a legitimate contender with awards bodies, specifically the Television Academy, moving forward. It’s primary competition? HBO’s “Succession.” But Jesse Armstrong’s prestige drama didn’t go home empty-handed.

“Succession” earned top marks, winning outstanding ensemble in a drama series, a testament to the strength of the show’s 19-person cast. In accepting the award, star Brian Cox turned his gaze to the world at large, remarking on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The thing that’s really distressed me is what’s happening in Russia to my fellow actors and actresses and performers and writers and critics,” Cox said. “They are told, under pain of high treason, that they cannot say a word about Ukraine. And I think that is pretty awful.” He went on to urge the community to stand together, supporting those in Russia who disagree with the country’s actions and are being silenced.

On the comedic side of the dial, things were less political and also less surprising, with victors largely echoing those of the 2021 Emmy Awards, with Jason Sudeikis winning male actor in a comedy series for his titular performance in Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso” and the series winning ensemble in a comedy series. Jean Smart also nabbed another accolade for her role in HBO Max’s “Hacks,” winning female actor in a comedy series.

Meanwhile the prizes for limited series had one foot in the future and one in the past. Kate Winslet won female actor in a limited series for her Emmy-winning work in HBO’s “Mare of Easttown,” while Michael Keaton won his first individual SAG Award (and fourth overall) for his turn in Hulu’s “Dopesick.” His acceptance speech began with a comic turn as he belatedly rushed to the stage after being slowed by a long line in the men’s room, but quickly acknowledged the more serious subject material of “Dopesick,” which takes a hard look at the nefarious actions the sparked and fueled the opioid epidemic.

“I’m so blessed to do what I do, and so fortunate. I have a job where I can be part of a production, like ‘Dopesick,’ that actually can spawn thought, conversation, actual change. Who gets to have that job? How fortunate am I that good can come from something I do just because I wanted to become an actor,” Keaton said.

“Economically, racially, socially, financially,” he said. “There’s massive inequity in the world. There just is. There’s fair, and there’s unfair. There’s not a lot of room in between.

“I can feel right now the rolling thunder of eye-rolling across people saying things to me like, ‘Shut up and dribble. Shut up and act.’ The acting, I’ll quit. The shutting up, not so much. I am blessed to be able to do something that might improve someone’s life.”

At that, Keaton teared up, pausing to collect himself before continuing.

“Given the subject matter, this is for my nephew, Michael, and my sister, Pam. I lost my nephew Michael to drugs, and it hurts. To my sister Pam, thanks.”

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