Screen Actors Guild Award Boosts Oscar Shot For Cleveland Native

By DAVID GERMAIN, AP Movie Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Russell Crowe continued his pre-Oscars tear by taking best actor honors at the Screen Actors Guild awards, while Cleveland native Halle Berry boosted her prospects to become the first black woman to win a best actress Academy Award.

At the SAG awards Sunday, Crowe won for his portrayal of a schizophrenic mathematician in "A Beautiful Mind," taking him a step closer to a second straight Academy Award.

Berry (pictured, above) won best actress for her part as the widow of an executed death row inmate in "Monster's Ball." She could join Sidney Poitier as the only other black person to win an Oscar in a lead-acting category. Will Smith ("Ali") and Denzel Washington ("Training Ground") could also join that company.

"For someone to have 'award-winning' attached to her name means hope for every other actor of color out there," said Berry, who choked down tears back stage.

"I don't really care about what happens at the Oscars. And I don't mean to be flip about it, but so many good things have come my way because of this project, and my life is so indelibly different," Berry said.

Ron Howard, who directed "A Beautiful Mind," was also victorious over the weekend, winning the film prize at the Directors Guild of America awards.

Howard's and Crowe's success could bode well for the film at the Oscars on March 24. From the actors guild's seven previous awards shows, 11 of 14 lead-acting recipients went on to win Oscars.

The Directors Guild winner has gone on to win the Oscar 49 out of 54 times. Howard was one of the rare guild winners who failed to earn an Academy Award; he won the guild honor for "Apollo 13" but was not nominated for an Oscar for that film.

The Screen Actors Guild named Ian McKellen as best supporting actor for his role as the wizard Gandalf in "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." Helen Mirren won supporting-actress honors as a coolly efficient housekeeper in "Gosford Park," Robert Altman's class-war satire, which also won the guild's ensemble-acting prize.

"I told them if they all remembered their lines, they'd be OK," said Altman, nominated for best director at the Oscars.

Crowe has had three straight best-actor Oscar nominations and won last year for "Gladiator," a major box-office success. "A Beautiful Mind" also has become a smash hit.

"We just passed $140 million at the box office. A movie about a schizophrenic mathematician," Crowe said back stage. "That says a lot to me about the intellect of the American public."

Crowe's feat on Sunday marks his latest awards show success this year. He also won best actor at the British Academy Film Awards and best dramatic actor at the Golden Globes.

"The West Wing" swept the SAG's dramatic television awards. Martin Sheen won for best actor and Allison Janney for best actress, while the show's cast won the ensemble acting prize.

Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes of "Will & Grace" won top acting honors for a comedy TV series. "Sex and the City" won the cast award for comedy show.

"Sex and the City," a Manhattan-based series, resumes production for next season Wednesday, two days after the six-month anniversary of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.

Co-star Kim Cattrall said backstage that she did not know how the show was going to deal with the attacks, but that "I think we need to go on and learn from this and get stronger, and enjoy life."

"There's a wonderful feeling in New York. There's a feeling of life, of having survived," co-star Kristin Davis said. "It should reinvigorate us and our commitment to the city. I think we just feel lucky we get to be a New York show."

Past guild president Edward Asner, star of "Lou Grant" and a co-star on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," was honored with a life-achievement award. Back stage, Asner responded with humility when asked how he felt while watching a reel of his career highlights at the ceremony.

"I wasn't as varied as I thought I was. You must have gotten bored," Asner said. "I'm glad I fooled them all along the way."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)