LOS ANGELES — Ryan Gosling and his sister wore black ribbons, in honor of the dearly departed. Kristen Stewart had to fight back tears on the red carpet. Daniel Day-Lewis dedicated his Best Actor award to Heath Ledger, and when the show's "In Memoriam" segment closed with a shot of the actor in "Brokeback Mountain," one final moment of stunned silence swept over the near-funereal Shrine Auditorium.
"It's just extremely tragic, of course," sighed Ellen Page, a nominee for her work in "Juno." "It's becoming too much."
"I think it's an important topic to bring up, and I think he needs to be celebrated tonight with the rest of us," insisted "Hairspray" star Nikki Blonski. "I never got to meet him, but being here tonight at the SAG Awards, I feel like his presence is here."
For the record, the big winners at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards were "No Country for Old Men," "The Sopranos," "30 Rock" and such individual TV and film actors as Day-Lewis ("There Will Be Blood"), Javier Bardem ("No Country"), Kevin Kline ("As You Like It"), Julie Christie ("Away From Her"), Ruby Dee ("American Gangster") and Queen Latifah ("Life Support"). But with an unrelenting rain falling on the Shrine, Ledger's sudden death still on everyone's minds, and an epic strike continuing to rage on, Hollywood's stars were just thankful to distract themselves for a brief while (see "Heath Ledger's Death: Awards Shows Struggling With How To Pay Tribute").
"This is a lot more electricity-charged because there were no Golden Globes, and people are excited to see the wonderful performances of this past year rewarded," nominee and "Ugly Betty" star America Ferrera said on the red carpet. (Check out pictures of Ferrera, Angelina Jolie, Zac Efron and more arriving at the awards show.) "And also, because there's a strike going on, I think everybody could use a morale boost."
"There's a writers' strike, as most people know, but the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild are very cooperative with each other and very supportive of each other," said "Sin City" star Carla Gugino, explaining why some shows have fallen apart this year, while others survive. "So, the Writers Guild gave a waiver to this awards ceremony, and it's basically the actors and the writers supporting each other."
"I hope [the strike] gets wrapped up soon, but at the end of the day, what's happening is happening; everything happens for a reason," added Ludacris, a former SAG Award winner for "Crash," who wore a WGA pin on his lapel. "I'm here to support the writers' strike, and I'm here to support SAG."
Moments before going onstage to accept the Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series award with his castmates, however, "The Office" star/writer/producer B.J. Novak revealed some promising news: "I'm hearing, ear to the streets, that it'll be over soon. ... There are smart people on both sides, and hopefully they'll figure something out."
Page, who recently received her first Oscar nomination, said that she was making two sets of plans for late February. "If there is a ceremony, I will attend, I guess, as long as the strike is resolved," she explained. "And if there isn't, I don't know. I'll probably just hang out with people I love, and see what happens."
But if there was one thought that could supplant the strike, it was the tragic month that Hollywood actors had just been through, losing Brad Renfro and Heath Ledger — two actors in their 20s — just days before. The point was underlined during SAG's yearly video tribute to the deceased, as both appeared alongside veteran actors more than double their age.
"I'm totally in shock about both of those tragedies," said Blonsky. "I'm just praying for their families."
The point was made most powerfully, perhaps, when the usually reserved Day-Lewis paid tribute to Ledger from the podium.
"Heath Ledger gave [inspiration] to me," he said to the crowd, clutching his SAG award. "In 'Monster's Ball,' that character he created, it seemed to be almost like an unformed being, retreating from [himself], retreating from his father, from his life, even retreating from us, and yet we wanted to follow him, and yet we're scared to follow him almost. ... In 'Brokeback Mountain,' he was unique, he was perfect. ... I'd like to dedicate this to Heath Ledger."
"I'm really sad about it," a shaken Kristen Stewart told us on the red carpet. "He was one of my favorite actors, and it's hard to talk about."
"Poor Heath," sighed "Smokin' Aces" actress Taraji P. Henson, moments earlier. "He was tired, jet-lagged and he was talking about how the Joker [in 'The Dark Knight'] just took so much out of him. People don't realize what we do as artists, portraying these different characters, we're walking in the life of another person.
"It's kind of spiritual and deep, deeper than the outsider might understand," she continued, sympathizing with Ledger's reported exhaustion in the weeks leading up to his death. "I know how it is, going that deep into a character. When it comes time to come out, you do have sleeping problems; you can't sleep, because you've lived in this person's energy for three or four months, sometimes up to a year."
"I don't know what happened with Heath Ledger; none of us really know," shrugged Amanda Bynes, another "Hairspray" nominee. "I was a huge fan of Heath Ledger. I loved him in '10 Things I Hate About You' and 'Brokeback Mountain,' so I was devastated. I didn't know him at all, but I was a huge fan of his. It was shocking. I'm really sad that he's gone; I can't believe he's not here anymore. I still wanted to see what he had to offer. It seemed like he still had so many years left as an actor, and I just wanted to watch him. I'm really, really sad."
Now, Hollywood will hope to end its strike, make the Oscars happen, and put this sad January behind them. But in memory of Renfro and Ledger, many of the stars were hoping that some lessons could be learned in their honor.
"None of us is immune to the problems of life; none of us is immune to the abuse of life," said rapper/actor RZA, an "American Gangster" nominee. "We can have fun. We can think we're celebrities and we're elite, but the same problems that face you face us."
"I think you just need to be really careful," added Bynes. "A lot of people want to escape from their life, and I think you should try to realize we're only here for a short amount of time, and not to feel bad for yourself. Realize that you're doing OK."
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