'Birdman' wins top honour from actors in march toward Oscars

LOS ANGELES - The show business satire "Birdman" picked up another important award in its march toward the best picture Oscar by winning the top honour from Hollywood's actors on Sunday.

The actors from "Birdman" won the best ensemble cast in a motion picture from the Screen Actors Guild the day after the film from Mexican director Alejandro G. Inarritu prevailed at the Producers Guild awards.

While the SAG award for the best ensemble cast does not always translate to a best picture win at the Academy Awards, it does indicate that actors, the largest voting bloc for the Oscars, favour it over another strong contender, the coming of age tale "Boyhood."

"This is very, very exciting - the ultimate team sport," said "Birdman" star Michael Keaton, who plays a washed up superhero actor trying to make a comeback on Broadway in a biting commentary on fame and film.

The top individual SAG acting awards also went to the four artists who won Golden Globes two weeks ago - Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne, Patricia Arquette and J.K. Simmons - making them virtually unstoppable in their quest for Oscars on Feb. 22.

Moore won best actress for her role as a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's in "Still Alice," while British actor Redmayne took the SAG best actor for his portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything."

Arquette won the best supporting actress trophy for her role as the loving yet struggling mother in "Boyhood," a small movie filmed over 12 years with the same actors.

"I can't tell you what this means to me," an emotional Arquette said upon accepting her first SAG award. "I'm a fourth generation actor. My family has been committed to acting through feast or famine."

Simmons, an actor with a long resume in television and film, was honoured for his portrayal as the intense music teacher of a young jazz drummer in the independent film, "Whiplash."

"I would like to thank the 49 actors who appear on screen in 'Whiplash' for realizing Damien Chazelle's vision so beautifully," Simmons said, referring to the movie's young director.

In the television awards, it was a particularly strong night for streaming company Netflix Inc. Its women's prison comedy, "Orange is the New Black," won best comedy ensemble and best actress for Uzo Aduba.

Kevin Spacey won best actor in a drama series for his conniving congressman Frank Underwood in the political thriller "House of Cards."

But it was also a big night for recognising diversity in Hollywood, a much debated topic this awards season, with black actresses taking two of the top acting honors.

In addition to Aduba, Viola Davis won best actress in a drama series as the lawyer in "How to Get Away with Murder."

"I love you guys so desperately, so much," Aduba told her fellow cast members as she accepted her first SAG award from her first nomination. "This is not done without you at all."

"Downton Abbey," the British period series that airs on PBS, won best drama series.