Slumdog star dedicates award to child actors

Rags-to-riches tale new favourite for best film Oscar after Screen Actors Guild win

The cast of Slumdog Millionaire continued their extraordinary journey towards next month's Oscars when they added to their already-bulging trophy cabinet at the Screen Actors Guild awards in Los Angeles. Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, the film's young leading actors, rounded off a hat-trick of British success at Sunday's event when they collected the night's main prize: best cast in a motion picture.

"It was already enough to be nominated. But to win is unbelievable," said their fellow star, Anil Kapoor. He dedicated the award to the child actors in the film, about a boy from the slums of Mumbai who becomes a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? "It is the children that have done it, not us," he said.

The award makes Slumdog a firm favourite for the Academy Awards next month. Twelve of the last 15 films that gained top honours at the SAG awards went on to win the best picture at the Oscars, and Ladbrokes is offering odds of 1/4 on Slumdog repeating the feat. Its nearest rival, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, failed to win in any of the three categories for which it was nominated.

Kate Winslet picked up the SAG's best supporting actress prize for her role as a Nazi war criminal in The Reader, while Hugh Laurie was named best actor in a drama series for his role in House. Sean Penn was named best actor for his portrayal of gay activist Harvey Milk in Milk, while Heath Ledger continued his clean sweep of the awards season by winning the best supporting actor prize for his portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight.

The SAG awards are considered an accurate form guide for the Oscars, as they are voted for by all 120,000 members of the Screen Actors Guild. But this year's event was partially overshadowed by a voting scandal linked to the union's divisions over whether to strike over its long-running contract negotiations with major film and TV producers.

The British actress Frances Fisher, a SAG board member, was forced to apologise after forwarding an email saying members should not vote for any SAG nominee who had publicly spoken out against a strike – a list including Kevin Spacey, Susan Sarandon and Steve Carrell. In the event, two of their number – Alec Baldwin and Sally Field – won awards. SAG leaders denounced the email, saying it was "unfortunate that a few people have chosen to attempt to politicise" the event.

Take two: Winslet fluffs another acceptance speech

*After yet again being overcome by emotion on the winner's podium, Kate Winslet finally owned up to what the rest of the world has been saying for weeks: for all her undoubted talents as an actress, she's "clearly terrible" at victory speeches, writes Guy Adams.

Arriving backstage shortly after being named best supporting actress at Sunday's Screen Actors Guild awards in Los Angeles, Winslet offered her apologies to assembled reporters for once more failing to maintain her cool under the spotlight. "I don't have to make another speech in here do I?" she asked. "I'm so bad at this. In fact, I wish there were lessons in how to handle awards season, because I'm clearly terrible."

Earlier, after being handed a bronze actor trophy for her portrayal of a Nazi war criminal in The Reader, she was tearful and lost for words, in a repeat of the Golden Globes performance which recently saw her dubbed "weeping Winslet".

Asked to explain why, despite being a professional performer, she appears to struggle so badly at public speaking, Winslet said: "The thing is, it's always such a shock [when you win]. Honestly it is such a shock and really does take your breath away. So I feel desperate to say the right thing, and it just makes me incredibly nervous."

The winners

Film

*Cast: Slumdog Millionaire

*Actor: Sean Penn, Milk

*Actress: Meryl Streep, Doubt

*Supporting actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

*Supporting actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader

Television

*Drama series cast: Mad Men

*Actor, drama: Hugh Laurie, House

*Actress, drama: Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters

*Comedy cast: 30 Rock

*Actor, comedy: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock

*Actress, comedy: Tina Fey, 30 Rock

*Actor, movie or miniseries: Paul Giamatti, John Adams

*Actress, movie or miniseries: Laura Linney, John Adams

*Lifetime achievement: James Earl Jones

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