To the surprise of no one, Succession won Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series at the SAGs. It was their first nomination, coming after their third season, when the show is a legitimate smash hit. Irascible series star Brian Cox took the stage in a mask that said, “#TeamLogan, F*ck Off”, which is a Logan Roy move, self-aggrandizing by showing up in your hashtag and catchphrase. I love it. Cox also delivered the speech on behalf of the cast, thanking the ensemble, the show’s casting department, and the writers, and then he turned his comments to Ukraine.
He acknowledged President Volodymyr Zelensky’s background as a comedic performer—he was sort of Ukraine’s Jon Stewart prior to becoming a full-time politician—and then said, “The thing that’s really distressed me is what’s happening in Russia to my fellow actors […] They are told under pain of high treason that they cannot say a word about Ukraine. […] I think we should all stand together…and join in celebrating them and hoping that they can actually make a shift.”
The whole situation is really distressing, and most distressing for the people of Ukraine, but Cox’s point for a roomful of performers, many of whom have huge global platforms via social media, is that THEY can speak when others cannot. That doesn’t mean every actor is obligated to speak up, but they—just like athletes—can use their voices when they have peers who simply do not have the same privilege and cannot speak for themselves. Michael Keaton touched on the same point when talking about inequity, saying he could feel the “rolling thunder of eye rolling…people saying things like, ‘Shut up and dribble,’ ‘Shut up and act.’”
It’s true, the public complains about actors speechifying at awards shows as much as they do athletes taking a knee before a game (and it’s the same segment of the population complaining in both cases). Brian Cox’s speech is the best-case scenario of an actor using an award speech to make a political statement, though. He’s heartfelt, sincere, and reminds everyone but most importantly his peers fortunate enough to be in that room of the privilege they have and how they can use it to support those who do not share in their privilege.
Helen Mirren was a similar class act during her lifetime achievement speech. She didn’t mention current events, but she did acknowledge the “derision” that can be aimed at actors, that they make an easy (large) target for public ire. She called it a “lazy and false assumption of vanity” and said she gets “p’ed off” when people “malign” actors. Again, Keaton touches on the same point, saying there’s a “legitimate argument” to be made that award shows are “self-serving and narcissistic”, but that really, acceptance speeches are an expression of gratitude. And that is what is flowing freely from Helen Mirren, her genuine delight in her community, her gratitude at a lifetime she’s been able to devote to her passion, and her sincere love for her fellow performers.
It's acceptance speeches two ways—the political statement and the “self-aggrandizing” acknowledgment of how wonderful it is to be an actor. But really, it’s just two actors using their platform for a few minutes to either talk about something important that others can’t necessarily speak to in the same way, or to acknowledge a lifetime love of craft. The “derision” Mirren references comes in part because people aren’t actually stupid and don’t need to be lectured by actors, which is why it’s so crucial that what Cox does is state clearly that he is speaking to his peers in the room, reminding them of what they have and the power they wield. He's not talking AT the audience, the audience is just listening in on what he has to say, in general. It sets a different tone. And Mirren does the same thing, addressing her fellow actors directly, sharing her enthusiasm with them, and we happen to be privy to it, too. It’s a masterclass in giving an award speech, from two classy pros who know how to do their damn jobs.