Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, who strike up an unlikely romance in "As Good as It Gets," were named outstanding lead actors in film Sunday night by the Screen Actors Guild.
The guild also honored Robin Williams as best supporting actor for his role as a therapist in "Good Will Hunting." An unusual tie produced two winners for best supporting actress--Kim Basinger in "L.A. Confidential" and Gloria Stuart in "Titanic."
And in one of the evening's biggest surprises, the award for outstanding performance by a cast of a film went to the British comedy "The Full Monty." It upset "Titanic," "Good Will Hunting," "L.A. Confidential" and "Boogie Nights."
The awards to Nicholson, Hunt and the others could put them a leg up in the race for this year's Academy Awards, which will be telecast March 23.
"This particular movie, I felt, was about loving," Nicholson, who plays a politically incorrect curmudgeon in director James L. Brooks' film, told fellow actors at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. "I love what I do, and I love all the people I get to do it with."
Hunt, who plays a struggling mother in the film, said it was an honor to be recognized by her acting peers after 25 years in the union.
She called it a "dream movie" and said she worked with a "dream leading man" and a "dream director."
"The Full Monty" tells the story of a group of British working-class men who decide to earn extra cash by learning how to strip.
Mark Addy, one of the film's stars, told reporters backstage that learning to take his clothes off was the "least important part of the movie to me. It's the journey that these guys get to that really made it worthwhile."
Addy said audiences can appreciate the film on different levels.
"It's as funny as you want it to be," he said. "To a lot of people, it's not funny at all. If you want a movie about six guys taking their clothes off, you can see it. If you want to see a movie about the social situation in England after 20 years of Tory government, you can see that."
Stuart, 87, was a founding member of the guild in 1933. She said her role in "Titanic," however, beat anything else she ever did "by a country mile."
"The reason I loved the script so much," she said backstage, "is that today, it would not be permissible--it would be criminal--to lock people away because they were poor and underprivileged and let them drown. I think it's very important for people to see this film and realize there has been a little progress."
Basinger told the audience, "Somehow I feel I was just voted president of the class."
Williams, speaking backstage, said the script for "Good Will Hunting," written by co-stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, was "wonderful and powerful." Gripping the heavy, human-like statuette--dubbed "The Actor"--given to all the winners, Williams said of the award, "It's an honor."
The guild also handed out a slew of television awards. The award for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a comedy series went to "Seinfeld," the critically acclaimed NBC sitcom that is going off the air after this season.
Star Jerry Seinfeld couldn't be at Sunday night's show, but co-stars Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards took the stage to accept the statuette and telephoned Seinfeld, who was off working on one of the final scripts of the show.
"Jerry would like to thank his mother, he'd like to thank Jerry Seinfeld for the most outstanding writing," Alexander joked, holding the telephone to his ear. "Regardless of the fact he's never been nominated for anything in nine years, he's still the richest and best-looking star on television."
The cast of "ER" won an award for best ensemble for a drama series.
In other TV categories:
* Gary Sinise won for best male actor in a TV movie or miniseries for "George Wallace" (TNT).
* Alfre Woodard won for best actress in a TV movie or miniseries for "Miss Evers' Boys" (HBO).
* Anthony Edwards won for best actor in a TV drama series for "ER" (NBC).
* Julianna Margulies won for best actress in a drama series for "ER" (NBC).
* John Lithgow won for best actor in a comedy series for "3rd Rock From the Sun" (NBC).
* Louis-Dreyfus won for best actress in a comedy series for "Seinfeld" (NBC).
With more than 90,000 members, the Screen Actors Guild is one of Hollywood's most powerful labor unions, But although the guild was organized in 1933, the awards show it now stages annually wasn't launched until 1995. The event is unique in Hollywood because the winners are selected solely by other actors.
Elizabeth Taylor was named the 34th recipient of the guild's Life Achievement Award, which honors both career achievements and humanitarian contributions. Taylor had been hospitalized after a Feb. 27 fall and was unable to attend the show; she was discharged Sunday afternoon from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Accepting the award for Taylor, actor Gregory Peck told the crowd: "As Elizabeth herself has said many times, 'I am a living example of what people can go through and survive.' "