Both of the filmmaker's critically acclaimed pictures, Erin Brockovich and Traffic, scored top honors at the actors union's seventh annual awards fest, with Julia Roberts named Best Actress for her title role as the cleavaged crusader in Brockovich and Benicio Del Toro taking home Lead Actor honors for his role as an ethically torn Mexican cop in Traffic.
Traffic, the drug-war thriller that combined three separate stories and featured 135 different speaking roles (by costar Don Cheadle's count, at least), also won the guild's Best Ensemble award.
For Roberts, this latest honor only further boosts her odds of taking home the Oscar hardware come March 25. As if she wasn't already a lock, history is on her side: 10 of the previous 12 winners in SAG's lead-acting categories have gone on to win Academy Awards.
While first joking that she was happy "to be a girl and enjoy anything having to do with SAG," Roberts later choked back tears in accepting the honor.
"Thank you actors--just great, great actors," she said, "and now I really feel so much better about my level of talent than I did this afternoon...Because I'm not always sure."
Del Toro, meanwhile, beat out heavyweight contenders like Russell Crowe and Tom Hanks for the Lead Actor honor, although he's not even nominated in Oscar's lead category. Del Toro is up for Best Supporting Actor, an honor SAG gave to Albert Finney for his role as Roberts' lawyer sidekick in Erin Brockovich. And Judi Dench was named Best Supporting Actress for her role as the crabby grandmother in Chocolat.
For his part, Del Toro insisted backstage that it was the ensemble honor he's most proud of, but he admitted, "If they're going to put me in the driver's seat, I'm gonna take the wheel."
The SAG Awards typically are decent (though not perfect) indicators of how the Oscars will pan out, and for good reason. Actors represent 23 percent of the Academy's voters, the largest percentage of any group.
The SAG Award nominees are chosen by 4,200 randomly selected union members, and the final awards are voted on by all 98,000 Screen Actors Guild members.
Sunday's Soderbergh windfall comes just a day after the Directors Guild of America honored Ang Lee for his martial-arts romance, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Soderbergh received dual nominations for the DGA honor, leading some to speculate that votes for the filmmaker were split between fans of his two movies.
Roberts, who called Soderbergh "my own personal god" in her SAG acceptance speech, responded to the theory backstage. "It would be a pity to not be recognized because you were too good, too many times," she said.
The SAG Awards also honor television actors--specifically this year, those from NBC's political drama The West Wing. The Emmy-winning series was singled out for Best Ensemble in a TV drama, while Martin Sheen was named Best Actor and Allison Janney was named Best Actress.
On the comedy side, Sarah Jessica Parker appeared surprised (again) to win Best Actress for Sex and the City, while Robert Downey Jr. was named Best Actor for his stint on Ally McBeal. The cast of Will & Grace, meanwhile, scored SAG's "naked man" trophy for their ensemble work on the NBC sitcom.
SAG's Lifetime Achievement Award went to the husband-wife team of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, for their more than 50-year career in show biz and for their social activism offscreen.
Here's the complete list of winners at the Seventh Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards: Actor, Motion Picture: Benicio Del Toro, Traffic Actress, Motion Picture: Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich Supporting Actor, Motion Picture: Albert Finney, Erin Brockovich Supporting Actress, Motion Picture: Judi Dench, Chocolat Ensemble Acting, Motion Picture: Traffic Actor, TV Drama: Martin Sheen, The West Wing Actress, TV Drama: Allison Janney, The West Wing Ensemble Acting, TV Drama: The West Wing Actor, TV Comedy: Robert Downey Jr., Ally McBeal Actress, TV Comedy: Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City Ensemble Acting, TV Comedy: Will & Grace Actor, TV Miniseries/Movie: Brian Dennehy, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman Actress, TV Miniseries/Movie: Vanessa Redgrave, If These Walls Could Talk 2 Life Achievement Award: Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee