The difference between Oscar and "Actor" statuettes is that only working thespians vote on the SAG award.
The surprise best actor nomination for Thornton by his peers--along with some glaring omissions--suggests that the Oscar race is still wide-open. SAG also bypassed Golden Globe winners Edward Norton (Primal Fear) and Madonna; in fact, Evita was completely overlooked. Woody Harrelson--ignored up to this point by other awards--picked up a best actor nomination for The People vs. Larry Flynt but co-stars Courtney Love and Norton were passed over.
In addition to the Sling Blade ensemble, the casts of The Birdcage, The English Patient, Marvin's Room, and Shine received nods. Despite multiple individual acting nominations, as well as previous awards from critical groups, Fargo, Jerry Maguire and Flynt were shut out of the best cast award.
In the TV category, critical faves like ER, Seinfeld, 3rd Rock from the Sun and The X-Files dominated the nominations. Angela Lansbury, longtime star of Murder, She Wrote, will receive the Life Achievement Award.
This is the third year SAG will hand out its Actor statuettes. The nominations are selected by a committee of 4,200 randomly-picked SAG members and will be voted on by the entire active membership of about 86,000.
The Actor trophies will be handed out February 22 at a ceremony televised live by NBC.
Here's the complete list of SAG Award nominees:
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Theatrical Motion Picture: The Birdcage, The English Patient, Marvin's Room, Shine and Sling Blade
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role: Tom Cruise, Jerry Maguire, Ralph Fiennes, The English Patient, Woody Harrelson, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Geoffrey Rush, Shine and Billy Bob Thornton, Sling Blade
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role: Brenda Blethyn, Secrets & Lies, Diane Keaton, Marvin's Room, Frances McDormand, Fargo, Gena Rowlands, Unhook the Stars and Kristin Scott Thomas, The English Patient
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role: Hank Azaria, The Birdcage, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jerry Maguire, Nathan Lane, The Birdcage, William H. Macy, Fargo and Noah Taylor, Shine
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role: Lauren Bacall, The Mirror Has Two Faces, Juliette Binoche, The English Patient, Marisa Tomei, Unhook the Stars, Gwen Verdon, Marvin's Room and Renee Zellweger, Jerry Maguire
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Drama Series: Chicago Hope, ER, Law & Order, NYPD Blue and The X-Files
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series: George Clooney, ER, David Duchovny, The X-Files, Anthony Edwards, ER, Dennis Franz, NYPD Blue and Jimmy Smits, NYPD Blue
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series: Gillian Anderson, The X-Files, Kim Delaney, NYPD Blue, Christine Lahti, Chicago Hope, Della Reese, Touched By An Angel and Jane Seymour,Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Comedy Series: 3rd Rock From the Sun, Frasier, Mad About You, Remember WENN and Seinfeld
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series: Jason Alexander, Seinfeld, Kelsey Grammer, Frasier, John Lithgow, 3rd Rock From the Sun, David Hyde Pierce, Frasier and Michael Richards, Seinfeld
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series: Christine Baranski, Cybill, Ellen DeGeneres, Ellen, Helen Hunt, Mad About You, Kristen Johnston, 3rd Rock From the Sun and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Seinfeld Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries: Armand Assante, Gotti, Beau Bridges, Hidden America, Robert Duvall, The Man Who Captured Eichmann, Ed Harris, Riders of the Purple Sage and Alan Rickman, Rasputin
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries: Anne Bancroft, Homecoming, Kathy Bates, The Late Shift, Stockard Channing, An Unexpected Family, Jena Malone, Bastard Out of Carolina and Cicely Tyson, The Road to Galveston