LOS ANGELES — Melissa Leo won the supporting-actress honor Sunday at the Screen Actors Guild Awards for her role as the domineering matriarch of a boxing family in "The Fighter."
The win lifts Leo's prospects for the same prize at the Feb. 27 Academy Awards.
Leo was speechless for a long moment after taking the stage.
"I'm much better when I have my words written for me and somebody's costumes to put on," said Leo, 50, an Oscar nominee two years ago for "Frozen River" who had success earlier in her career on TV's "Homicide: Life on the Street" but has caught a second wind at an age when many actresses find roles scarce. "This has been an extraordinary season for me."
Betty White, who is having her own career resurgence in her 80s, won for TV comedy actress for "Hot in Cleveland."
"I must say this is the biggest surprise I've ever had in this business. There wasn't a prayer. I am so lucky to be ... at 89, to be working ...," White said, pausing as the crowd interrupted her with effusive applause. "You didn't applaud when I turned 40."
Alec Baldwin won his fifth-straight guild award for best actor in a comedy series for "30 Rock."
"I don't know what to say. This is ridiculous. I'm so happy," Baldwin said. "We've had a great year with the show."
"Modern Family" won for overall cast performance in a TV comedy.
Steve Buscemi of "Boardwalk Empire" and Julianna Margulies of "The Good Wife" won as best actors in a TV drama. "Boardwalk Empire," a Prohibition-era gangster series, also won for overall TV drama cast performance.
Buscemi's thanks included a shout out and congratulations to Martin Scorsese, who won a Directors Guild of America Award prize the night before for directing the pilot episode of "Boardwalk Empire." Scorsese was ill and unable to attend.
"Marty, we love you. We hope you feel better, and we love working with you. Please come back," Buscemi said.
Margulies had warm words for her in-laws "for producing truly the most spectacular human being, who I get to call my husband."
The big-screen prizes are the night's main events, with Leo and other winners gaining momentum for the same honors at the Oscars. Colin Firth, star of the British monarchy saga "The King's Speech," is expected to take home the best-actor trophy, while Christian Bale is the supporting-actor favorite for "The Fighter."
Best-actress and supporting-actress honors are more competitive. Natalie Portman for "Black Swan" and Annette Bening for "The Kids Are All Right" are in a tight race for lead actress.
Out of the 20 Screen Actors nominees in film categories, 17 also earned Oscar nominations. Among them are last year's best-actor winner Jeff Bridges, nominated this season for "True Grit"; Nicole Kidman for "Rabbit Hole"; James Franco for "127 Hours"; Jesse Eisenberg for "The Social Network"; and Jennifer Lawrence for "Winter's Bone."
Before the show began, the guild presented its award for film stunt ensemble to the sci-fi blockbuster "Inception" and the TV stunt prize to the vampire drama "True Blood."
Nominated for overall cast performance at the guild awards are "Black Swan," ''The Fighter," ''The Kids Are All Right," ''The King's Speech" and "The Social Network." All five were among the 10 best-picture nominees at the Oscars, where "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" are considered the front-runners for Hollywood's biggest prize.
"The Social Network," chronicling the rise of Facebook, had been the early Oscar favorite for best-picture, named the year's top drama by key critics groups and the Golden Globes.
But "The King's Speech" has surged forward in the past week, pulling upset wins at the Directors Guild and Producers Guild awards and leading the Oscar field last Tuesday with 12 nominations.
Last year's individual winners at the guild awards — Bridges for "Crazy Heart," Sandra Bullock for "The Blind Side," Mo'nique for "Precious" and Christoph Waltz for "Inglourious Basterds" — all went on to win at the Oscars.
The cast prize, considered the guild's equivalent of a best-picture honor, has a spotty record at predicting the top Oscar winner.
The recipient of the guild's cast award has gone on to claim best-picture at the Oscars only seven of 15 years since SAG added that prize. Last year's guild cast recipient, "Inglourious Basterds," lost out to "The Hurt Locker" in the Oscar best-picture race.
The 17th annual SAG Awards include a life-achievement honor for Ernest Borgnine.
"We are a privileged few who have been chosen to work in this field of entertainment," said the 94-year-old Borgnine, whose award was preceded by a tribute including clips from his Oscar-winning performance in 1955's "Marty" through his role in last fall's action comedy "Red." ''I hope that we will never let our dedication to our craft fail, that we will always give the best we possibly can to our profession."