By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood's actors cast their net wide on Wednesday, nominating performers from big awards contenders "Lincoln" and musical "Les Miserables" for Screen Actors Guild honors while also singling out the likes of Denzel Washington and Javier Bardem.
"Lincoln," "Les Miserables" and comedy "Silver Linings Playbook" led the nominations for the SAG awards with four apiece, including the top prize of best movie ensemble cast.
Joining them with two nominations each were the cast of Iranian hostage drama "Argo" and, in a surprise choice, British comedy "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."
The awards from the Screen Actors Guild are among the most-watched honors during Hollywood film awards season leading up to the Academy Awards because actors make up the largest voting group when the Oscars come around in February.
SAG voters focus on performances rather than directing and writing, meaning that action and effects-heavy films like "The Hobbit" are usually sidelined.
Consequently, SAG largely shunned the expected Oscar contender "Zero Dark Thirty" about the U.S. hunt for Osama bin Laden, giving it just one nomination for Jessica Chastain's performance as a CIA agent.
But the latest James Bond blockbuster "Skyfall" made it onto SAG's list, with nominations for its stunt ensemble and Spanish actor Bardem's supporting turn as blond-haired villain Silva.
Other perceived Oscar-worthy movies, including slavery era Western "Django Unchained," went unmentioned, while cult drama "The Master" had just one nomination - for actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Nicole Kidman made the best supporting actress list for her turn in the steamy but little-seen independent movie "The Paperboy," while Britain's Helen Mirren was recognized for her portrayal of Alfred Hitchcock's long-suffering wife in "Hitchcock."
The SAG awards will be given out in Los Angeles on January 27 in a live telecast on the TBS and TNT networks.
Golden Globe nominations are announced on Thursday and Oscar nominations will be revealed on January 10.
'LINCOLN' PICKS UP STEAM
"Lincoln," director Steven Spielberg's well-reviewed film about U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's battle to outlaw slavery, has been picking up multiple accolades from U.S. critics in the busy Hollywood awards season.
On Wednesday, it brought SAG nominations for lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis and supporting actors Sally Field as his wife, and Tommy Lee Jones as powerful Congressman Thaddeus Stevens.
Hugh Jackman was nominated for best actor while Anne Hathaway is in the race for her supporting role in the movie adaptation of hit stage musical "Les Miserables."
Other actors nominated on Wednesday included the stars of quirky comedy "Silver Linings Playbook" - Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro. John Hawkes and Helen Hunt also have a stake, for playing a disabled man and his sex therapist in heart-warming independent movie "The Sessions."
"Being recognized by your peers is something I could only dream of happening and to be included in this group of actors is not only humbling but quite frankly, surreal," Cooper, a first-time SAG nominees, said in a statement.
Washington, a two-time Oscar winner, was nominated for playing an alcoholic pilot in "Flight," a role that has been largely overlooked in early critics award.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on Wednesday was "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," the story of a group of elderly Britons who retire to a ramshackle Indian hotel.
The film, which boasts a strong British cast including Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy, had two nominations - best ensemble and best supporting actress for Maggie Smith.
Smith also was nominated in SAG's television category for her role as a sarcastic countess in period drama "Downton Abbey."
The popular British show was among the picks for ensemble acting in the TV category.
Other TV drama nominations went to the casts of "Boardwalk Empire," "Homeland," "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad."
In TV comedy, old favorites "30 Rock," "Glee," "The Big Bang Theory," "Modern Family," "Nurse Jackie" and "The Office" were nominated for their ensemble casts.
(Editing by Xavier Briand and Bill Trott)