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Wilton actor gets his say in SAG Awards

  • Michael Dell'Orto of Wilton plays Mr. Banks, alongside Kathy Manfre of Peterborough during a 2011 Peterborough Players performance of "Father of the Bride."

    Michael Dell'Orto of Wilton plays Mr. Banks, alongside Kathy Manfre of Peterborough during a 2011 Peterborough Players performance of "Father of the Bride."

  • Wilton actor Michael Dell'Orto, along with all other members of the Screen Actors Guild will get their opportunity to cast their votes to select the Hollywood actors who will go home with a Actors statuette this Sunday, following the presentation of the Screen Actor's Guild Awards.

    Wilton actor Michael Dell'Orto, along with all other members of the Screen Actors Guild will get their opportunity to cast their votes to select the Hollywood actors who will go home with a Actors statuette this Sunday, following the presentation of the Screen Actor's Guild Awards.

  • pboro players, fathers

    pboro players, fathers

  • pboro players, fathers

    pboro players, fathers

  • Michael Dell'Orto of Wilton plays Mr. Banks, alongside Kathy Manfre of Peterborough during a 2011 Peterborough Players performance of "Father of the Bride."
  • Wilton actor Michael Dell'Orto, along with all other members of the Screen Actors Guild will get their opportunity to cast their votes to select the Hollywood actors who will go home with a Actors statuette this Sunday, following the presentation of the Screen Actor's Guild Awards.
  • pboro players, fathers
  • pboro players, fathers

The Screen Actors Guild Awards is like most awards shows. Every year, stars line the red carpet in tuxes and gowns, and are asked the ubiquitous question: “Who are you wearing?”

“Who cares what she’s wearing? She’s brilliant, she could show up in sackcloth,” Wilton actor Michael Dell’Orto said he often asks himself when he hears that question at a Hollywood awards ceremony.

Usually, Dell’Orto’s opinion might not carry much weight with the Hollywood elite. But he’s a member of the national Screen Actors Guild, which means at the next big awards ceremony — the Screen Actors Guild Awards — he gets a say in who will take home “The Actor” statuette.

His membership with the guild isn’t his only qualification, though. As a long-standing regional theater actor, Dell’Orto has been on the stage with multiple theater groups, including the Peterborough Players. He’s also been an extra in Hollywood feature films, and was “Mr. Brunette” in a interactive video game version of the board game “Clue.”

The Screen Actors Guild famously places the decision about the best works of the year in the hands of their membership made up of actors like Dell’Orto who live and work across the country. Instead of a select group of elite critics making the final selection, the task of judging falls to the Screen Actors Guild’s 120,000-plus members. Having been a member of the guild since 1981, Dell’Orto has been involved in the voting every year since the Screen Actors Awards were first conceived in 1995.

Randomly selected members narrow a huge pool of submitted films and television series down to five selections for each of the 13 categories, and the rest of the members pick the final winners, which are announced in a live award’s show broadcast, this year on TBS and TNT on Sunday night . Everyone gets a say, including Dell’Orto.

Dell’Orto’s work is a staple of regional theater, having been part of the scene since he moved to Wilton in 1979. He’s rattled such chains as those of Dickens’ Jacob Marley at the Stoneham Theater in Massachusetts and has been featured more than once in Peterborough Players productions over the years. He’s has dozens of other stage appearances in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts as well. He even had a speaking part in the major Paramount picture “The Fighter” as a boxing commissioner. And he’s a member of the Screen Actors Guild, which means he has the privilege of reviewing and voting for every category up for grabs this year, and the awards focus on actors and actors only. On Sunday night when the results air, Dell’Orto will be at home with his tally sheet, checking to see if his picks made the cut.

“A lot of these kinds of awards shows, they’re about other things,” said Dell’Orto in an interview Tuesday. “The directing and designing and sound. Those are all important, of course, but the SAG decided it wanted to honor its own. It’s actors honoring other actors.”

Actors are in the best position to know the dedication it takes to create a production capable of moving an audience, said Dell’Orto. Especially in movies and television shows, which aren’t filmed linearly. Scenes are filmed out of order and are often retaken multiple times, and the actors have to continually bring the same amount of passion to each take.

During filming of “The Fighter,” a film starring Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg, which was filmed in Lowell, Mass, Dell’Orto said he spent eight hours sitting within feet of Bale, watching the immense focus the actor exuded.

“I was watching him,” said Dell’Orto of the Oscar-winning performance. “He never broke his concentration, even when we weren’t on set. He always spoke in the voice of the character. He moved like his character. He was always laser-focused. I hope that when people watch these awards shows, they realize this is hard work. To turn out that level of performance, it takes a level of talent and skill that is amazing.”

Dell’Orto said he always tries to make his award selections with an actor’s eye for detail, looking at the choices made by the actor and how they work with the character. But going into this year’s awards ceremony, he does have a few favorites in mind, he said.

Anne Hathaway, nominated this year for outstanding performance in a supporting role for her depiction of Fantine in “Les Miserables,” is pretty much a lock for Dell’Orto’s vote, he said. Not only was she brilliant in the role, he pointed out, but she is the daughter of two of Dell’Orto’s LaSalle College (now LaSalle University) classmates and friends, Gerald Hathaway and Kate McCauley. So sometimes his choices are a little biased, he admitted.

Dell’Orto is a big fan of CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory.” So Jim Parsons, nominated for his role as the neurotic Dr. Sheldon Cooper, will be the one everyone else has to beat for Dell’Orto’s vote. But the key is to go into the judging process with an actor’s eye, an open mind, and a willingness to be surprised, said Dell’Orto. He, along with the other SAG members, are given access to the nominated films and shows via download, or can opt to have a DVD sent to them. After viewing the options, they submit their votes online or by mailing in a paper ballot. And the choice is never an easy one, said Dell’Orto.

“We’re talking about actors working in feature films and on national television,” said Dell’Orto. “There’s not going to be any skunky actors. Each one has something to recommend them, even in a movie or television show that’s not your cup of tea.”

While Dell’Orto’s vote does sometimes boil down to his favorite television show actor or the daughter of old college classmates, other times he surprises himself when viewing the options with a critical eye. Sometimes, actors in shows or movies he doesn’t watch regularly, or even dislikes, will reveal a nuanced performance that Dell’Orto finds compelling enough to change his mind. When in doubt, said Dell’Orto, he simply asks himself, not which performance is the “best,” but which one moved him the most emotionally. Sometimes, he said, you just have to vote with your gut.

“You sit there and watch these [shows and films] , some that you’ve seen before and some you haven’t, and realize I’ve got to vote for that,” said Dell’Orto of each year’s picks. “And it’s an absolute privilege to honor these people who have amazing talents.”

The Screen Actors Guild Awards will present 13 awards for acting in television and film in a televised ceremony Sunday. Red carpet coverage will begin at 6 p.m., and the award ceremony will begin at 8 p.m.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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