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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Film drama "Doubt" led all nominees for Screen Actors Guild awards on Thursday with five nominations overall, including for best ensemble cast, even as talk of a possible strike cast a cloud over the awards.
Joining "Doubt," about a Catholic priest and nun engaged in a battle of wits over charges of sexual abuse, in the race for best ensemble cast were "Milk," about slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk, and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which tells of a man who ages backward. Those movies each earned three SAG award nods.
"Slumdog Millionaire," a tale of romance and money set in India, and "Frost/Nixon," which recounts the interviews of disgraced former U.S. President Richard Nixon by British TV host David Frost, also saw their actors land in the race for best ensemble cast and pulled down two nominations apiece.
The Screen Actors Guild represents some 120,000 film and television actors, and winning a SAG award at the group's January 25 ceremony can give actors momentum heading toward February's Oscars, the world's top film honors which are given out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
But overshadowing this year's race for awards is talk of a possible strike by SAG actors against the major studios.
Current contract talks between the two groups have stalled, and SAG leaders, including President Alan Rosenberg, have called for a vote to authorize a possible work stoppage in the hope that such an authorization would restart negotiations.
In recent days, leading actors, including Russell Crowe and Robert Redford, have become the latest big-name celebrities urging SAG members to vote "no" on the authorization. Still, other major stars like Mel Gibson back SAG leaders in their drive to obtain a strike authorization. Voting begins January 2.
"I'll be honest, I'm not as optimistic as I'd like to be, but we're getting there," Rosenberg told reporters about rallying SAG members to vote "yes." He strongly defended the strike authorization as a necessary "tool" for bargaining.
Hollywood is still reeling from a work stoppage by writers in late 2007 and 2008 that brought most TV production to a halt and cost the Los Angeles-area economy an estimated $3 billion.
While talk of a strike overshadowed SAG nominations, the awards remained the focus of many Hollywood watchers.
The SAG race for best actor in a movie will see Brad Pitt, who plays Benjamin Button, competing against Frank Langella for his portrayal of Richard Nixon and Sean Penn as Harvey Milk.
Joining them are Mickey Rourke, who is enjoying a comeback as a faded sports star in "The Wrestler," and Richard Jenkins in the low-budget immigration drama "The Visitor."
The best leading actress race has Meryl Streep, who plays the nun in "Doubt," up against Kate Winslet as a frustrated housewife in "Revolutionary Road" and Angelina Jolie as a mother fighting to find her lost son in "Changeling."
Along with those three in the best actress race are Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Getting Married" and Melissa Leo for the independent film "Frozen River."
Nominees for supporting actor in a film included Philip Seymour Hoffman as the priest in "Doubt," the late Heath Ledger for "The Dark Knight" and Dev Patel in "Slumdog Millionaire. They were joined by Josh Brolin in "Milk" and Robert Downey Jr. in the comedy "Tropic Thunder."
Rounding out the nominees for best supporting actress were Amy Adams and Viola Davis in "Doubt," Penelope Cruz for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," Winslet for "The Reader" and Taraji P. Henson in "Benjamin Button."
SAG also gives awards for television and, as in the film arena, SAG split its nominations among a variety of shows.
Competing for best cast in a TV drama are "Boston Legal," "Dexter," "House," "Mad Men" and "The Closer," and nominated for best comedy casts were the actors in "30 Rock," "Desperate Housewives," "Entourage," "The Office" and "Weeds."
Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Eric Beech