LOS ANGELES (AP) – Johnny Depp was a surprise lead actor winner Sunday at the Screen Actors Guild Awards for “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” while Charlize Theron took the best-actress honor for the serial-killer drama “Monster.”

Depp, who did not attend the awards, won for his role as a jittery buccaneer in the summer blockbuster, beating out Sean Penn, who had been considered the favorite for “Mystic River.”

Theron won for her portrayal of executed murderer Aileen Wuornos, a role for which the actress gained 30 pounds and obscured her cover-girl beauty behind false teeth, dark contact lenses and a splotchy complexion.

“I’m so honored and proud to be an actor, ’cause God knows, I don’t know what else to do,” said Theron, a native of South Africa. She thanked her cast mates and director Patty Jenkins, along with “my angel and my date tonight, my mom, who put me on the plane with a one-way ticket to Hollywood when I was 19 years old. Thank you for being so brave and letting me go to make my dreams come true.”

The supporting acting awards went to Tim Robbins for the brooding drama “Mystic River” and Renee Zellweger for the Civil War saga “Cold Mountain.”

The ensemble acting award, the guild’s equivalent of a best-picture prize, went to “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” the front-runner to win the top honor at next Sunday’s Academy Awards.

The SAG wins boost the individual actors’ Oscar prospects. Theron, Robbins and Zellweger have been viewed as front-runners through awards season, and guild honors provide one last push among Oscar voters, who must cast their ballots by the end of the day Tuesday.

Robbins won for his role as a man emotionally crippled by childhood trauma and suspected of murder as an adult in “Mystic River.”

“Oh, boy. That’s so cool. Susan’s got one of these,” Robbins said, referring to his romantic partner Susan Sarandon, who won the guild’s 1996 lead-actress honor for “Dead Man Walking,” which Robbins directed. “I’m going to get them alone in a dark room and see what happens.”

Zellweger, who won the guild’s lead-actress award last year for “Chicago,” was honored this time as a salt-of-the-earth Confederate handywoman in “Cold Mountain.” She thanked co-stars Nicole Kidman and Jude Law and director Anthony Minghella.

“I was spoiled for riches on this experience,” Zellweger said. “It was such an honor to go to work every day beside you.”

Among the guild’s TV awards, “Sex and the City” won for comedy-acting ensemble on the same night the series ended its six-year run. The cast won the same prize two years ago, while star Sarah Jessica Parker won the comedy-actress honor in 2001.

“You guys have been incredibly generous to us over the course of the show,” said co-star Kristin Davis, who accepted the award with cast mates Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon. “And so many of you have come to act with us. We’ve had more good-looking men on our show. …

“We will all miss you so much.”

Other comedy TV honors went to Megan Mullally for “Will & Grace” and Tony Shalhoub for “Monk.”

Kiefer Sutherland of “24” and Frances Conroy of “Six Feet Under” won for best dramatic actor and actress. “Six Feet Under” also was honored for best acting ensemble in a drama.

“Angels in America” earned Meryl Streep and Al Pacino the acting awards for a TV movie or miniseries.

Guild nominees were chosen by 4,200 randomly selected union members. The union’s full membership of 98,000 was eligible to vote for winners.

The guild presented its lifetime achievement award to 91-year-old Karl Malden, an Academy Award winner as supporting actor for “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

On the Net:

Screen Actors Guild Awards: http://www.sagawards.com

AP-ES-02-22-04 2219EST

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