updated 01/29/2012 AT 7:00 PM ET
•originally published 01/29/2012 AT 10:50 PM ET
“Dream big, dream fierce.” The real-life ladies of The Help would have agreed with Viola Davis, it’s worth it.
Accepting the trophy for female actor in a leading role for the period drama, Davis told the audience gathered at L.A.’s Shrine Exposition Center for Sunday night’s Screen Actors Guild Awards: “What is there [in life] but a dream. You can’t trade in your dream for another dream. I am so proud to be an actor.”
It’s an appropriate motto for a cast who were also recognized for their work in the film as an ensemble, the top honor of the night.
Also taking home a prize for her role in The Help: Octavia Spencer, who was recognized for her work as Minny Jackson the maid, her first SAG award.
“Thank you for putting me in a category with so many beautiful women I know and love,” she said, dedicating her award to “the down-trodden, the under-served, the underprivileged [and the] over-taxed, whether emotionally, physically or financially.”
The awards show, which gives actors a chance to honor their peers in a ceremony that often sheds light on who will go home with an Oscar next month, was also an evening of firsts.
In addition to Spencer, Christopher Plummer took home his first Actor for his supporting role in Beginners, a story about a man coping with love, life and death.
“I just can’t tell you what fun I’ve had being a member of the world’s second oldest profession,” he told the audience while accepting the award. “Actors are gregarious and wacky, are they not? But when they honor you, it’s like being lit by the Holy Grail.”
Another first was Jessica Lange, who won for her role on American Horror Story. She accepted her Actor, thanking other actors for their generosity, saying, it’s “great to play such a big character with so much to do.”
But not everyone was a new face. Boardwalk Empire’s Steve Buscemi won for a second year in a row. And Alec Baldwin won for the sixth time for his role as the ultimate TV boss, Jack Donaghy, on 30 Rock.
For the second year, Betty White took home the Actor for her laugh-out-loud portrayal of Elka Ostrovsky on Hot in Cleveland. “I don’t think they can read. I think they made a terrible mistake,” she said while accepting the award. “You can’t name me without naming those other wonderful women on Hot in Cleveland.
In a heartfelt presentation by Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore received the Life Achievement Award.
“I love that woman,” Van Dyke said. “I know everyone loves her, but I mean, I’m serious about it. I saw her first.”
For a complete list of winners, click here.