By Mary Milliken and Piya Sinha-Roy
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Reuters) - Helen Mirren wore a pen on her red gown and George Clooney had a lapel pin stating "Je Suis Charlie" at the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday in a show of support for victims of the deadly attack on a satirical French newspaper.
In the first big gathering of the Hollywood awards season, actors used the red carpet to hold up signs and defend freedom of expression after the killing of cartoonists at the Paris weekly Charlie Hebdo last week.
"It is a great reminder for all of us to stand by the ideal of free speech, very difficult to maintain that ideal but a good one to aim toward," Mirren said on the red carpet.
While a Golden Globe lacks the prestige of an Academy Award - the industry's highest honor - the party put on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) can be a rowdy affair, especially in the hands of third-time hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey.
They opened the show with a joke about the hacking at Sony Pictures, which the U.S. government has blamed on North Korea, angered over the studio's comedy "The Interview," which depicts the assassination of leader King Jong Un.
"Tonight we are celebrating all TV shows we know and love and all the movies North Korea was OK with," Fey said.
In the first award of the night, JK Simmons won best supporting actor as an intense music teacher in the indie film "Whiplash."
"BIRDMAN" TESTS FLIGHT
A film that satirizes show business, "Birdman," leads all nominees with seven nods and is the favorite to win best comedy/musical film. Star Michael Keaton, embodying the comeback in film and real life, could win best comedy/musical actor.
Sunday will be a major test for a small film that has wowed critics, "Boyhood," the favorite to win the more coveted best drama Globe. A bold endeavor made over 12 years with the same actors tells the simple tale of a boy growing up.
Two biopics are also vying for attention: "The Imitation Game," about a heroic World War Two British codebreaker persecuted for being homosexual, and the portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. in "Selma," a 1960s drama that resonates in the current U.S. debate over race.
The outcome of the 72nd Globes will not influence the Academy Awards slate, since voting for next week's nominees announcement is closed. But it can give crucial momentum to the Feb. 22 Oscars.
The 90-member HFPA also hands out television awards and could anoint new programs delivered on streaming sites Netflix Inc and Amazon Inc.
Clooney will receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award from the HFPA and showed up with his new wife, Amal, who wore a one-shoulder black gown.
"I am just really proud of what we are celebrating tonight," Amal Clooney said. "It is my first time at the Golden Globes and I am sorry that I brought the British weather with me."
(Editing by Eric Walsh)