"I just can't believe it — I just feel like, 'What am I doing here?' " the Cosby Show alum told PEOPLE

By Christina Dugan and Aurelie Corinthios
January 28, 2019 09:03 AM
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Geoffrey Owens has had a very special last few months — which culminated with an unforgettable night out at the 2019 SAG Awards on Sunday.

Last fall, The Cosby Show alum was job-shamed when photos surfaced of him bagging groceries at a Trader Joe’s in New Jersey to make ends meet. Since then, he’s received an influx of support from fans and celebrities alike and even scored a handful of new gigs, including a recurring role in Tyler Perry‘s hit OWN drama, The Haves and the Have Nots.

During Sunday’s telecast, Owens, 57, made a surprise appearance in the awards’ traditional “I am an actor” opening segment, saying, “Somewhere in the middle of the road of my life, I found myself in the dark wood of unemployment and debt. But instead of switching careers like a sane person, I took a job at Trader Joe’s to see if I could hang in there. And um, it’s actually worked out pretty well. I’m Geoffrey Owens and I’m an actor.”

In addition to receiving a round of applause from his fellow actors, Owens also shared a particularly sweet moment with Glenn Close, who took home the best leading actress award for her role in The Wife. Close, 71, was spotted encouraging Owens as they chatted and hugged briefly.

Speaking to PEOPLE at the SAG afterparty, Owens said he was genuinely happy to be there and felt so grateful.

“I just can’t believe it,” he said of the warm welcome and lengthy applause he received. “It’s just so bizarre. I just feel like, ‘What am I doing here?’ I just talked to Glenn Close. It was so great because we worked together years ago. Everybody has just been so kind and so nice. I can’t believe it. I’m in awe.”

He also raved about Patricia Arquette, who won best actress in a TV movie or miniseries for Escape at Dannemora.

“Patricia Arquette, I met her. She’s just so sweet,” Owens said. “I’m so glad she won.”

RELATED VIDEO: Geoffrey Owens Reflects on ‘Fast & Furious’ Week on Set With Tyler Perry

Speaking to PEOPLE at the SAG-AFTRA Foundation Patron of the Arts Awards last November, Owens said that the last couple of months have been “just insane — in a good way.”

“The initial thing was bad — the shaming,” he said. “But it lasted such a short time before the flood of support, the love rolled in. I don’t even remember what it felt like that day to feel bad, but I know what it’s felt like for the last two months to be offered work, to be offered auditions, to be approached on the street and told how much my story inspires people.”

“This is a really good feeling,” he added. “Everywhere I go … I’ve been to New Orleans, I’ve been to L.A., New York, New Jersey, Atlanta in the last two months. Everywhere I’ve gone, people have approached me with how much this whole thing has meant to them. It’s really struck a chord. It’s really touched a nerve, this whole idea of the working man, and work, and the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, it perfectly fits into all this.”

Owens added that he felt “rejuvenated” as an actor.

“I never went away as an actor. Even when I was working at Trader Joe’s, I was doing work as an actor,” he said. “I kept involved, but this is different. This is like a warm, sweet welcome from the industry, an acknowledgment of my past, of my accomplishments, a trust that they have in me.”

The 25th annual SAG Awards, hosted by Megan Mullally, were presented live from Los Angeles on Sunday.