Dispatches From The Picket Lines: Actors In NYC Hopeful For Deal But Managing Expectations – “It’s A Fine Line”

This is Day 112 of the SAG-AFTRA strike.

Striking actors in New York City hit the picket lines in extra layering Thursday with the weather turning colder and their union’s strike against studios and streamers extending into its fifth calendar month.

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Amid reports of progress in the talks out west between SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, picketers spotted Thursday outside AMPTP member company offices in Manhattan included Annabella Sciorra, Terry Kinney, Kelly AuCoin, Glenn Fleshler, Stephen Kunken, Carrie Gibson, Michael Cyril Creighton, Frank C. Williams and Stephanie D’Abruzzo.

Actors said that they are doing their best to balance hopes for a settlement — which have been dashed before  — with managed expectations while most continue to go without paying work.

“It’s a fine line,” Gibson, a SAG-AFTRA strike captain who had a recurring role on Max’s Barry, told Deadline at a picket outside NBCUniversal headquarters at Rockefeller Center.

Gibson was preparing to head to Los Angeles next for a job on a production covered by the SAG-AFTRA interim agreement. She said the challenge for strikers is “staying strong and confident and present, and not buying into the idea that it’s going to end at any minute.”

“We’ve been out here this long; this is not the time to take a bad deal,” actor Errik Tustenuggee said outside NBCUniversal, seconding the message of the letter that high-profile SAG-AFTRA members sent last week to the union’s negotiating committee.

Tustenuggee also defended SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, who has faced questions about her leadership style as the strike has gone on.

“I think she stepped up, and the fact that we re-elected her overwhelmingly tells you that she has our support,” Tustenuggee said.

The issues haven’t changed as the calendar rolls over: Residuals from streaming and artificial intelligence as a threat to replace live actors still top union members’ priorities for a new contract.

AI’s impact won’t stop with the on-set performers if it’s used to create endlessly recyclable digital replicas, said Jennifer Childs, who makes her living as a double actor, including for Maggie Siff on Billions and Rachel Weiz in Dead Ringers.

“It affects everybody,” Childs told Deadline at the NBCUniversal picket. “You don’t need a craft services table if you don’t have actors.”

Sciorra, an Emmy nominee with credits ranging from Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever to CBS’ Blue Bloods, told Deadline that health insurance is a particular concern of hers.

“I’m one of the people who will not qualify for my insurance, probably,” she said at a picket outside the neighboring offices of Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery.

The strike is cutting into actors’ earnings and leaving many close to, or below, the income threshold that qualifies them for SAG-AFTRA-sponsored coverage. Even so, Sciorra vouched for the power of the picket lines, saying, “I think showing up also helps the negotiators stay there and feel good about it and hold on until we get what we want.”

Kinney, a founder of the famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, told Deadline at the Netflix/Warner picket: “I think we’ve settled before in other strikes and the membership was not entirely happy with the deal. So I think this time people have girded their loins a bit to wait. And so when I hear good news — ‘Oh, last night I heard it, they’re close, they’re getting close!’ — I think we’re going to keep hearing that. And until it’s true, it’s a rumor. And we’re just going to keep showing up.”

“I expected this to be a long fight so I’m not shocked,” True Detective and Billions actor Fleshler told Deadline at the Netflix/Warner picket. “It’s been a hard time, but we are down for the cause, and I’m very excited to see how spirited everyone’s remained … because I know some people have it a lot harder than I do.”

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AuCoin, another Billions actor marching outside Netflix and Warner Bros., told Deadline that the letter to the negotiators is “an affirmation of everything we’ve been out here for to begin with” and said that his message to them is, “Keep pushing, stay strong, we have leverage.”

The leverage, as he viewed it, lies in part with the steady turnout at pickets like Tuesday’s.

“One of the things I love and that I’m most proud of is that there are as many people on the line coming here today, on Day 112, as there were on Day 1,” AuCoin said. “There is no dwindling of faith.”

Childs said that she is approaching the strike at this juncture with “cautious optimism,” buoyed by the pickets.

“There is such a feeling of solidarity in getting out here on the picket line that I suggest to people who are losing hope, ‘Get over here,’” Childs said. “Because it’s so unifying and it feels so good and strengthening. We’re a family at this point, and so it is strength in numbers and comfort in numbers.”

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