NEW YORK – SAG-AFTRA held its largest and most star-studded rally yet Tuesday in Times Square in a picket sign-waving show of solidarity 12 days into the actors strike.
A day after a Variety report questioned the lack of A-listers that have hit picket lines thus far, the rally Tuesday boasted more star wattage than perhaps any single strike action yet. Among those joining throngs of demonstrators were Jessica Chastain, Bryan Cranston, Brendan Fraser, Ellen Burstyn, Wendell Pierce, Steve Buscemi, Rachel Zegler, Michael Shannon, Jane Curtin, Christian Slater and Chloe Grace Moretz.
Taking up a full city block, actors and representatives from the actors union took turns giving fiery speeches on a stage in the heart of Times Square while tourists gawked and passing trucks honked in support. At times, the actors took aim at the corporate lights and billboards around them, including the Walt Disney-owned ESPN and ABC studios that sat alongside the rally.
“We’ve got a message to Mr. Iger," said Cranston, directing his comments at Disney CEO Bob Iger. "I know, sir, that you look through things from a different lens. We don’t expect you to understand who we are but we ask you to hear us, and beyond that, to listen to us when we tell you we will not be having our jobs taken away and given to robots. We will not have you take away our right to work and earn a decent living.”
The rally took place a stone's throw from Broadway theaters and, given the talent involved, featured a higher degree of show business than your usual labor rally. “Avatar” actor Stephen Lang quoted Frederick Douglass. Wendell Pierce recited Samuel Beckett. Tituss Burgess didn't speak; he sang Stephen Sondheim.
Arian Moayed, who played the investor Stewy Hosseini in “Succession,” compared the characters of the HBO series to the studio executives the actors are negotiating with.
“It’s like these people haven’t seen (expletive) ‘Succession,’” Moayed exclaimed. “It’s about you!”
Christine Baranski of “The Good Wife” and “The Good Fight” likewise drew from her own credits.
“We will not live under corporate feudalism. It is time, it is just simply time to make things right. Our contribution will not be undervalued, and we will not be robbed,” said Baranski before concluding: “Let’s fight the good fight!”
Earlier this month, actors joined striking screenwriters who walked out in May. It's the first time both unions have been on strike at the same time since 1960. The stoppage has shuttered nearly all film and television production. Actors say the streaming revolution has altered pay in entertainment, stripping them of residuals and remaking working conditions. They are also seeking guardrails against the use of artificial intelligence, along with increases to the union's health care and pension programs.
“Our industry has changed exponentially,” said Cranston. “We are not in the same business model that we were in even 10 years ago. And yet, even though they admit that that’s the truth in today’s economy, they are fighting us tooth and nail to stick to the same economic system that is outmoded, outdated. They want us to step back in time.”
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which is negotiating on behalf of studios, has said it presented actors with a generous deal that included the biggest bump in minimum pay in 35 years among other benefits. Since talks broke off and Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists commenced the strike, the sides have not negotiated and no talks are scheduled.
“We may be on strike but I said to them on July 12 we are ready to continue talking tomorrow and every day after until we reach a deal," said Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, chief negotiator for SAG-AFTRA. "And I've said that every day since to the media, to them, to anyone who would listen. SAG-AFTRA is ready, willing and able to return to the bargaining table.
“The only reason we aren't there now is because those companies said that they didn't want to deal with people who were uncivilized and because those companies said they wouldn't be ready to talk for quite some time,” added Crabtree-Ireland.
Many actors Tuesday cast the strike in personal terms. Slater said the union's health care helped sustain his father's life. Slater's father, the actor Michael Hawkins, died last November. Liza Colón-Zayas, the 51-year-old Bronx-born actor of the Hulu hit series “The Bear,” said her lifetime of hard work isn't paying off.
“I have struggled 35 years to get here only to find residuals have dwindled exponentially,” said Colón-Zayas. “If you can announce the highest-viewed this and the highest profits in that, then you can track our residuals. So we need to come to the table but we need to come to the table in good faith that there will be transparency in how we are being paid by streaming. We need you to open the books."
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP