Dispatches From The Picket Lines: Striking NYC Actors On Stress, Hope, Fran Drescher & Yoga

This is Day 116 of the SAG-AFTRA strike.

SAG-AFTRA picket lines in New York City on Monday doubled as vigils, with striking actors waiting for their union’s leaders to weigh in on the “last, best, and final offer” package that the studios and streamers delivered Saturday.

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“We were handed 500 pages,” SAG-AFTRA strike captain Sue Berch said Monday in her traditional stemwinder of a closing speech for morning pickets outside Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery offices in Manhattan. “So [negotiators] are going through it to make sure they keep track of everything that’s in there. Trust them.”

“‘Last, best, and final,’ my ass!” one picketer shouted, prompting whoops and cheers. Berch agreed, saying, “It isn’t final ’til we say it’s final.”

Zachary Quinto, F. Murray Abraham, Jill Hennessy, Erika Longo, Lori Hammel, Mike Doyle, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Nick Sakai and Michael Cyril Creighton were among the actors spotted on the line Monday outside Netflix and Warner Bros. They were joined by Writers Guild members including former Law & Order: SVU showrunner Warren Leight and former Late Show with David Letterman writer Bill Scheft.

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Union leaders also dispatched a smaller band of picketers one block over to the back of the Warner Bros. building — something they don’t often do. Strikers there brought their chants, whistles and cowbells to the curb in front of a gated private driveway for Warner staffers. It was unclear Monday whether picketers thought there was a chance of catching CEO David Zaslav on the way in or out, or if Zaslav was even in town.

Rebecca Damon, executive director of SAG-AFTRA’s New York Local, also was on hand — and not talking to press about the state of negotiations between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers during the previous 48 hours.

Actors on the picket line said that they’ve been hanging on every turn of the up-and-down talks since the strike began July 14, including times when a deal has seemed close only for negotiations to break down and then restart. As they’ve lived through that, while going without work, they said that they have found refuge in the solidarity provided by their union and by the larger labor movement.

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“This has been a very challenging time,” Hammel told Deadline. “But it has been amazing to be together with all of these actors and other unions who have been willing to support us during this difficult time,”

Longo told Deadline: “We’ve been at it for so long that I don’t think we can take a deal that’s not good enough.” She noted that the writers, in their strike, also heard a studio ultimatum of a “best and final offer” in the last days before a settlement was reached on September 24.

Asked how she copes with the nerve-wracking wait for a deal, stunt actor and coordinator Samantha MacIvor had a one-word reply: “Yoga.”

“I’m not kidding,” SAG-AFTRA board member MacIvor told Deadline, explaining that through yoga she can “sit back and breathe and know that this is not forever and the longer we stay in it, the better deal we’ll get.”

MacIvor added that she has confidence in the negotiators. “I’ve gotten to meet them and I trust that they’re not going to take a shitty deal,” she said.

“And Fran Drescher, too,” MacIvor added of the union’s sometimes controversial president. “I think she’s been just a great leader. She’s really fair and she’s really listening, and she wants what’s best for everybody. And it’s really hard to please everybody. This is a giant union with way too many members. You can’t please everyone. But we want to try.”

MacIvor said that stunt coordinators like herself have a particular issue they hope to see fixed in a new contract: Unlike the stunt people they oversee, the stunt coordinators don’t get residuals for their television work. “So it’s [historically] a very weird contract where … a person that steps up to a level that should be higher is getting paid less than the people they hire.”

Sakai told Deadline that the studios are “still dragging their feet” and “could have ended this months ago.”

At NBCUniversal headquarters Monday, Patrick Donovan marched alongside about two dozen picketers. A background and double actor who got his start in soap operas in the 1970s, Donovan told Deadline that he considers himself fortunate: He worked in film and television, quit the field to go into business when he met his future wife and then returned to acting with his finances secured because he loved and missed the work.

“All these folks probably don’t have what I have,” Donovan said. But they also had “no choice” except to go on strike over “archaic wages” and other issues, he said.

“We’re all chomping at the bit. We want to go back to work,” Donovan said. “We want to do what we love to do. And we’re at the edge [of a deal] and we say, ‘We’re almost there! We’re almost there!’ And then we get pulled back. Emotionally, it’s tough, it’s stressful. … But you have to just keep going and think about the good things that are going to come down the road.”

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