Dispatches From The Picket Lines: Stars Hit Times Square Rally – From Fraser, Chastain, Cranston & Pierce To Slater, Wong, Hennessy, Shannon, Buscemi & More


With enough famous actors to populate an awards show all gathered on one stage, the labor union representing them in an “existential battle” against film and television studios held a star-studded strike rally in the middle of New York’s Times Square on Tuesday morning. 

An audience of several hundred people including card-waving members of SAG-AFTRA squeezed into a barricaded pedestrian plaza on a humid day when at least one spectator required medical attention. At an event dubbed “Rock the City for a Fair Contract,” they heard almost two hours worth of speeches from union representatives and from high-profile acting peers including Bryan Cranston, Christine Baranski, Wendell Pierce, Christian Slater, Stephen Lang, Michelle Hurd, Jill Hennessy and Steve Buscemi. 

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Behind the speakers on the temporary stage stood several other actors representing generations of film and television work, among them Ellen Burstyn, Michael Shannon, Brendan Fraser, Jessica Chastain, Vanessa Williams, B.D. Wong, Chloe Grace Moretz, Lea DeLaria, S. Epatha Merkerson and Jane Curtin. 

In sometimes-fiery, sometimes-personal remarks, speakers called for fairness, dignity and respect for their work from the executives at the companies that make up the striking actors and writers absent contract-negotiating partner: the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

One speaker asked for sanity: “Let us know when you come to your senses,” said Joely Fisher, SAG-AFTRA’s secretary-treasurer, addressing the AMPTP.

Speakers bridled at having their demands labeled as “not realistic,” to quote Disney chief Bob Iger. The union’s leader, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, rejected studio criticisms that actors and writers had hurt negotiations by being “uncivilized” and he said that AMPTP is simply refusing to discuss key union demands. 

“We’re fighting for the survival of our craft,” said Nancy Giles, an actor and TV news commentator who kicked off the rally and set the tone for speeches to come. A fight for survival — in the face of declining wages and advancing artificial intelligence that can replicate actors’ likenesses — was a recurring theme on Tuesday. It was actor and SAG-AFTRA executive Rebecca Damon who used the phrase “existential battle” to describe the stakes in the combined actors and writers strikes. 

Slater talked about growing up just blocks away from Times Square and said that his father, also an actor, got medical and mental health care, and then dignified end-of-life care, thanks to health insurance made available through his actors union membership.

Hurd said that today 87 percent of SAG-AFTRA members don’t make the $26,000 annual income minimum required to qualify for union-provided health insurance. “This is wrong,” she said.

“Many people have asked me, ‘When will this strike end?’ ” Hurd continued. “You know what? It could end today. All that has to happen is that the AMPTP needs to show up and bargain fairly.”

There were lighter moments. Baranski, one of the first speakers, ended her remarks with a flourish, throwing her baseball cap into the crowd. Theater and television actor Tituss Burgess opted to sing instead of speak, belting out passages from an uplifting anthem with soaring, melismatic high notes. 

Buscemi, the day’s second to last speaker before Cranston,  introduced himself with a riff on one of his most meme-worthy television lines: “How do you do, fellow actors?” 

“You are never gonna get speeches like this from a digital replica,” Hennessy, of Law & Order and Crossing Jordan, said in her earlier turn at the podium.

Here are some more videos and photos from today’s Times Square rally:

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