Dispatches From The Picket Line: Actors Including Jon Cryer Are “Cautiously Optimistic” As Talks Restart

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This is Day 82 of the SAG-AFTRA strike

There’s solidarity in the air in LA with a slew of writers continuing to join the actors’ picket lines after securing their own deal with the AMPTP.

As talks between SAG-AFTRA and the studio alliance restart, the picket lines, now focused on the actors requests, are still busy and, as seen this morning, full of “cautious optimism”.

Two and a Half Men star Jon Cryer, whose upcoming NBC comedy Extended Family has shot the first six episodes, told Deadline, “The writers got real progress. I have constantly voiced my frustration with the AMPTP for not starting the negotiations a lot sooner. But it’s better than nothing.”

He added that he’s preparing himself for a deal “however long it takes”.

His biggest worry about the future of the entertainment industry, as it pertains to actors, is the “hollowing out of the industry”.

“When you lose your middle tier of performer, you hollow out the entire industry,” he said, speaking outside Warner Bros. Discovery in LA. “You make your TV shows without a real professionalized base of people and if everybody’s forced to do this as a hobby, your industry collapses. That’s why I have always felt like that that we were on the actually on the same side as the AMPTP. We want this to be a healthy industry. We want them to succeed. We want them to make record profits, that’s fantastic, share them with us and that will allow us to have a huge professional group of actors at your beck and call.”

Michal Ealey, who has starred in series such as Reasonable Doubt and Stumptown, told Deadline that he hopes the momentum from the writers deal will help “propel” the actors.

“It’s not hard to maintain optimism. It’s ultimately something you have to do. These things have been resolved in the past. They can be resolved now. It’s just a matter of coming together. I think the most important thing is to not end up like Congress, where nobody wants to talk. As long as we can talk, then I think we can work this out. It’s when we become Republicans and Democrats and don’t want to talk, that’s when it becomes a problem. But as long as we’re talking, I think we can get to the bottom of this,” he said.

Ealey said that his children are interested in acting, but he’s concerned whether it will still be a profession. He said that there’s a lot of professions that won’t be around in 20 or 30 years.

A.I. is one of the issues for him and he called Disney’s Wall-E was a “profound movie for a reason”.

“We can prevent [robots taking over] if we demand meaning as an audience, not just as actors. We have to demand to see projects where humans interact with humans and not everything being computer generated, that’s what it’s going to come down to. If the kids can demand that then hopefully there’s a future for the profession as a whole,” he added.

Michael Kostroff, best known for starring in HBO’s The Wire, said that he’s “very optimistic and very charged up”.

“We’ve always been determined that this wasn’t a plan B, for us. These are really important issues,” he added. “You’ll never see a happier group of unemployed people walking the line. The spirit out here is amazing. The writers are still picketing with us, which is just beautiful. The camaraderie, the solidarity.”

He is similarly anti-robot. “I keep saying if you ever see a movie where a character says the robots are our friends and they want to help us, it doesn’t end well,” he joked.

Barry Livingston, who played Ernie Douglas on My Three Sons and more recently featured in Bosch, echoed that he’s “cautiously optimistic” but also pointed out that the issues the actors face are different to the ones faced by the writers.

He particularly pointed to A.I and a video that has gone viral that appears to be Tom Hanks promoting a dental plan, but that was “nothing to do with” him.

“To be able to take somebody’s image and use that at a whim or whatever… using his credibility and images of an iconic actor that people trust… is abusing it,” he added.

Elsewhere in LA, there were a number of special picket lines. At Amazon, actors were encouraged to show up with pajamas and bed head for a Case of the Mondays picket line, and at Disney there was a group of baby boomers sending a message that they’re tired of age discrimination.


Over in New York, SAG-AFTRA picket lines were back after they were called off last week under a deluge that caused hurricane-level flooding across the region. On Monday, striking actors returned to the lines with clear skies above, dry pavement below and their contract talks just hours away from restarting in California for the first time in almost three months.

Law & Order: SVU actor Terry Serpico told Deadline that Monday was a “watershed moment”. No kidding.

Serpico and his wife Kadia Saraf, who also stars in Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Organized Crime were joined by scores of WGA members at a crowded SAG-AFTRA rally outside the neighboring downtown Manhattan offices of Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery including former SVU showrunner Warren Leight.

Serpico congratulated the WGA for contract gains they “fought hard and suffered for,” and said that writers “laid the groundwork” for the resumption of talks  “Now hopefully this will be a short negotiation,” he said.

“Hope” was almost a keyword among picketers in New York on Monday. “I am feeling extremely hopeful,” Ned and Stacey’s Nadia Dajani told Deadline. “I think we’re almost home.” 

Actors including Susan Sarandon, Jill Hennessy, John Carroll Lynch and Michael Cyril Creighton walked alongside writers including Eric Glover, Sheri Holman, Sean Crespo and Greg Iwinski.

Iwinski, a WGA negotiating committee member, was in the room with the studio and streaming chiefs and their top negotiator, Carol Lombardini, during the marathon talks in California that produced a deal.

Iwinski told Deadline that the WGA contract, which he predicted would be ratified, helps SAG-AFTRA on issues such as extra pay for streaming shows that become hits and guidelines for generative artificial intelligence in productions.

“The idea that we were told on May 1 that ‘never in the history of this business have we paid for shows doing better,’ Well, one, that wasn’t true. But, two, now it’s in our contract,” Iwinski said. “So now SAG can say, ‘We want to get paid for performance.’”

“The biggest thing that our strike proved is that when Carol says ‘never,’ that’s not actually true,” Iwinski said. “And she loves saying ‘never.’ But we proved her wrong about half a dozen times. And so now SAG can walk in and when they hear ‘never’ they can say, ‘Well, that’s not necessarily true.’

“The other big one is, they came to us,” Iwinski said. “Four of the CEOs came to our offices, met on our turf, talked to us, and once they did it took four days and we were done. That model, I think it shows where the AMPTP is at: They’re not meeting there [at AMPTP offices] anymore. They’re going to SAG’s offices. The CEOs are still involved, and they’ve realized now that’s what it takes to get it done.”

Iwinski said that the stagehands’ and drivers’ unions, IATSE and the Teamsters, can take the same lesson about home turf when their AMPTP contracts come up.

Sesame Street actor Bill Irwin told Deadline that he was encouraged by the fact that studio and streaming executives are also promising to be present for the SAG-AFTRA negotiations. Eighty-two days into the actors strike, Irwin said that he was both hopeful and wary. 

“What is a picket line?” he asked rhetorically. “This is the 21st Century. It isn’t keeping people from crossing like in the old days, but it’s a presence and we’re hoping they hear us upstairs.”

Irwin, who trained as a clown with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey and transitioned to screen acting, has busied himself during the strikes with stage acting and teaching. 

“But I am oh, so ready to get back to work on those teams of people: the crew, a director, writers standing by, actors telling stories,” he said. “I’m so ready for that.” 

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