Dispatches From The Picket Lines: Striking Writers & Actors Discuss Restart Of WGA Talks With Skepticism But Some Optimism

This is Day 93 of the WGA strike and Day 20 of the SAG-AFTRA strike.

The talk of the picket lines today was the bombshell news that studios and striking writers are headed back to the bargaining table Friday.

“It’s a baby step, and baby steps lead us eventually to the finish line,” Barry and Mad Men actor Patrick Fischler told Deadline outside of the Disney building in Burbank.

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Noting that such A-listers as Sean Penn and Jane Fonda have been on the picket lines lately, he added that “actors are pissed. Every level of actor is kind of angry, and I don’t see that changing right now. …l We’re not going anywhere.”

Striking actor-writer Beck Bennett was cautiously optimistic about the restart of WGA-AMPTP talks this week. “Is is posturing or is it real, going into the negotiations?” he told Deadline. “Everybody really wants to get back in there. … But for the energy also — to go from three months of striking in the Writers Guild to adding all of the actors, it’s such an infusion of energy and more hope.”

His fellow picketer Alex Anfanger, who created Big Time in Hollywood, FL and starred in Cake, said: “It’s hard to get your hopes up about what’s happening on Friday, but we’ll see. Hopefully they do want to come to an agreement. Hopefully they’ve felt the pain of this like a lot of us have. … It would be great if they were actually able to make an effort.”

Meanwhile, SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland told Deadline on Wednesday morning that the actors union is “ready, willing and able to return to the table at any time. … The only way a strike comes to an end is through the parties talking, and we urge [the AMPTP] to return to the table so that we can get the industry back to work as soon as possible.”

That drew some responses from elsewhere on the Disney line, though many were skeptical.

“I think people are hoping for the best and expecting the worst,” SAG-AFTRA strike captain Demetri Belardinelli told us. “But right now I feel like we haven’t been shown any like good faith in the bargaining, so I think that we — and I’m speaking for myself, obviously, not the union — but I think that we do kind of expect them to not give us an adequate deal, at least on the first round of re-negotiations.”

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Belardinelli also addressed the recent flurry of A-lister donations to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation — from Seth MacFarlane and Dwayne Johnson to help strikers get through the walkout. “They’ve been so down-to-earth about that,” he said of the boldface donators. “All of them said, ‘Look, this is not about us, this is about you guys. We’re here for you. We understand that the working actors really stand to gain the most from this contract and that we’re gonna be all right.’ … That is exactly the type of solidarity we need… We need to be out here as long as it’s gonna take, and that’s the way we’re gonna have that longevity.”

Another hot topic among the picketers today was Stephen Amell and his controversial anti-strike comments this week. In an interview at Galaxycon in Raleigh, NC, the Heels star and Arrow alum called the SAG-AFTRA walkout  “myopic,” “incredibly frustrating” and a “reductive negotiating tactic.” Strikers today wouldn’t go on the record about his or his remarks, but the ones Deadline spoke with were none too pleased — with most saying they are embarrassed by his behavior.

Amell clarified his comments on Wednesday, saying his words “were taken out of context.” But the folks we spoke with weren’t buying that. “I hope he gets kicked out of the union,” one SAG-AFTRA striker who didn’t want to be named told Deadline today. “If he doesn’t want to stand with SAG, then he can leave. It was an uneducated thing to say. … Collective bargaining, striking and demonstrating is our right.”

Over at the Amazon offices in Culver City, Deadline caught up with Barbie and MCU actor Simu Liu about why he’s walking the picket lines. “I’m striking because I’ve been there,” he said. “I’ve spent time as a background actor, I’ve spent time in that kind of gig economy — endless gig-to-gig, not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, not qualifying for health care, and it’s a really rough spot to be in. What the AMPTP is kind of suggesting is that the livelihood of these working-class actors is lowered even more with new guidelines around artificial intelligence, new guidelines around replication.”

He added, “It really hasn’t been that long for me, so to be privileged in this position now, I think there’s a real responsibility to stand in solidarity with each and every one of the members.”

Jennifer Grey and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. alum Clark Gregg also were on the Amazon picket line today and told us why they’re striking. After noting that things have been going “one way” for what Gregg joked was “hundreds of years,” Grey said: “We had a partnership. The artists, below-the-line, the Teamsters, the studios — everybody worked together to make things that gave people pleasure and to be able to escape and to have heart. And now we have this business where it’s not fair that people are being squeezed. It’s just not fair, and it’s heartbreaking to me.”

Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.

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