Today in Strike Watch! it’s a battle of the A-listers as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson made a seven-figure donation to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation Relief Fund, while everyone wonders if Brad Pitt is a scab.
Courtney B. Vance, president of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, and its executive director, Cyd Wilson, sent a letter to the top earning 2,700 members of SAG-AFTRA about the need for financial assistance during the strike (after a similar successful campaign to support fellow guild members during the COVID shutdown). Johnson reached out to directly offer assistance and ended up making a large donation to the foundation’s emergency relief fund.
Meanwhile, in Europe, Brad Pitt’s Formula 1 movie, apparently titled Apex, was seen filming at the Hungarian Grand Prix over the weekend. (The plot is supposedly that Pitt plays an “aged, retired” race car driver who comes out of retirement to mentor a young driver, played by Snowfall’s Damson Idris. So, it’s F1: Maverick. It’s even directed by Maverick’s Joseph Kosinski, who is, notably, not on strike himself.)
Reportedly, Pitt and other SAG-AFTRA members of the cast were not on set, but the film continued with production during the race weekend, undoubtedly capturing race footage and other B-roll elements, maybe even dialogue scenes that feature non-SAG actors. The movie is produced by Apple, a struck company, so the production should be standing down in solidarity, but I am sure the excuse is that Formula 1 waits for no man and if they didn’t get this footage, they wouldn’t have another chance, yadda yadda.
It’s a grey area for sure. Kosinksi isn’t on strike, neither are non-SAG actors, but the star of the film is one of the most high-profile actors in the world. If Pitt forced the issue and production shut down, it would make a helluva statement. He certainly has the power to do it, he’s one of the few who actually do. However, the UK-based actors who belong to Equity, the UK acting union, legally CANNOT declare a sympathy strike, so those actors who belong to Equity, but not also SAG-AFTRA, have to report to set if their production is still rolling.
To combat such a heinous anti-labor regulation—the UK’s labor laws have been widely condemned, it’s not just me—Equity held support rallies last week, and has issued a statement that Equity actors “will not allow the UK to become a back door to break or undermine the strike”. Except, at least in the case of Brad Pitt’s F1 movie, it sort of looks like it is, if they’re relying on the Equity cast members to work while Pitt and the other SAG members are on strike. It's a means of keeping the production running, despite it being managed by a struck company.
But Brad Pitt’s archnemesis in strike publicity isn’t Dwayne Johnson, it’s Tom Cruise (as it is in every other context in their careers). Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two is due out next year, but Cruise et al stood down when the WRITERS went on strike (specifically, it seems writer-director Christopher McQuarrie doesn’t split hairs between his storytelling duties, as so many of his fellow hyphenates are currently doing). Also, Cruise apparently lobbied the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on behalf of stunt performers. So, in the battle of flattering strike-era headlines, Cruise is winning this round, as he is actively participating in strike causes, while Pitt has everyone looking up the definition of “scab”. There is only one place to settle this: Cruise and Pitt must enter the Mojo Dojo Casa House and determine who is the Barbie and who is just Ken.
Also, if you’re wondering why Johnson donated money but hasn’t been seen on picket lines, along with any other A-lister like Cruise, who is working back rooms but not picketing, just think about the optics. Variety ran an article about this very issue, and while I would LOVE to know which actors were asking if they should hire glam squads to get them picket line-ready, I didn’t even need to keep reading to know the answer to why A-listers aren’t picketing. I did keep reading, just to see if Variety—owned by media mogul Jay Penske, who also owns Dick Clark Productions, a member of AMPTP and a struck company—eventually got there, and they did.
Those top-tier actors like Cruise, Johnson, and Pitt, aren’t on the picket lines because they’re a distraction. The sweet spot are the Bob Odenkirks of the world, people who are recognizable but aren’t instantly known as among the most wealthy people in Hollywood. There’s already a strain of “this is just rich people trying to get richer” when it comes to actors striking, putting A-listers with nine-figure net worths on the picket line only plays into that misunderstanding of the core issues at stake and how many of SAG’s 160,000 members DON’T make millions as actors.
If the strike goes on long enough, maybe we’ll see a shift in strategy, but right now, both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have been managing their publicity on the picket line very well. No, they don’t need Jeremy Allen White doing shirtless pushups in front of Paramount, they need to keep putting engaging people like Adam Conover, Bob Odenkirk, Quinta Brunson, and SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, who addressed this very issue when she said, “We’re striking for the journeyman,” in front of the cameras. No one is worried about the A-listers, they’re worried about the 86% of actors who can’t afford healthcare.
Besides, you know who was picketing on day one of the actors’ strike? Timothy Olyphant, and he’s an A-lister to me.
If you would like to donate to SAG’s strike relief fund, you can do so here.