LOS ANGELES (AP) — Hollywood actors have restarted talks with studios, opening up the possibility that their part in the industry's double strike could end with the same kind of deal the writers reached to end their pickets last week.
Here's a look at the key figures in the negotiations to end the new strike, and the people who successfully struck the deal to end the last one.
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland is having his close-up in Hollywood's labor fight.
As national executive director and chief negotiator for the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, he leads the team that will either make the deal to return to work or decide to continue striking.
He took an unlikely path to get there. Born in Memphis and raised in London and Dallas, Crabtree-Ireland went to college at Georgetown and law school at the University of California, Davis. He worked for several years as a criminal prosecutor in Los Angeles before taking a left turn and becoming a staff attorney for SAG-AFTRA in 2000.
“I get asked to talk to law students about careers from time to time, and I always preface the story by saying I can’t, I don’t encourage you to try to replicate this because I’ve no idea how it happened,” Crabtree-Ireland told the AP in an interview. “I never thought I’d be here.”
He would be tested quickly after getting the job. The first contract talks for film and TV actors under his role as chief negotiator resulted in their first strike in more than 40 years.
His return to the negotiating table now appears to be imminent.
Across the table from Crabtree-Ireland is Carol Lombardini, who rarely speaks to the media and whose name is little known outside the industry. But as head of the opposition in both the writers and actors strikes, she has been arguably the most important single figure in Hollywood's labor stoppage.
For 14 years, Lombardini has led negotiations for studios in contract talks with all of Hollywood's unions and guilds. Many of the past negotiations the lawyer has headed had come to the brink or run past deadlines, but none had ever led to a strike, much less two, before this year.
Since 2009, Lombardini, has been president and chief negotiator of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the conglomeration of studios, streaming services and production companies that creates contracts with unions.
She grew up in a working class suburb of Boston, got a degree in Renaissance history from the University of Chicago, and earned a law degree from Stanford. She worked for a pair of private firms before joining the AMPTP as an attorney when the group was first formed in 1982.
A respected if adversarial figure in years past, she become the target of much of strikers' vitriol. She appears often on picket signs and is the subject of many parody social media accounts.
Lombardini and the AMPTP represent a coalition of more than 350 companies, but as in the entertainment industry itself, a few giants dominate.
Three leaders have come to embody the group: Disney CEO Bob Iger, Warner Bros. Discovery chief executive David Zaslav and Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos.
The trio, along with NBCUniversal chair and chief content officer Donna Langley, took have taken a direct role in strike negotiations.
As chief executive of entertainment’s biggest behemoth, Disney’s Iger would always have been a target for strikers. But a new contract reportedly worth more than $30 million annually, the day before the actors strike was called, and his comments the following day, made him the first name on the lips and signs of many strikers. Iger said that it was "the worst time in the world” to add to the disruptions the industry's already facing.
The industry's shift to a streaming model is behind most of the issues that led to the strikes. Netflix pioneered that model, and Sarandos has come to signify it for strikers. Sarandos joined Netflix in 2000, shortly after its founding, and initiated its move into original programming with “Lilyhammer,” “House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black.”
As CEO of Warner-Discovery, Zaslav, for strikers, embodies the entertainment executive who shifts away from elite creative programming toward reality TV and other less vaunted programming, most manifest on Max, the streaming service that under his watch dropped “HBO” from its name.
Before the strikes began he was already scorned by many on the creative side for shelving nearly finished projects like “Batgirl” and turning them into tax write-offs.
Drescher was re-elected Sept. 8 as president of SAG-AFTRA, a job she's had since 2021.
Hollywood’s guilds operate like cities that have an elected mayor who sets the agenda, and a city manager who oversees operations more directly. If Crabtree-Ireland is SAG-AFTRA'S city manager, Drescher is its mayor.
She engaged in some serious agenda setting with her fiery speech at the news conference announcing the strike on July 14. Drescher told The Associated Press in an interview that she had scrapped a written statement moments before, and improvised.
“When you speak from the heart, people are so responsive,” Drescher told The AP. “Because I guess they see a lot of people that don’t. And so it kind of cuts through the noise when it does.”
Drescher was born, raised and went to community college in Queens, New York. She had a series of increasingly memorable small roles, usually playing brash New Yorkers, starting with “Saturday Night Fever” in 1976.
She became a household name when she co-created and starred in “The Nanny.” The series ran on CBS from 1993 to 1999 and took much of its inspiration from her life.
THE ACTORS' COMMITTEE
You’d be forgiven for thinking SAG-AFTRA’s negotiating committee was actually a film cast playing a negotiating committee. The group backing up Crabtree-Ireland in the talks is, naturally, full of actors, including Sean Astin, the “Lord of the Rings,” “Goonies” and “Stranger Things” star whose mother, Patty Duke, was president of the guild in the 1980s.
Astin gave a shout out to his mom, who died in 2016, at an August 22 rally.
“Any background actors out there, any stunt performers, singers and dancers and puppeteers and pilots? We represent all of you,” Astin shouted. “I invoke the name of my mother Patty Duke, former president of the Screen Actors Guild, mama come down here right now and look at these people!”
Other members of the committee include “Rent” actor Anthony Rapp, Emmy-winning “Abbott Elementary” star Sheryl Lee Ralph, and many other more anonymous performers who play small roles and are more representative of the union's members, the vast majority of whom are not famous and make less than $27,000 a year from acting.
Ralph told the crowd at a July strike rally in Philadelphia that those are the people she is negotiating for.
“This is not about your favorite stars on TV or in motion pictures, uh uh!” she said. “Eighty percent of our union is made up of plain old ordinary people trying to make a living.”
Ellen Stutzman is being celebrated across the industry as the person who struck the deal and grabbed major gains for writers in their contract negotiations.
It is not a role she expected to play when the year began.
Stutzman, also an attorney, took over as chief negotiator for the Writers Guild on Feb. 28, just two weeks before contract talks began. She entered the role after longtime lead negotiator David Young, who led the guild through the 2007-2008 strike, stepped down for health reasons.
She still has the title from her previous role: assistant executive director for the Writers Guild of America West. Stutzman joined the union as a researcher in 2006. Researching the union’s issues and educating union members, government officials and the public on them are a specialty.
“We would tell the viewers and the public that writers are fighting to have a career, and to have a viable profession, and to continue to create the shows and movies that people in this country and around the world love,” Stutzman told The AP on the first day of the writers strike in May.
Generally regarded as more low key and less combative than Young, Stutzman played a key role in writers’ 2019 fight with agents, in which WGA members fired their representatives en masse over plans by Hollywood’s major talent agencies to expand into production. The union also sued the agencies, calling the potential move a conflict of interest and a violation of antitrust law. That battle — which the writers won — in some ways served as a dress rehearsal for the strike to come.
Stutzman graduated from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University in 2004 and worked for the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers before joining the Writers Guild.
Associated Press Writers Krysta Fauria and Damian Dovarganes contributed.
This story first moved on Sept. 20 and was updated on Oct. 3 with details about the end of the writers strike, renewed actors strike negotiations and an added section on actors on the negotiating committee.
Andrew Dalton, The Associated Press