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Q&A: SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher reacts to Hollywood studios breaking off negotiations

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Fran Drescher has steered the actors guild through its monthslong strike. On the heels of Hollywood studios abruptly breaking off talks with the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists this week, the actor and union president says she’s baffled and disappointed.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers announced Wednesday that they had suspended contract negotiations, saying the gap between the two sides was too great to make continuing worth it and characterizing their offer as good as the one that recently ended the writers strike. Drescher told The Associated Press in a Thursday interview that she did not understand why negotiations collapsed but that her union’s resolve has not weakened.

The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

AP: Can you talk about what happened in your negotiations with the AMPTP?

DRESCHER: They had given us a proposal package. We worked for like 36 hours on it. We brought it back to them. We walked them through it and they left and then called a few hours later and said, “We’re breaking negotiations.” So it’s not only baffling but wholly disappointing and counterproductive.

I’ve never really met people that actually don’t understand what negotiations mean. Why are you walking away from the table? To what end do you hope that that will accomplish anything?

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And actually, my members are more pumped up than ever. They feel so insulted by this, so degraded by this and dishonored by this that it’s like, “Fran, do not cave. Remain strong. Hold onto your resolve because this can’t be for nothing.”

FILE - SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher poses for a portrait, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, at the SAG-AFTRA offices in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher in August at the SAG-AFTRA offices in Los Angeles (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

AP: Can you talk about the mood of the conversations before they broke off? Was there a sense that talks would be smoother after the studios reached a deal with the Writers Guild of America?

DRESCHER: With the writers guild also, they broke negotiations with that too. So now that a contract has been agreed upon, everybody’s all warm and fuzzy. But at the time, I think it was very contentious. They don’t like to give away ice in winter.

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So I’ve never really dealt with this kind of affront, of indignation and a need to get their own way. I think that they’re very used to getting their own way. I think that the idea that we want to go into a pocket to compensate for the lack of income that we cannot get for our working members in a streaming model is just so repugnant to them. And they just feel like, “Who are we to want to get compensated the way we used to be? Who are we to think that we deserve to make an honest wage that meets inflation? Who are we to challenge them in any way? We should be so lucky to get whatever they want because they’re the bosses.”

File - Actor Joely Fisher, from left, SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher and Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA national executive director and chief negotiator, take part in a rally by striking writers and actors outside Netflix studio in Los Angeles on July 14, 2023. Drescher took over as president of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in September 2021 and has become a firebrand, as well as the face and voice of the top creative minds in Hollywood, over the past few months. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

Actor Joely Fisher, from left, Drescher and Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA national executive director and chief negotiator, take part in a July rally outside Netflix in Los Angeles (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)

And I keep pointing out to them that that kind of business practice is unsustainable nowadays. It was maybe something that people bought into in the 20th century. But that “dog eat dog, the bottom line is the bottom line,” it just doesn’t pan out. And we can’t think that way anymore. You can’t go into a whole new business and not question how this is going to impact the foundational contributors to your business. And that’s exactly what they did. And now they’re like annoyed at us for pointing out the problem.

It’s really like an alternate universe. I can’t even believe it. And I keep trying to put it into a global context that they have a responsibility to workers. They’re leaders in the industry. They should set the example for industries around the world. This is their opportunity as well to raise the bar on how employers deal with workers. How they thank them, how they include them, how they treat them like people.

AP: This will officially be the longest strike in your guild’s history next week. What are your thoughts on how we got here?

DRESCHER: Well, I think it’s indicative of the fact that they stopped talking to us back on July 12 and didn’t come back until less than 10 days ago. You know, we’ve only met with them a couple of times. Monday, half a day Wednesday, half a day Friday. That was what they were available for. Then this past week, it was Monday and a half a day on Wednesday. And then “Bye bye.”

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I don’t even know what they’re thinking. But I did say to them, “With all due respect, we have been waiting for you to come back.” We wanted to avert a strike. We extended an unprecedented extension and we called them in the eleventh hour. … They don’t really want to negotiate. They just want us to like what they want us to like. They don’t want us to have a mind. They don’t want us to have a thought. They don’t want us to have feelings or complain that we can’t make a living and we can’t support our families and we’re having problems paying the rent.

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher, right, speaks during a rally outside Paramount Pictures Studio on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Los Angeles. The film and television industries remain paralyzed by Hollywood's dual actors and screenwriters strikes. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Drescher speaks during a September rally outside Paramount in Los Angeles (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

They don’t want to hear about it because they keep giving us this huge inflated number of how much they’re spending on production and how much they’re paying out to our union in salary. But it’s all divided up amongst so many thousands of people that it doesn’t add up to anything except for our highest paying earners, which I have zero problem with. And we’re fighting for them as well with AI. They’re very concerned about their likeness, their essence of being. The thing that makes them a star is going to be ripped off, going to be turned into something that’s hardly even recognizable.

AP: So, what now?

DRESCHER: Well, they called and said, “We’re walking away. We’re breaking negotiations.” Now, we’re in the midst of a serious negotiating committee meeting. Everybody went out on the picket lines today (Thursday). The resolve is very strong.

So I think that they think that we’re going to cower, but that’s never going to happen because this is a crossroads and we must stay on course.

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For more coverage of the actors strike, visit https://apnews.com/hub/hollywood-strikes/