By Jocelyn Noveck and R.J. Rico
Jason Kravits gets a lot of this: People recognize him — they’re just not sure how. “I’m that guy who looks like the guy you went to high school with,” says Kravits. “People think they've just seen me somewhere.”
Actually, they have — on TV, usually as a lawyer or a doctor. “I’ve had enough roles that I’ve been in your living room on any given night,” the veteran actor says. “But mostly people don’t know my name.”
Kravits is one of those actors union leaders refer to as “journeymen” — who tend to work for scale pay, and spend at least as much time lining up work as working. They can have a great year, then a bad one, without much rhyme or reason. “We’re always on the verge of struggling,” says Kravits.
And they, not the big Hollywood names joining the picket lines, are the heart of the actors strike.
Many say they fear the general public thinks all actors get paid handsomely and are doing it for love of the craft, almost as a hobby. Yet in most cases it’s their only job, and they need to qualify for health insurance, pay rent or a mortgage, pay for school and college for their kids.
“All of us aren’t Tom Cruise,” says Amari Dejoie, 30, who studies acting, does background jobs (as an extra) and modeling to keep afloat, and is considering waitressing during the strike. "We have to pay rent and bills, and they’re due on the first. And your apartment does not care that your check wasn’t as high as you expected it to be.”
In interviews, a few journeyman actors at different stages of their careers discussed their lives and their reasons for striking.
THAT ONE-PENNY CHECK
Recently Jennifer Van Dyck got a couple residual checks in the mail — one for 60 cents, one for 72 cents. But she’s seen worse.
“The joke is when you get the one-cent check that cost 44 cents to be mailed to you,” says the veteran New York actor, referring to payments for reruns and other airings of a film or TV show after the initial release.
Still, Van Dyck counts herself lucky. With many appearances on network shows like “The Blacklist,” “Madam Secretary” and especially ”Law & Order," where she's appeared as a guest star 13 times, plus voiceover work, she's been able to make a living for more than 30 years without having to take a job outside the industry.
“You just keep jumping around,” she says. “When things get dry in one area you move to the next. It’s keeping all the balls in the air: theater, film, television, voiceover, audiobooks. Call us journeypeople: Half the job requirement is looking for work."
Van Dyck says the emergence of streaming has cut into an actor's income alarmingly, because streamers give tiny residuals, if that. And when it comes to negotiating a rate to appear on a show, the studios don't seem to care if you have 37 years of experience. "They say, “This is what we're offering, take it or leave it.'”
She’s still struck by the common misperception that actors must be rich and famous. “The majority of us aren’t,” she says. “But all those other parts (in a hit show), and all those other shows that get sidelined or disappear — that’s work, too. And those stories can’t be told without (us).”
“No one wants to strike,” Van Dyck adds. But she feels the industry is at an inflection point. And, "at a certain point you have to say, 'No Mas.’”
THIS IS NOT A HOBBY
Growing up in the Washington, D.C., area, Kravits was bitten by the theater bug early, performing in community theater by the time he was 10 or 11. He studied theater in college, and eventually made his way to New York and then Los Angeles.
In LA, he got lucky, winning a recurring role on David E. Kelley’s “The Practice."
Kravits quips he’d make a lot more money as an actual lawyer, but enjoys playing them. "I like to say I play a lot of lawyers, but never the same lawyer. I play a mean lawyer, a dumb lawyer, a funny lawyer, a hateful lawyer, an incompetent lawyer. Every role is different to me.” Most of the time, he's on a show for one or two episodes.
Kravits says there used to be room for negotiation on everything, including billing and dressing rooms, but no longer: “You’re negotiating with Wall Street. And Wall Street is all bottom line."
The toughest change has been with the all-important residuals. “I don’t think people realize outside the business how important residuals are to being able to afford being an actor,” he says.
And because of how meager streaming residuals are, Kravits says he has network shows he did 10, 15 even 20 years ago that still yield more residuals than buzzy shows he’s done for streamers the last few years — like HBO's “The Undoing” or Netflix's “Halston.”
"I didn’t get into this as a hobby,” Kravits says. “I can’t afford to do it as a hobby.”
PUTTING OUR MONEY WHERE OUR MOUTHS ARE
The series finale of the show that transformed actor Diany Rodriguez’s career — NBC’s “The Blacklist” — aired the same day Hollywood came to a standstill.
Rodriguez, who played Weecha, bodyguard of star James Spader’s character, would have loved to take to social media and celebrate her character’s final appearance, but the strike made that impossible. She had several new projects booked, but is now throwing herself into her duties as a strike captain.
She sees the strike as part of a larger labor movement in the country: “I’m so in favor of this because it feels overwhelmingly (like) we are ready to put our money where our mouths are for the greater good."
Rodriguez, 41, was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in Alabama, and moved from New York to Atlanta in 2009 for theater work. Around that time, Georgia lawmakers passed generous film tax credits — incentives that brought in business but ensured a lengthy strike would be acutely felt there.
“Atlanta’s economy is funded in large part based on the film and TV tax breaks,” she says.
Rodriguez feels financially secure, thanks largely to her two-season stint on “The Blacklist,” the network residuals and the roles the show has helped her book since then.
But she says she could easily have been in the same situation as so many of her fellow actors who are on the verge of losing their health coverage, unable to earn enough in recent months to be eligible for SAG-AFTRA insurance plans.
WHAT WILL THIS MEAN FOR ACTING?
Amari Dejoie’s father didn’t want her to follow him into the entertainment business. “They never do,” she quips.
But Dejoie, growing up in Los Angeles, got the bug, and started pursuing acting and modeling at 17. Now 30, she studies acting, paying $400 a month for classes, and takes whatever side jobs she can, including working as an extra on sets. She’s appeared in music videos, and at events as a booth model. She's considering a waitress job to tide her over during the strike.
“My dad was part of SAG back in the day and his residuals paid for a home," says Dejoie, who was manning the picket lines in Los Angeles last week. “It’s the same business, and (yet) it’s completely different now.”
Her father, Vincent Cook, was a boxing double for Will Smith on “Ali,” and had a role in “B.A.P.S.,” with Halle Berry. “He was not a main character, but his residuals were great and they still are,” Dejoie says, nothing that recently, after undergoing a medical issue, he discovered that SAG had a check waiting for him. "If it's up to the studio, they’re not going to hunt you down to pay you. SAG will,” Dejoie says.
Dejoie also is concerned about how artificial intelligence will affect the industry and her work as an extra, where she makes about $150 a day to be available for background shots. Actors fear studios want to scan their images and use them repeatedly after paying for just one day of work.
“Also, if I’m not present on the set, I’m not there making connections for other jobs,” Dejoie says.
More broadly, the idea of actors’ images being replicated artificially makes her afraid for the future of the industry she is just getting started in.
“What will this mean for acting?” she says. “Did I just spend all this time and money for a craft that will one day be obsolete?”
Rico reported from Atlanta. AP journalists Krysta Fauria and John Carucci contributed to this report.