*Author’s note: The SAG–AFTRA strike ended with a tentative deal on Thursday, November 9. Already, actors have been flocking to do press appearances on late–night shows and promoting their work on social media, demonstrating the importance of press to a movie’s success and how the strike imposed on actors’ awards chances.
An actor is usually required to perform in between “action” and “cut.” However, the job of an actor, particularly in today’s industry, demands a performance that extends beyond a soundstage, and into the press. They charm interviewers at press junkets, woo voting parties at lavish luncheons and parties, and share meticulously crafted narratives in the hopes of snagging a coveted award. This year, however, with the SAG–AFTRA strike still raging, award campaigns have been effectively halted. Part of the strike requires actors to not promote their work, which means that they can’t post about upcoming projects on social media or do the press appearances now custom for major film releases, such as going on late–night talk shows or talking at screenings of their films. In the face of the strike, many of Hollywood’s big players are at a disadvantage, but with any major industry shake–up, there are definitive “winners” and “losers.”
Independent films, particularly films distributed by A24, have benefited from the strike, as the major studios cannot use their larger arsenal of resources in campaigning (as they usually do). One film that has received an exemption and has benefited greatly from it is Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, a biopic about Priscilla Presley. Newcomer Cailee Spaeny, who won the Best Actress Award at the Venice Film Festival for her portrayal of Priscilla, Jacob Elordi (who has evolved from Kissing Booth heartthrob to Euphoria villain to now, Elvis), and Coppola herself have been doing extensive press, charming voters and audiences, and with much less competition than they might have had otherwise. The film has also been aided by several press appearances by Priscilla Presley herself, who serves as an executive producer for the film and gave her stamp of approval on Coppola’s finished product. In a year crowded with heavy hitters like Oppenheimer, Barbie, and Killers of the Flower Moon, this solo attention for Priscilla may be exactly what it needs to be a real contender for awards season.
LOSER: Bradley Cooper
The sting of Bradley Cooper losing Best Actor for A Star is Born at the 2019 Oscars to Rami Malek’s fake teeth in Bohemian Rhapsody still burns. Even worse, Cooper was snubbed for a Best Director nomination that same year. This year, Cooper is surely trying to remedy both of those Academy mistakes with his Leonard Bernstein biopic, Maestro, which he directs and stars in. The film has been receiving rave reviews, and if Cooper (and co–star and fellow Oscar hopeful Carey Mulligan) were able to do press, they’d both be able to build up excellent campaign narratives. Unfortunately, Cooper cannot speak on his performance or the direction of the story, and so right now, his work will have to speak for itself. It may be the biggest disappointment of the awards season thus far, but hopefully Cooper will be able to do some press by the time Oscar voting takes place.
WINNER: Emma Stone’s “Not Press” Press
Emma Stone’s performance in Yorgos Lanthimos’s new film Poor Things received wide acclaim, and Stone is currently predicted to win another Best Actress Oscar for her performance. Unfortunately, due to the strike, she is currently unable to talk about the film and deploy her signature “Emma Stone charm” on the press and Academy voters. That said, Stone has been able to strategically be seen and “talk” at buzzy film events without discussing Poor Things. First, she showed up at the Venice Film Festival, where Poor Things premiered and won the Golden Lion, the festival’s highest award. She did not promote the film, but was there simply as a “patron.” She also crashed a screening of Lanthimos’s short film Bleat at the New York Film Festival, where she spoke, crucially, not at all about Poor Things. Some online took issue with Stone’s obvious plays to garner press while circumventing the rules of the strike; to those people, I call upon the adage, “don’t hate the player, hate the game.”
WINNER: Martin Scorsese
It would seem that not being able to trot out Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro for press would be deeply damaging for Martin Scorsese’s new three–and–a–half hour epic, Killers of the Flower Moon. However, the film has a secret weapon: Scorsese. Thanks in large part to his daughter Francesca’s amazing TikTok videos, Scorsese has been doing a ton of press to make up for the absence of his stars. Scorsese has been making the rounds doing solo press, and also just released a Chanel commercial starring Timothee Chalamet—not bad timing for Marty. The film is not breaking barriers at the box office, but the film is getting significant attention, and Scorsese’s stature will certainly help it be a serious contender for this year’s awards, even without Leo doing heavy lifting in the media.
LOSER: Everyone on Television
The Emmys have also been hit by the strike, and therefore everyone on television right now will be burdened with not being able to campaign. As the Emmys become nearly as competitive as the Oscars, campaigning has become increasingly important. The strike will certainly impede on lesser–known shows and actors from standing a chance against HBO’s juggernauts like The White Lotus and Succession. The Emmys have also already been significantly delayed, which could further slow momentum for shows and create excitement around the next season (or, in the case of some shows, justify a next season).