New York's Summer Subway Hell: How Hollywood Stars Are Coping

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Paul Giamatti was spotted wilting in transit Aug. 12 on the subway.

Although trains are the place for unsettling sights, Sony Chief Tom Rothman proudly brandished his MetroCard and described his route to a premiere: "It's still the fastest way to get around."

New York City's subway has always been a place for unsettling sights: a rat once crawled on Molly Shannon's foot, Carrie Coon saw a man harassing women in hijab, Bridget Everett saw someone openly masturbating, Katie Aselton witnessed a suicide attempt and producer Akiva Goldsman once spotted a dead body ("The '70s were different," he recalls).

But throughout this summer specifically, commutes have gotten even grimmer (and more pungent) with summer's over-the-top crowding and constant delays. Photos of overcrowded platforms and videos of stalled subway cars (some stuck with no lights or air-conditioning) have gone viral. New Yorker editor David Remnick, who rides the subway daily from the Upper West Side to World Trade Center, recalls that one morning, a fellow commuter who was "dripping chin sweat on me suddenly dropped a container of what appeared to be chop suey on my foot. ... This summer from hell cannot end soon enough.” Asks Jeffrey Tambor, “Is anybody on time for work these days? Boy, what’s going to happen?”

That's a risk the cast of Hamilton won't take. "The entire cast will get a call or text earlier in the day from the stage manager to let us know to travel in a little earlier if something is going on,” says actor Bryan Terrell Clark. “We can’t be late, especially considering how much audiences are paying for tickets."

Industry loyalists remain: Hamlet player Keegan-Michael Key says his ride to The Public Theater has been "relatively unscathed," adding, "The worst I've had it was looking at the train, stopped for some reason, 15 yards away from the platform." Foxcatcher producer Tom Heller, who spotted Steven Zaillian on a recent ride, is also a fan. "Just last week, I found myself sitting near a homeless singer and an Oscar-winning screenwriter. It's always interesting to see such a unique cross-section of New York City in one place."

The proposed solutions to restore the system’s efficiency range from the outrageous — like removing benches during rush hours and adding in-car arrows to steer riders inside individual cars — to the business-minded, as governor Andrew Cuomo announced an Adopt a Station program for companies to sponsor upgrades and mayor Bill de Blasio suggested raising the city’s income tax on its richest residents to fund the fixes.

Others are opting out altogether. Director Marc Webb (The Only Living Boy in New York) has been walking more, after recently suffering through a lengthy delay underground. Jessica Williams, who finds train delays "so upsetting — it's like underground traffic," likes Lyft, where "everybody’s been really nice and they seem to have a lot less controversial things going on than Uber.” The Fat Jewish "can't deal with a delay with Bikram Yoga heat" but still rides with strangers — via Uber carpool. Some, including NBC News foreign correspondent and MSNBC anchor Ayman Mohyeldin and fashion designer Joseph Altuzarra, would relocate to L.A. to avoid the subway altogether. Says Altuzarra: "I just need to get over my fear of merging and exiting.”

But count Sony film chief Tom Rothman among those standing by the subway. In town for the Dark Tower premiere, he proudly brandished his MetroCard and described his route to the venue: "The subway needs improvement and the governor should get on it, but it’s still the fastest way to get around."

Tatiana Siegel, Jackie Strause, Samantha Reed and Rebecca Cohen contributed to this story.

A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.