Speaking role in politics

Strike draws actors into process


Politically active actor Amir Talai lamented that none of the politicians seemed overly concerned about addressing the lack of jobs in the entertainment industry.

"I don't really have any illusions that any of the candidates have anything of meaning to say about Hollywood or the unions or anything in my profession directly," said Talai, noting that when politicians talk about employment, they often are referring to manufacturing jobs in the Midwest.

However, Talai said the WGA strike has drawn actors into politics. "What's really interesting about the strike is that it started getting us politically active locally and realizing that we have to make our voices heard as artists, and I think that, hopefully, that will carry over into national politics and statewide politics."

Talai, who worked on John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, supports Barack Obama in the primary and plans to do phone banking and canvassing for whichever Democratic candidate is nominated.

All of the top three Democratic contenders -- Hillary Clinton, Obama and former senator and 2004 vice presidential candidate John Edwards -- expressed their support of the writers in November. Edwards walked the picket line in front of NBC Studios in Burbank at the beginning of the strike; Clinton showed her support by appearing on David Letterman's show when he returned to the air under a WGA agreement; and Obama said, "I stand with the writers" on Nov. 5.

Obama, however, recently came under fire from IATSE for hiring nonunion stagehands to work his political events, like one in December featuring Oprah Winfrey in New Hampshire. The union said it asked Obama's campaign to move the event to a union-sanctioned venue. The campaign refused to move, and after IATSE threatened to picket, Obama promised to make a pro-union statement and use union venues in the future. IATSE later endorsed Clinton.

Regardless of which candidate left-leaning actors select in the primary, actors can't forget their unique abilities to effect change and become a part of the political process.

Actress Patti Negri has been a poll worker in the Hollywood Hills for 15 years; acting enables her to devote time during the day to support the democratic process.

"Stand up for what you believe in," she advised actors. "We're eloquent and well-spoken, and people listen to us because we know how to command an audience. If you have a passionate view on something, express yourself. That's part of our training."

Talai said actors have another talent to lend to politics.

"What's great about actors is we're used to rejection, so we're perfectly suited to working in politics," he said. "We can make calls and get hung up on, we can knock on doors and have doors slammed in our faces, and we deal with that all day long."

Nicole Kristal is a reporter for Back Stage.