The stage was different, and so was the tone. But the voice was unmistakable.
Fran Drescher, the owner of a distinctly nasal, Queens-inflected accent, made her name in Hollywood for her starring role in the sitcom “The Nanny.” On Thursday, she appeared in front of dozens of cameras as the president of the actors’ union, which voted unanimously earlier in the day to strike, making a fiery argument presenting the stake of the decision.
“The eyes of the world and especially the eyes of work are upon us,” Ms. Drescher said. “What happens to us is important. What happens to us happens across all fields of work.”
She shook her fists in indignation. “I’m shocked at the way the people we’ve been doing business with are treating us!” she continued. “It’s disgusting. Shame on them!”
Ms. Drescher is the latest in a long line of familiar faces — Ronald Reagan, Patty Duke and Charlton Heston among them — to run SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents tens of thousands of screen actors. But it adds up to a surprising plot twist in her long career.
As Thursday’s press conference made clear, she is now a leading face of a resurgent labor movement nationwide. How she handles it in the coming weeks, and perhaps, months could help determine the fate of 160,000 actors.
The actors’ strike, which will take effect on Friday, marks a crisis point for Hollywood, which has already been shaken in recent years by the pandemic and sweeping technological changes with the rise of streaming and the steady decline of cable TV and the box office. comes back Hollywood writers have been on strike for months, and with actors now joining them – the first time since 1960 that both have gone on strike at the same time – the industry will essentially grind to a halt.
Ms. Drescher, 65, spent decades acting in Hollywood, both in television and film. Since her starring role in “The Nanny” in the 1990s, by far her most prominent role, she has appeared sporadically in television and feature films. She most recently starred in a short-lived sitcom for NBC called “Indebted,” which ran for 12 episodes before it was canceled in 2020.
She has long voiced concerns about corporate greed, captioning photos with slogans like “STOP CAPITALIST GREED NOW.” It was enough for New York Magazine to put a headline in a 2017 blog post“Your New Favorite Anti-Capitalist Icon Is Fran Drescher.”
A few years later, in 2021, Ms. Drescher won election to the guild presidency in a deeply contested race against the actor Matthew Modine. They represented different factions: Ms. Drescher for the establishment Unite for Strength Party, and Mr. Modine for an initial group, Membership First.
The race became so bitter that Mr. Modine accused Ms. Drescher of spreading falsehoods about him and reportedly said, “I’m ashamed of Fran Drescher, I’m disappointed. But she will be judged by the people in the world after she is gone, or by whatever God she worships.”
Unlike the screenwriters, who have gone on strike many times over the decades and have historically been unionized, actors have been better known for their intramural bickering. Hollywood has been preparing for a writer’s strike since the beginning of the year – but few senior executives and producers were prepared for the actors’ decision to go ahead with it.
When Mrs. Drescher came to power she promised to unite the union and bring to an end to the “dysfunctional division in this union.”
When the actors agreed to strike authorization, it was with 97.9 percent of the vote—a stunning figure that even eclipsed the writers’ significant strike authorization. Last month, Membership First, the opposition party, approved Ms. Drescher’s re-election bid.
However, some of her public statements and actions in recent weeks have confused many actors.
In late June, days before the actors’ contract was to expire, Ms. Drescher and the union’s chief negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, released a video that struck many viewers as surprisingly optimistic given the high stakes of the negotiations.
“I just want to assure you that we are having extremely productive negotiations that are laser-focused on all the crucial issues that you told us are most important to you,” she said, wearing a military jacket. “We stand strong, and we will reach a groundbreaking agreement!”
Just days later, more than 1,000 actors, including Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence, signed a letter expressing concerns to union leadership that they had not taken into account their willingness to strike. “We hope that, on our behalf, you will meet that moment and not miss it,” the letter said.
Mrs. Drescher — curiously, given her position — added her signature to the letter.
On Monday, days before the actors’ contracts were to expire, Ms. Drescher drew attention to another front: She attended a Dolce & Gabbana fashion show in Puglia, Italy, where she posed for photos with Kim Kardashian. To her 362 million Instagram followers, Ms. Kardashian said of Ms. Drescher: “To my fashion icon! Always on my mood board! I seriously love this woman!”
The backlash was swift and swift. The “General Hospital” actress Nancy Lee Grahn asked if the photo was a joke. “I hope that’s not true. It can’t be. No one could be that stupid,” she wrote on Twitter.
In a statement, a spokesman for the actors’ union said Ms. Drescher works as a “brand ambassador” for Dolce and Gabbana, and that the commitment was “fully known to the negotiating committee.” Mr Crabtree-Ireland called criticism of Ms Drescher’s appearance at the fashion show “scandalous” and “despicable”.
Ms. Drescher addressed the issue at the press conference on Thursday. “It was absolute work,” she said, adding that she continued to communicate with negotiators from abroad. “I was in hair and makeup for three hours a day, walking in heels on cobblestones. To do such things, which is work. Not funny.”
While Mr. Crabtree-Ireland spoke at the news conference from a teleprompter, Ms. Drescher spoke from the cuff.
“Wake up and smell the coffee,” she said of the studios. “We demand respect! You cannot exist without us!”
“They are standing on the wrong side of history at this very moment,” she continued, pointing her finger sharply at the camera’s edges. “We stand in solidarity in unprecedented unity. Our union, our sister unions, and the unions around the world, stand by us.”