A-list celebs put careers before solidarity

Many actors have manned the picket lines along with their writing brothers and sisters since the Writers Guild of America strike began Nov. 5. But there has been a notable absence of a small group that under any other circumstance would monopolize it: A-list movie stars.

"Your fight is our fight" has been the Screen Actors Guild's rallying cry to the Writers Guild membership during its two-month strike action. But the top-tier actors have universally declined to pick up a sign. Other than a momentary appearance by Ben Stiller, not a single top-tier movie star -- including some rather high-profile WGA hybrids -- has found it prudent to say or do anything publicly to support the writers' cause.

Yes, such TV and film actors as Laura Linney, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Josh Brolin have shown up on the line or in WGA-supportive United Hollywood videos.

But where's Johnny Depp, Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt, Will Smith and Reese Witherspoon? They've remained deafeningly neutral, as if they were thinking that if they just stayed still and quiet enough, they could wait everybody out and avoid any partisanship.

"They don't want to be branded hypocrites," muses one manager-producer. "Because they're working on movies that are [in production]. Even if there are no writers working on those movies, it's like they're still kind of crossing picket lines to work on them ... I think their publicists, smartly, are telling them to not take a side. Do you really gain much by taking a side?"

At the same time, the last two months have been a minefield of shuttered TV and film productions, gutted awards shows and late-night shows running on repeats, a fraught environment that has deprived much of the acting community of a crucial aspect of their jobs -- selling audiences on their movies and shows.

So many of them surely exhaled a huge sigh of relief Friday when the WGA announced an interim deal with Worldwide Pants Inc., owner of "Late Show With David Letterman" and "Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson," that would allow those hosts to go back on the air with their full writing staffs.

Much of the rest of the late-night TV landscape -- Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Kimmel, WGA members all -- returns to the airwaves tonight as well but will lunge for the funny without scripted help.

In terms of publicity forums for A-list actors (and the studios who pay them enormous amounts of money), these types of shows are essential.

And this is a critical momentum-building time for award campaigns, when decorated actor-writer-director hybrids such as Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Tom Hanks have Oscar-potential movies they need to hawk -- "Gone Baby Gone," "Michael Clayton" and "Charlie Wilson's War," respectively. Which is why Letterman and Ferguson's coming back with Writers Guild approval is such a godsend to conflicted stars.

Now, with the explicit encouragement of the WGA, as well as SAG President Alan Rosenberg, movie stars will be able to do what they need to do to shill for a project and still look principled, as long as they stick to Letterman and Ferguson.

If not, these marquee names would be stuck in the awkward position of having to cross picket lines to promote their award-worthiness, which could come at the expense of the men and women who gave them a reason to be in front of a camera -- and on Jay's couch -- in the first place.


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