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‘Oppenheimer’ cast walks out of UK premiere after SAG-AFTRA goes on strike

“We know the second it’s called, we’re going home,” Matt Damon said on the red carpet.
/ Source: TODAY

The cast of the upcoming Christopher Nolan film "Oppenheimer" left the United Kingdom premiere early on July 13 after their union declared a strike.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists went on strike partially through the London premiere of the film.

Prior to the screening, the film's leads told press on the red carpet that they had worked out their strategy for an early departure.

“We talked about it,” Matt Damon told Variety on the carpet.

“Look, if it’s called now, everyone’s going to walk obviously in solidarity … Once the strike is officially called, (we’re walking)," Damon said, adding that the red carpet time had been moved up to allow them to partially participate before the union officially went on strike.

"Oppenheimer" UK Premiere - Arrivals
Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh attend the "Oppenheimer" London Premiere on July 13, 2023 in London.Neil Mockford / FilmMagic

"We know the second it’s called, we’re going home,” he told the outlet.

Strike rules prevent actors from working on union sets, auditioning or sending in self-tapes but the rules also say actors cannot promote any current or past work in person or online.

Actor Emily Blunt also spoke to Variety on the red carpet, telling the outlet she planned to join the picket line.

“Obviously we stand with all of the actors and at whatever point it’s called, we’re going to be going home and standing together through it because I want everyone to get a fair deal,” she said.

Kenneth Branagh, who plays physicist Niels Bohr in the film, told Variety that there were "a lot of people here we did not want to disappoint" but they had to stand in solidarity with the strike.

The London red carpet for the upcoming thriller began just before 5 p.m. local time.

As seen in a video shared by Deadline, when Nolan took the stage at the screening, he acknowledged the work by the cast and noted that they had to depart.

"Unfortunately, they're off to write their picket signs for what we believe to be an imminent strike by SAG, joining my guild — one of my guilds — the Writers Guild in the struggle for fair wages for working members of their union," Nolan said.

"Oppenheimer" comes out in the U.S. on July 21, 2023.

SAG-AFTRA is a labor union that represents about 160,000 people in the entertainment industry, including actors, recording artists, radio personalities and other media professionals. In a press conference on July 13, the union confirmed it is on strike against the film and television companies represented by The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

The strike is the first under the performers’ film and TV contract since 1980 and the first time both SAG-AFTRA and the Writer’s Guild of America have been on strike together since 1960. At that time, both the writers and actors were dealing with compensation issues amid the rise of television and together, they won residuals for TV reruns and for broadcast of films on TV.

This time around, both SAG-AFTRA and WGA have cited changing technology and processes around streaming as cause for additional compensation, as well as fairer deals and contracts and provisions about artificial intelligence.

“If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in jeopardy. You cannot change the business model as much as it has been changed and not expect the contract to change too,” SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said during Thursday’s press conference. “I cannot believe … how (the studios) plead poverty, that they are losing money left and right, when they give hundreds of millions to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them.”

In a response, the AMPTP said it presented a deal that offered “historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, and a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses for SAG-AFTRA members.”

“A strike is certainly not the outcome we hoped for as studios cannot operate without the performers that bring our TV shows and films to life,” the AMPTP said in a statement after the strike was confirmed. “The Union has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry.”

Comcast — the corporation that owns TODAY’s parent company, NBCUniversal — is one of the entertainment companies represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.