News stories about the actors’ union strike often spotlight high-wattage stars like Fran Drescher, Kevin Bacon and Jennifer Garner.
But most rank-and-file members of SAG-AFTRA don’t go home to a Hollywood mansion or Manhattan penthouse after the rallies — including a Concord mom who says sticking up for her principles is starting to hit her in the pocketbook.
“I’m a fifth-generation Concordian, [and] my kids are sixth-generation,” says actor and union member Megan Carroll. “I have pretty deep roots here in the town.”
It’s only been a few years since Carroll joined SAG-AFTRA, which went on strike in July over working conditions, pay and the use of artificial intelligence.
Since then, she’s joined the union’s strike rallies and events, including a turn as a featured speaker at a Boston Common gathering. “It’s pretty evident that our power is our numbers, and so being asked to speak in front of like 500 people was a little scary — because I really only like to speak if there’s an editor involved,” deadpanned Carroll (who’s also done standup comedy).
Bottom line, “We are just trying to make a living,” she says. “There are 4,000 actors in New England who are in SAG … It’s not like everything’s in New York and L.A.”
Carroll got her start on camera as a member of the Concord-Carlisle High School Class of 1998: “I worked over at Papa Razzi as my first job, as a hostess. And I got offered to be a model for this woman’s wedding dress line, which, looking back on it, is kind of funny — you know, 16 and being a teen bride model.”
These days, “I’ll do anything from [working as] a day player to a stand-in, which is kind of my bread and butter,” she says. “As a stand-in, I get hired to work with the crew and the director. It’s like free film school.”
In that role, Carroll physically represents another actor for lighting, blocking, and timing of scenes before filming begins. The gig that required her to become a union member, she says, was standing in for Mary Bruce of ABC News at a 2020 Democratic debate in New Hampshire.
Carroll received the union’s “must-join” letter the day after pandemic stay-at-home orders went into effect. She spent some of the Covid lockdown doing online standup shows — “It’s really hard to do comedy on Zoom” — and ultimately joined SAG-AFTRA in July 2021.
Since then, “I’ve been nonstop,” she says. “I’ve worked in over 40 productions, and I’ve worked all over New England, New York a bunch, and California once, so it’s been pretty cool.” She’s also caught the wave of the Hallmark movie craze: “In 2021, I was in like five different Christmases.”
Carroll moved back to Concord with her two young kids in 2015 when she divorced and “ended up having to completely switch careers.” She worked in aviation — and suffered a grievous head injury while on the job as a gate agent. Recovery took a year.
At the time, “I wasn’t in a union, and it was one of the most horrific experiences I’ve ever been through,” she says, “so I think that’s why I got so involved in the union here.”
Carroll is also deeply concerned about the industry’s embrace of artificial intelligence: “I had already been scanned for AI and it was kind of freaky, because I just didn’t know [what] they were gonna do with my scans, [and] nobody could answer that question for me,” she says.
“They can change my hair, my clothes, they can make me do things that I never did. It’s absolutely terrifying — and they don’t have to pay me for it,” Carroll says. “The dream for the producers is that they can just use us forever and never have to pay us again, and not have to pay real people to be in movie scenes.”
Before the strike, Carroll was already juggling the responsibilities of a working mom. “Luckily, my parents live close by and they’re an incredible help, and the community [is] really wonderful,” she says. “That’s really the only way I’ve been able to do it — because it’s not like I get paid enough to afford childcare.”
AMPTP, which represents the production companies, says its priority is to end the standoff and the associated “hardships that so many people and businesses that service the industry are experiencing.”
Carroll, who’s been dipping into her savings while out on strike, hopes it ends soon too — but if it doesn’t, she’ll says she’ll have to look for other temporary work.
“I didn’t think the strike would last this long,” she says, “but now that it has, I’m not sure what’s next.”