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Are The Publicists On Strike Too
The Friday Post.
There was no Tuesday post this week because I felt very burnt out. But this Friday Post is extra long! And there will be chats in the app about Morning Show and RHONY this weekend :)
For months now, the entertainment industry has been at a standstill due to the major studios and streamers’ refusal to negotiate with the unions representing striking writers and actors. But a look at the headlines this week and I couldn’t help but wonder … are the publicists on strike too?
After the actor Danny Masterson was sentenced to 30 years in prison for raping two women, Masterson’s That 70s Show costars Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis submitted character letters to the trial’s judge. That they wrote letters is not entirely surprising: in January, Kutcher told Esquire he hoped Masterson would be found innocent, and that he is still close to Masterson’s family. The letters were full of platitudes and non-specific compliments (and Kutcher’s had the de facto two spaces after a period that you would expect from a man who might be a psychopath!).
But just as the letters to the judge were made public, Kutcher and Kunis happened to post ill-timed Airbnb spon. (What says “and we would’ve gotten away with it too if it weren't for you meddling kids!” more than “Mila’s idea to host on @airbnb was a huge success! … #airbnbpartner”)
As the details of the letters went viral and the couple was being criticized, they elected to self-tape their not-quite apology. They are supporters of Masterson working with his defense, so they remain vague on his guilt and the trial’s specifics. Mostly, they make a point that the private letters were not meant for public consumption. “[The letters] were intended for the judge to read and not to undermine the testimony of the victims or re-traumatize them in any way,” Kutcher claims. “We would never want to do that. And we’re sorry if that has taken place.”
Their statement is a two-hander: Kutcher has the kind of CNN-stern, unaffected newsman delivery. Kunis plays the part of barely empathetic HR executive defending your toxic boss. There’s zero production here — no tripod, lighting set-up, or glam — but it only reifies how highly choreographed their words are. This is not the language of someone propping a camera against some coffee table books and recording something in their backyard: “The letters were not written to question the legitimacy of the judicial system or the validity of the jury’s ruling,” Kunis says.
But whatever lawyers who helped them craft this statement are not publicists, and I wonder why they didn’t run this directorial debut by anyone who could’ve foreseen how it would (not) play. Kunis’s overly concerned line-readings and Kutcher’s furrowed brow impatience belie their real concern: for themselves. The video is a doubling down that only magnified how much they believe in Masterson’s innocence. But why, if nothing else, did they insist on doing that on camera?
On Friday, a professional was back at the wheel of the Kutcher-Kunis family’s PR machine. Kutcher resigned from Thorn, the anti-human trafficking organization he founded with Demi Moore. “Victims of sexual abuse have been historically silenced and the character statement I submitted is yet another painful instance of questioning victims who are brave enough to share their experiences,” Kutcher wrote in letter “shared exclusively with” Time magazine.
Meanwhile, the actor Jonathan Majors definitely arrived just in time to break up what was a completely real fight between two high school students. TMZ “obtained” the footage of Major running in from literally nowhere (he claims an In-N-Out Burger across the street) to interrupt two girls minding their own business. Or in TMZ’s telling “Here's the first video of Jonathan Majors playing the hero in real life ... getting right in the middle of an intense high school fight to break things up while several other people just watched.” Well yes … “just watching” is usually what people do when they’re in the audience of a community theater performance.
Call it Miss Velma Kelly in an act of desperation: TMZ trailed Majors, pressing him for details on
breaking up this Bottoms rehearsal intervening in the fight. In April, Majors was dropped by his manager and publicist. The sentient newsboy cap doing his PR certainly had a plan: TMZ published the video the day before Majors is due in court in New York City on misdemeanor charges of harassment and assault.
Drew Barrymore has declined to engage a publicist in the midst of a maelstrom over resuming her daytime talk show will in the middle of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. “I own this choice,” she said in a statement posted on Instagram announcing the show’s return. She continued to own the choice five days later, in a front facing camera recording posted to her Instagram.
Barrymore has repeatedly said that the show’s return will be “in compliance” with the strike rules. That appears to be not even very good spin: Barrymore’s work on the show is under a SAG contract that is different from the SAG contract with the AMPTP currently in dispute (more details from Variety here), but the WGA contract that her writers work under is covered by the strike. Barrymore promises that the show won’t promote struck work, without acknowledging that the show, itself, is struck and to work on it is to cross a picket line.
Acting is not the same as public speaking, and public speaking and the dance of a public apology — which is really just “I hear that you’re mad at me, please stop” — do not go hand in hand. Barrymore, usually uncannily good at telegraphing empathy and concern, is only acting out her self concern. “And no I don’t have a PR machine behind this,” Barrymore says. As if we couldn’t tell! When Ashton Kutcher is lapping you, girl … at least he was off-book when he filmed his self-tape.
My friend Astead has rules for public engagement that he calls Steadys PR. Hung Up rules of PR are sort of similar: there is no circumstance in which you need to turn on a front-facing camera to say something seriously. Front-facing cameras are for jokes. Front-facing cameras are for FaceTimes. And if you, into your front-facing camera, hear the words “I don’t have a PR machine behind me” rolling off your tongue you need to walk into your nearest Sunshine Sachs office and hand over your phone.
(And … aht aht … attenzione sneak! Jimmy Fallon’s pathetic little apology after the Rolling Stone story detailing him being drunk and erratic at work. “It’s embarrassing and I feel so bad. Sorry if I embarrassed you and your family and friends,” he said on a call with staff, per Variety.)
But someone who does not need a publicist and should only share her unfiltered thoughts all the time: Selena Gomez! Watching the VMAs was not part of God’s plan for my life, but I did see the clips of her funny reaction faces going around the following morning. (She frowned at the mention of Chris Brown’s name.)
After the VMAs, Gomez declared (vowed?) that she will “never be a meme again,” and that she’d rather “sit still than be dragged for being” herself. I had to read this message several times before it started to make any kind of sense to me. First of all, being a meme is not up to her. And keep in mind that this is the result of Selena Gomez just sitting still:
A publicist who earned their check this week: Hugh Jackman and Deborra-lee Furness are separating just in time for it to be not-remembered as another divorce summer split.
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What I’m Reading:
Thrilling back and forths between the NYT’s David Marchese and Jann Wenner, wherein Wenner says that he didn’t think any black musicians and/or women musicians are “articulate enough on this intellectual level” of talking about music, an “intellectual level” that he himself cannot ever articulate. (New York Times)
Hasan Minhaj says “the punch line is worth the fictionalized premise” of many of his jokes. I mean … yes and no?? (New Yorker) But this line from his defense, via Variety: “You wouldn’t go to a Haunted House and say ‘Why are these people lying to me?’”
The rare lede to make me jbol. (Read Max)
And Still I Rise: Club Chalamet Edition
Someone who is certainly not — dare I say never — in need of a publicist: the woman behind the iconic Timothée Chalamet fan account, Club Chalamet. Devoted Hung Up readers will recall that I wrote about her a little bit last week.
To commemorate the 22nd anniversary of 9/11, Club Chalamet shared that months before September 11 she turned down a job in the World Trade Center. “Although the money was exceptional, the job was going to steer me in a financial direction that I didn't want.” (Still trying to figure this part out.) “Also, my gut instinct was on high alert to the point that I felt something was terribly wrong about this opportunity,” she continued. “I decline [sic] the job, and I've never done that in my life before or after. Always trust your gut. It's the universe trying to tell you something.” The universe, I presume, was warning the woman who today runs a Timothée Chalamet fan account about 9/11.
I chewed on this for days. I have laughed at this for hours at a time. She deleted it and reposted it again, word for word. On the one hand, this is just some random 57-year-old lady supporting her favorite actor online, kinda. But on the other hand what an iconic display of posting. Why would you say this? What’s more: why would you say it again? But still: Club Chalamet stands.
Threads is an urn. Bluesky is a Teams meeting. But I am so happy to luxuriate in the fact that Club Chalamet refuses to stop posting.
That’s all this week! Thank you for reading. My chin breakout and I bravely returned to TikTok last week icymi
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Have a good weekend!