We’ve turned to teaching, firefighting and even selling Medicare

Leonardo DiCaprio might have spent the summer entertaining models on an eight-week Mediterranean cruise but other actors don’t have it as good during the SAG-AFTRA strike.

In fact, less famous actors and actresses are hustling to make ends meet, moving from acting to driving for Uber, working as a personal trainer or sending out birthday greetings on Cameo. 

Among them is Cheyenne Jackson, who posted a shirtless thirst trap on Instagram on July 24, letting fans know in the most arresting way that he is available on the Cameo app. The post has been deleted since then, and Jackson wouldn’t comment for this story through his publicist.

Hollywood has been officially shut down since May 2, when the earlier Writers Guild of America strike began. 

Leonardo Di Caprio and Tobey Maguire wearing baseball caps in Europe
Leonardo Di Caprio took friend Tobey Maguire for part of his eight-week European yacht vacation — but other striking actors have had to take up side hustles. Di Caprio donated $1m to the union’s strike fund.
Cobra Team / BACKGRID

Di Caprio has been leading a lengthy vacation with Maguire and other friends, stopping off in the small Balearic island of Fortementera for lunch earlier this month.
Cobra Team / BACKGRID

The acting union SAG-AFTRA walked out on July 14, and under the terms of the labor dispute, actors can’t promote their current projects, audition for new ones or attend film festivals or events like ComicCon. 

And as the strike heads into fall, and possibly winter, the situation is getting dire. “Pose” star Billy Porter told the London Evening Standard that he will have to sell his house due to the situation.

“I was supposed to be in a new movie, and on a new television show starting in September,” the Emmy winner said. “None of that is happening. So, to the person who said, ‘we’re going to starve them out until they have to sell their apartments,’ you’ve already starved me out.”

Cheyenne Jackson
Actor Cheyenne Jackson used his Instagram to tell followers that he was available on Cameo, the personal messaging system which is unaffected by the SAG-AFTRA strike.

Julian Gant and Cheyenne Jackson in "Call Me Kat"
Cheyenne starred in “Call Me Kat” with Julian Gant but now has find other ways to make money.
Lisa Rose / FOX

(Porter is also in the midst of a divorce from swimsuit designer Adam Smith after six years of marriage. A request for comment was not returned by Porter’s publicist.)

Even before the SAG-AFTRA strike the struggling actor has always existed. 

Out of SAG-AFTRA’s 160,000 members 87% do not make $26,000 a year, the qualifying threshold to be eligible for the union’s healthcare. 

Billy Porter
Billy Porter said he was selling his New York apartment in the wake of the strike.
Steven Bergman/AFF-USA.COM / MEGA

Emil Beheshti, who has appeared in movies and TV shows like “Ford v Ferrari,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Yellowstone,” “American Crime Story” and “The Resident,” has always had a side hustle since moving to Los Angeles 24 years ago to pursue acting full time. 

The New York native wisely kept a few gigs in his back pocket, including working as a Medicare insurance broker and, until recently, owning a vending machine business.

With the looming double strike, Beheshti, a father of two, added another career to his resume by getting his substitute teaching license last spring. He started teaching in LA area schools at the end of the last semester. 

Emil Beheshti in "Grey's Anatomy"
Emil Beheshti has played multiple roles in TV, including “Grey’s Anatomy” and movies. He has multiple side hustles which are some buffer from the SAF-AFTRA strike, including selling Medicare policies and substitute teaching.
Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

Actors and writers on a joint picket line
Beheshti has also been a regular on the picket lines but he anticipates being in the classroom when schools return in LA next week.
Emil Beheshti/ Facebook

“Studios were preparing for the strikes,” Beheshti said. “No one wanted to get caught in the middle of production, so they started to slow down filming. I had two or three on-camera and voiceover jobs that went through May, but once the WGA strike happened, all television shut down.”

With school starting back up in LA next week, Beheshti anticipates getting called up soon. He’s also leaning into his insurance work more because it’s a steady business.

“Being an insurance broker has always been a side thing,” he said. “It’s not something I ever really advertise. But I’ve kind of enjoyed it secretly. It’s real-world stuff, and a product that everyone needs once they turn 65.”

Ilana Becker and Kylie Victoria Edwards (left) in "Law & Order"
Ilana Becker (right) has appeared in a string of movies and shows, including “Law & Order,” but is now having to use her own resources with the strike hitting her income.
Peter Kramer/NBC via Getty Images

Ilana Becker as “Irritabelle” for Viberzi, an IBS-D medication. 
Becker is also known for appearing in ads, including as “Irritabelle” for Viberzi, an IBS-D medication, which prompted her to move to e-commerce during the strike.

Ilana Becker pivoted to what she knows best — pitching products. The actress has worked steadily for 15 years on TV shows like “Ghosts,” “Law & Order” and “Odd Mom Out,” but she is recognized most for her commercials, including being the campy spokesperson known as “Irritabelle” for Viberzi, an IBS-D medication. 

The New Yorker is now leveraging her selling skills as an influencer on Instagram, @lanibecker, hawking brands like Stuart Weitzman, Rag & Bone, Ouidad, Laura Geller cosmetics and Mally Beauty.

“What’s unique about this situation is that you have a large swath of actors, me included, who have been fully employed as actors for decades who haven’t had to have side jobs for the majority of their adult lives,” Becker said.

An image from Becker's instagram
Becker is using her Instagram account as a vehicle for e-commerce during the strike.
Ilana Becker / Instagram

An image from Becker's instagram
“If I can do commercials for television, why can’t I do them on my page?” she said.
Ilana Becker / Instagram

“So now we’re forced to look for supplementary income, having not exercised any other skillset.

“In college, I was a waitress for three days and I had a panic attack. I don’t have a driver’s license, so Uber is out. I did Cameo a few years ago but I got some strange requests that made me uncomfortable.”

Selling products through her Instagram aligned with Becker’s passion for storytelling. “If I can do commercials for television, why can’t I do them on my page?” she pointed out.

While Becker wouldn’t divulge how much she is making from affiliate marketing, she noted that the checks can take months to arrive. 

Becker sees a sense of urgency happening as the strike drags on. “We’re at the tipping point where everyone is hanging onto the last vestiges of their income,” she said. 

Ilana Becker joins the SAG- AFTRA picket line
Becker on the SAG- AFTRA picket line. “We’re at the tipping point,” she says.
Getty Images

For “Orange Is The New Black” star Alysia Reiner, the strike has been an opportunity to give back, namely to her Fire Island, New York, community, where she took shelter with her family during the pandemic. 

The Saltaire resident spent this summer working as a volunteer firefighter and ambulance driver. 

It’s an essential need; the town has no cars, police or hospital. In the fall of 2021, Reiner took New York State’s Firefighter 1, a three-month intensive course. 

The final exam included a four-hour written test and a four-hour physical exam with tasks like climbing a ladder wearing 80-pounds of equipment and blindfolded maneuvers. 

Alysia Reiner plays Natalie “Fig” Figueroa in "Orange Is The New Black."
Alysia Reiner played Natalie “Fig” Figueroa in “Orange Is The New Black.” Now she is unable to act so is focused on giving back to her Fire Island community.

The “Ms. Marvel” actress graduated in December 2021 and then passed the state’s EVOC training this past June, allowing her to drive emergency vehicles.

“I’ll either be lying on the beach or with friends having dinner, and all of a sudden, the siren will go off and we run to the firehouse, and we are of service,” Reiner noted. This summer, she even drove a shark bite victim to the hospital. 

“I feel plugged into a community, which is very much what we as actors miss when we’re not allowed to be on set,” the “How To Get Away With Murder” series regular said. “And I feel plugged into being of service and making a difference.”

The busy actress wouldn’t normally have the time to be so active with her volunteer firehouse. “Last summer I shot three movies,” Reiner said.

Alysia Reiner, ambulance driver.
Reiner (second from left) has used the strike downtime to qualify for driving emergency vehicles.
Courtesy of Alysia Reiner

Alysia Reiner in firefighter unuiform
She is also a fully-qualified firefighter and says the strike has given her a chance to give back to her commnity.
Courtesy of Alysia Reiner

“I’m very, very, very lucky because I’m a working actor, so it’s rare that I go more than a couple weeks without some kind of a gig. So, this has really helped me from pulling my hair out.”

She’s also an activist, who has been a familiar sight on the SAG-AFTRA picket lines in both New York and LA. 

Known for her role as Natalie “Fig” Figueroa on “Orange Is The New Black,” she has been vocal about the inequity of residuals on streaming services, especially considering her show boosted a then fledgling Netflix’s platform ten years ago and won multiple awards. 

“We helped build their brand,” Reiner emphasized.

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