A month ago — even a week ago — the idea that Fran Drescher was the perfect person to meet the moment as SAG-AFTRA president, as the union declared a strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, would not have been a popular one. The actress best known for playing the title character on The Nanny has enjoyed an incredibly rocky tenure since being elected president of the actors' union in 2021, one that's included a controversial stance on vaccine mandates, a questionable selfie with Kim Kardashian, and a kick in the behind from Meryl Streep.
That was all before SAG-AFTRA voted to go on strike starting July 14, and Drescher subsequently gave an incendiary, rousing, and most importantly, incredibly watchable six-minute address. Mere days earlier, Drescher was seen as a weak leader who was going to give too much away in the negotiations; she then became a fire-breathing dragon, breaking out Titanic metaphors and getting clipped all over social media. This is the version of Drescher best equipped to serve her union's needs.
Unsurprisingly, in an industry built on star power, the actors' union benefits a lot from its members' natural gifts during a work stoppage. And Drescher has always been great television, whether it's as the flashy girl from Flushing on The Nanny or making a meal out of the Drama Desk Awards nominations. She's always possessed a brassy, forthright quality, in character and out of it, sometimes bordering on camp, like she's playing herself in quotation marks. She's played characters who were deeper than their accouterments would indicate, and underestimating her has never been a good idea.
Drescher's always held on to a little bit of Fran Fine in her personal appearances. Her speech last Friday was an immediate reminder that this quality would be a huge asset in the upcoming fight. Her passion was evident, and her delivery backed up the speech's strong language in passages like this:
"I cannot believe it, quite frankly: How far apart we are on so many things. How they plead poverty, that they’re losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them."
The "shame on them" sound bite got a lot of play on social media, as did her invoking of the ”rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” visual. And while it won't be Twitter users who end up deciding the outcome of this labor action, winning the public relations battle is no small consideration. Drescher is a viral video waiting to happen every time she speaks in front of a mic.
This was, to be sure, not at all the predicted course of events. Drescher had been getting bad press in the months leading up to the vote. Taking her controversial stance against vaccine mandates, Drescher made comments that appeared to adopt anti-vaxxer language. And that was before SAG-AFTRA membership expressed concern about Drescher during the negotiations with the AMPTP. More than 400 actors, including boldface names like Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence, signed an internal letter urging Drescher and union leadership not to play softball with the studios. "We are concerned by the idea that SAG-AFTRA members may be ready to make sacrifices that leadership is not," the letter read.
Drescher continued to raise wary eyebrows as recently as the weekend before the strike vote, when she appeared to have left negotiations to attend a starry Dolce & Gabbana event in Italy. There, she was photographed alongside Kim Kardashian, leading to vocal pushback from folks in Hollywood for the brutal optics of the trip and photo, the latter of which some said had "some real let them eat cake vibes."
That was a week ago — in seven days, Drescher has gone from Marie Antoinette to Norma Rae, and while neither one may be the most accurate assessment of her worth at the negotiating table, it's an important reminder that in a dispute like this, optics and advertising matter. SAG-AFTRA getting its message out matters. Having a 90-second clip from The Nanny about the working-class values of never crossing picket lines going viral over the weekend matters:
Fran Drescher, as The Nanny, on crossing picket lines pic.twitter.com/jajSrlYkNd— Screen Slate (@ScreenSlate) July 13, 2023
However long this work stoppage is going to go, having a firebrand personality advocating the union's position on TV, in memes, and from a sitcom three decades in the past is a good thing. SAG-AFTRA's message will travel farther on the familiar, oft-parodied voice of Fran Drescher.
Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.