The Squeeze: Actors on Shrinking Seasons, Residuals and Leaving L.A.
Even familiar faces on TV are having a hard time making ends meet: 'I have to live'
The Squeeze series covers the personal impact on workers making a living in entertainment’s new economy. Earlier installments have focused on producers, writers and below-the-line workers, and advice on How to (Maybe) Save Your Job During Layoffs. The series is for paid subscribers only.
In the fall of 2019, Richard Robichaux was over the moon. The self-described “middle-class actor,” who’s had roles in everything from Law & Order to the Richard Linklater film Boyhood, to Ocean’s Eight, had just been cast as a series regular on the Disney+ teen dramedy Big Shot, created by David E. Kelley, Dean Lorey and Brad Garrett.
Robichaux, a good-natured Texan with a charming Southern lilt, was cast as the high school counselor at an elite girls high school where a Bobby Knight-type NCAA basketball coach (John Stamos) shows up to coach after losing his previous job. For Robichaux, it was the kind of steady, high-profile job that working actors, who hustle to string together gigs in a career that is by definition up-and-down, strive to land.
And then, three episodes into filming, Covid hit. To compensate for the lost work, Disney gave cast members a percentage of their episodic fees in order to “keep the lights on,” Robichaux says. But there was no avoiding the fact that his ability to earn a decent living as an actor had been stopped dead in its tracks.
Indeed, Big Shot didn’t finish filming until February of 2021. “So to do 10 episodes it’s taken three calendar years, and I was on hold and couldn’t do anything else,” says Robichaux, whose contract stipulated that he could not star as a series regular on any other show, and that all acting jobs had to be run by Disney. “They would not want to see me as a pedophile on True Detective,” he jokes.
Worse, because the well-received Big Shot is a streaming show, there haven’t been any generous residual pay-outs. For his work on the first episode of season one, Robichaux made $617 in residuals. He has yet to see payouts on the other nine episodes (he says his episode fee, however, was above the average minimum for a series regular, which is $4,250 a week).
“That’s for being a series regular on a David E. Kelley series on Disney+,” Robichaux says. “I was told, ‘Oh, more’s coming, there’s more coming.’ Where? I have to live.”