Marvel Star Clark Gregg Says AI Threat Plays Big Role in Strike: ‘We’re Fighting to Keep the Soul in the Art Form’ (Video)

“We’re not just information to be fed into a computer. That’s not what humanity is for,” the actor tells TheWrap from the picket lines

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Among the many sticking points at the heart of SAG-AFTRA and the WGA’s battles for new contracts is the role of artificial intelligence, as it continues to develop. For Marvel star Clark Gregg, keeping that role limited feels a bit like “we’re fighting to keep the soul in the art form” of acting.

Speaking to TheWrap on Day 1 of SAG joining the WGA on strike, Gregg said that, for him, “AI is the scariest” issue, simply because there’s no way to know exactly what it’s going to become or how it will be utilized.

“To have fundamental things like your likeness — when you do a, let’s just say a genre movie, maybe in a superhero universe, there are intense scans done of you all over,” Gregg explained, near the picket lines at Amazon Studios in Los Angeles. “And you know, at some point, they’re probably going to be able to replicate you. That needs to be with your permission, your consent, your involvement.”

He continued: “You know, we’re not just information to be fed into a computer. That’s not what humanity is for. And I think I feel like we’re kind of fighting to keep the soul in the art form.”

You can watch TheWrap’s full conversation with Gregg in the video below.

Gregg wasn’t the only actor on the picket line concerned about AI. Christopher Clawson, another SAG member who also happens to have a master’s degree in innovation and technology from the University of San Diego, hopes to see the unions “come up with a very specific language that will protect performers.”

“The thing that scares me is that the studio’s know more about what these capabilities are, than the union,” Clawson said. “Because they’re the ones who get pitched this stuff, you know? They’re the ones with the deep pockets. And so they’ve seen what this tech can do. It might not be quite ready for primetime now, but in the next two to three, four years tops, it’s gonna be here, you’re not even going to need an actor for a performance.”

The threat of AI was also a major sticking point for background actors. Part of the AMPTP’s proposal included perpetual use of an actor’s performance for AI recreation. In exchange for this, actors would be offered a single day’s pay.

“That’s not forward thinking. That’s putting people out of work,” Sue Berch, a SAG member who was protesting at the Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery strike in New York, told TheWrap. Berch is no stranger to protesting unreasonable working conditions. As a child, she protested with her father, a New York City public school teacher, and she was part of the SAG and AFTRA commercial strike of 2000.

Berch criticized the AMPTP for claiming they don’t know how to pay actors for “new media,” which includes productions from streamers. “That contract has been around for over a dozen years. There’s nothing new about it anymore,” Berch said. “We’re always told, ‘We don’t know how it’s going to shake out, so we don’t know how to price it.’ They’re starting that with AI, and we’re like, ‘We’re not playing that one.’”

Under this proposal, for example, a background actor’s image could be used in a crowd scene even if the actor was never part of that project.

“Just to be clear, under the terms of our current agreement, we don’t agree that they have the right to do that. But they say ‘Well, it’s not in the contract, so we can do it,’” Richard Masur, a member who has served as two terms as president of SAG, told TheWrap during the New York strike of NBCUniversal. “They’re maintaining they can do it because it’s not the actual performance. It’s the digital information, which they have the absolute right to use, which is just crazy.”

Max Goldbaum, a SAG member and working background actor who attended the Netflix and Warner Bros. Discovery strike, sees the issue of AI as something much larger than just a threat to Hollywood. For him, it’s part of a global threat to everyone from writers to Walmart employees. He also sees it as a compelling reason to instate universal basic income.

“We’re going to eventually go towards a society where everything is automated, and people are going to be unemployed,” Goldbaum said. “Unless there’s universal income, a lot of people are going to die.”

Kayla Cobb contributed to this report.

See all of TheWrap’s Hollywood strike coverage here.