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Samira Wiley has reasons for joining writers-strike picket line: her wife, her Emmy

Emmy-winning actor Samira Wiley, known for her roles in the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” and Hulu’s drama “The Handmaid’s Tale,” was among the many actors who joined picket lines in solidarity with writers on strike at major film and TV studios across the Los Angeles area on Tuesday.

Wiley, a member of SAG-AFTRA (the union that represents actors), is married to Lauren Morelli, a screenwriter and Writers Guild of America member. In conversations with her wife, Wiley said she realized the significance of the strike — the first of its kind in 15 years — only in the last few days.

“And I got really angry,” she told The Times while catching a break in the shade of a Warner Bros. Studio building along Olive Avenue in Burbank, holding a SAG-AFTRA “Unions Stand Together” sign. “It’s for my writer friends who are having a difficult time literally living.”

After talks for a new contract failed late Monday evening, Tuesday was the first day of the writers strike as thousands of screenwriters marched and chanted for fair compensation and working conditions amid major changes during the boom of streaming at more than a dozen studios and production facilities in New York and the Los Angeles area.

The writers strike has the support of other Hollywood unions, including the Directors Guild of America, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Wiley’s SAG-AFTRA. Her own union’s contract expires June 30, meaning SAG-AFTRA members cannot walk out on their acting jobs and strike until after that date. Even so, the actors union encouraged its members Tuesday to join picket lines in solidarity on their own time off.

“Yeah SAG! Thank you!” some WGA members yelled Tuesday toward other actors-guild members outside Warner Bros., such as veteran actress Lola Scarpitta, who joined the crowd of screenwriters. Scarpitta, who has appeared in shows “Veep” and “The Goldbergs,” said she sees the writers’ fight as also their fight.

“Corporations see an opportunity to bring things back to the 1930s,” she cautioned, referring to that decade’s booming studio system. “When they owned everything and everyone, and say when you can and can’t work.”

Wiley also sees the struggle of writers as intertwined with her own as an actor. She credited much of her onscreen success to the “luck that I found myself in these writers rooms with people who are passionate, who have expertise, and don’t feel like it’s something you can substitute someone else for.”

After winning an Emmy in 2018 for outstanding guest actress in a drama series for her performance in Season 2 of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Wiley said she made sure to reach out to the episode’s writer, Lynn Renee Maxcy.

“I always remember talking to the writer of that episode and being like, ‘Thank you,’ she recalled.

“Because we’re the face of that, but these are all the workhorses,” Wiley added, gesturing to the WGA picket lines.

“This is quite exhilarating, I’m not gonna lie, being able to walk down the streets — I know you can feel alone in the struggle. But really the thing keeping me going is the cars, man, the energy,” Wiley said, as autos and big-rig trucks zoomed by with horns blaring. “L.A. is a union town, and to see the support from everywhere just makes you feel like you’re in the right place at the right time.”

Times staff writer Anousha Sakoui contributed to this report.

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