When Carol Burnett steps onstage January 30 at the SAG Awards to accept the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award, somebody from the union should be waiting backstage to hand her a check. She and dozens of other stars expected to attend the guild’s annual awards show are owed unclaimed residuals that were paid by productions to SAG-AFTRA. The union is holding these funds for the actors, but can’t seem to locate them. Even though they are hiding in plain sight.
Eddie Redmayne, nominated this year for The Danish Girl – and who won SAG’s Best Actor award last year for The Theory Of Everything – is owed unclaimed SAG residuals for past projects, and so are Johnny Depp, who this year is nominated for Black Mass, and Nicole Kidman, who is nominated for Grace Of Monaco. Maggie Smith, nominated for Downton Abbey, has money waiting for past work, as do nominees Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell; Game Of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage; Louis C.K., who is nominated for Louie; and Ray Liotta, who is nominated for Texas Rising.
A spokesperson for SAG-AFTRA said there are many reasons a performer’s residuals checks go unclaimed. “Since people move and addresses change, residuals checks are occasionally returned to the union as undeliverable by the postal service, or if it is unclaimed for some other reason, and the checks are deposited into a custodial fund where the funds are held until we identify/locate the proper payee. There are a number of reasons why that process may be difficult and can take some time – even when the potential recipients are well-known.
“We may be holding money in trust for ‘known’ performers for several reasons, including a bad address or as a result of mail returned for other reasons; unresolved estate issues, or an inactive or dissolved loan out corporation which may request and be pending action on the part of the member. Quite often, residuals may be waiting simply for a recipient or their agent to formalize a change of address.”
Burnett is not the only recipient of the guild’s highest honor who have unclaimed SAG residuals coming to them. Kirk Douglas, who received the award in 1999, is owed money, and so are heirs of former SAG Lifetime Achievement Award recipients Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, Danny Kaye, Walter Pidgeon, Stan Laurel, Ricardo Mantalban, Leon Ames, Martha Raye, Edgar Bergen, Ossie Davis and Charles Durning.
To get some idea of how many thousands of actors are owed, a check of the union’s website shows there are more than 2,000 people named John who have money coming to them; more than 1,500 Roberts and Michaels; more than 1,300 Davids, 500 Marys and more than 300 Susans and Jennifers.
The SAG-AFTRA spokesperson noted that the union isn’t required to pay interest on the money it’s holding for its members – and may even charge them a fee. “The union is not obligated to pay interest on the funds in trust and may charge and deduct a reasonable fee to cover its expenses of collection, distribution and administration,” she said.
Since the merger of SAG and AFTRA in 2012, she said, “We’ve seen a more than 100% increase in the number of checks processed to performers – from 1.5 million several years ago to approximately 3.5 million last year. We’re thrilled to be shortening the processing times even as we enhance our efforts to locate potential recipients of unclaimed funds.”
More than 20 members of ensemble casts nominated this year also have residuals coming to them that were paid in good faith to the union by the film companies, but are just sitting there. Here are some examples of actors who are now in nominated productions, but keep in mind they might well be owed money for other projects, and these SAG nominees did nothing wrong:
House Of Cards
Game of Thrones