Sean Penn Returns To ‘Gaslit’; Compromise Is That Entire Crew Is Covid Vaccinated For Two Weeks He Has Left To Shoot

Sean Penn, Julia Roberts Mega

EXCLUSIVE: Sean Penn came back to work today on Gaslit, Starz’s UCP-produced Watergate limited series he stars in with Julia Roberts.

Deadline revealed back in July that Penn had decided that with all the work his CORE organization has done with Covid testing and vaccinations since the onset of the pandemic, he could not in good conscience return to work until everyone on the production had been vaccinated for the virus. Especially as the highly contagious Delta variant had just begun to rage seriously enough that Los Angeles had re-imposed indoor mask wearing, with cases among the unvaccinated spiking again at alarming levels across the country.

While the production continued to shoot without Penn, he and the studio finally reached a compromise. The entire crew he is working with today is vaccinated.

Gaslit’s studio, NBCUniversal, had just imposed mandatory vaccinations but limited them to “Zone A,” which constitutes the cast and those who come in close proximity. An email was sent to cast and crew Wednesday informing that an on-site clinic was made available to provide free Covid vaccinations, done by the same vendor offering vaccinations to NBCUniversal and production crews on the upper lot. The memo said several vaccine choices were available and that the vendor would be back in 21 days to administer a second dose, if necessary. The memo also asked members of the production to present evidence of vaccination to the Covid testing team when they show up for their next shift on the production.

This was not sufficient to Penn, and insiders at the time said he was not doing this to embarrass the studio or out of fears he and other stars might get exposed. Penn had been fully vaccinated, and this was about principle. He volunteered to have CORE facilitate the vaccinations, free of charge, but he wanted them to be mandatory. That created the stalemate. It put NBCUniversal in a spot — like every studio, it has gone as far as possible with safety protocols, but could not legally go beyond terms negotiated between Hollywood unions and major companies that limited vaccinations on films and TV productions only for Zone A.

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Penn’s stand certainly was prescient. The pandemic is not coming under control because of those who refuse to get vaccinated, and it still is regarded as a polarizing political issue fomented by disinformation spread on the internet, something that wasn’t an issue when vaccines were developed and disseminated to eradicate polio, smallpox and other scourges. Vaccinations slowly are evolving from a personal choice to a requirement, and holdouts are faced with hard choices including higher medical costs and loss of jobs. It is undeniable that hospitals are filled with Covid patients who have doggedly resisted the vaccines, and children who cannot yet get jabbed are coming down with the virus.

I am in Hawaii right now, and you will not be seated in a restaurant without showing proof of vaccination, with masks also mandatory.

In Gaslit, Penn plays Richard Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell, with Roberts playing his wife Martha, in a drama inspired by the Slate podcast Slow Burn. Penn and his CORE cohorts spent the year and a half working with city and state officials to make testing available early on, and then helped facilitate vaccinations when they became available. The result has been around 5.3 million tests and 1.7 million vaccines administered.

The series is created by Robbie Pickering and Mr. Robot’s Sam Esmail, with Matt Ross directing.

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