Sean Penn Demands Watergate Series Staff Gets COVID Vaccine Before Returning

Sean Penn is refusing to return to work on Gaslight, a new Starz series about the Watergate scandal unless everyone on the production gets a coronavirus vaccine. Penn's demand comes as the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues raging in Los Angeles, where indoor mask-wearing has been mandated again. Penn offered to oversee the vaccination effort for free himself through his Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE) nonprofit.

Gaslight is an NBCUniversal production for Starz, with Julia Roberts also starring. According to Deadline, which first reported on Penn's demand, the studio has mandated vaccinations for staffers in "Zone A," which includes the cast and those who work closely with them. The cast and crew received emails about an on-site clinic offering vaccinations on Wednesday. The crew was asked to present proof of vaccination to the COVID testing team the next time they arrive at the set.

This is not enough for Penn, who left the production temporarily to introduce his film Flag Day at the Cannes Film Festival. The actor, who has been fully vaccinated, believes that everyone involved in the production should be vaccinated, not just Zone A members. If someone from outside that group is unvaccinated and comes in contact with a member of the cast, they could potentially pass on a variant.

Penn's demands could put NBCUniversal in a bind. As Deadline points out, the studio was part of talks between Hollywood unions and major production companies that ended with both sides agreeing that vaccinations could be mandatory. However, the new rules only grant producers "the option to implement mandatory vaccination policies for casts and crew in Zone A on a production-by-production basis." Zone A includes actors working unmasked and the key crew members who work with them directly. Penn has not made a public statement on his demands, but his reps confirmed his decision to Variety.

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Gaslight focuses on the subordinates in the Nixon administration during the Watergate scandal. Penn was cast as President Richard Nixon's Attorney General, John Mitchell. Roberts will play Mitchell's wife, Martha Mitchell. Robbie Pickering and Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) created the series, which was inspired by Slate's Slow Burn podcast. Sources told Deadline producers are sympathetic to Penn's demands, but Universal might not be able to do as he wishes because of the agreements already in place. Penn plays a major role in the show though, so it could be delayed if he continues to hold out.