The Emmy-nominated actor is a mainstay of many shows that have seen huge success on streaming platforms, such as Euphoria, The White Lotus, and The Handmaid's Tale. Despite this, she has previously said that she would be unable to pay her bills from acting alone.
For context, Sydney spoke to the Hollywood Reporter about wanting to be a young mother last July. "I want to have a family, I’ve always wanted to be a young mom, and I’m worried about how this industry puts stigmas on young women who have children and looks at them in a different light,” she began. “I was worried that, if I don’t work, there is no money and no support for kids I would have. [...] If I wanted to take a six-month break, I don’t have income to cover that."
The 25-year-old further noted the impact of declining residuals on her income: "They don’t pay actors like they used to, and with streamers, you no longer get residuals. The established stars still get paid, but I have to give 5 percent to my lawyer, 10 percent to my agents, 3 percent or something like that to my business manager. I have to pay my publicist every month, and that’s more than my mortgage.”
Indeed, many costs associated with doing the press needed to remain in the popular consciousness — such as travel, styling, and makeup — aren't necessarily covered by studios. As such, Sydney explained that she took on brand deals: “If I just acted, I wouldn’t be able to afford my life in LA. I take deals because I have to.” The profile then emphasized that Sydney was not looking for pity, but rather wanted to be transparent about the state of the industry.
Sydney was widely ridiculed for her comments, with many taking the "six month" comment out of its original context of her inability to take parental leave. "im sorry yall not about to have me pity sydney sweeney like all these actors are very much okay!" one tweet read to the tune of almost 70k likes.
Sydney herself later noted that her quotes had been "skewed," telling Elle, “I was asked if I wanted to have a family, and I said yes. And then, I was asked why I didn’t have one yet, and I was like, I don’t have time to take even, like, a six-month break. Like, I don’t have time to be able to start this family."
Now, the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike has undoubtedly brought the topic of streaming residuals to the mainstream forefront. Many actors have been sharing how little they've made in recent years, including Mandy Moore, who said that she had received "81-cent" checks for This is Us, and Orange Is the New Black's Kimiko Glenn, who shared in 2020 that she got $27.30 in overseas royalties for the Netflix hit.
As Sydney pointed out, residuals were once crucial to an actor's income. As her Anyone But You costar, Glen Powell, put it: "For years, I survived off of residuals while trying to make it as a working actor. This business continues to evolve, and actors’ livelihoods should be protected every step of the way."
Amid SAG-AFTRA's strike terms on fair compensation, some have revisited Sydney's comments. One TikTok with over 100k views, added, "The way people dragged her for saying she cannot afford to take a break [...] that take home [pay] is so small compared to what you could've gotten on network TV 20 years ago."
Another TikTok with over 700k views said, "Mind you, she's been on two giant shows. If she can't take a break, imagine the actors who are just trying to break into the industry now."
You can read more about the SAG-AFTRA strike here and actors' residuals here.