Sean Penn is demanding that every cast and crew member for the Starz series Gaslit be vaccinated against COVID-19. Until that happens, according to reports in Deadline and Variety, the actor refuses to return to work.

Gaslit explores the Nixon Watergate scandal through the characters of Attorney General John Mitchell (Penn) and his wife, Martha (Julia Roberts). Penn has a few more weeks of filming to go before he wraps, and he recently left to attend Cannes for the premiere of his new film Flag Day. Now, he may not come back.

Currently, the studio NBCUniversal requires mandatory inoculation in “Zone A” cast and crew members: people who work in close proximity to the set. The studio also hosts an on-site vaccination clinic, though it is not required for other zones. Penn wants to extend the sphere of compulsory vaccinations, and he’s offering to facilitate it free of charge through his not-for-profit, the Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE).


The actor has never been shy about his political positions. The way this news was disseminated — his representatives have offered confirmation while Starz and NBCUniversal are staying mum — suggests that Penn wants the fight to play out in public. The events are likely to spur conversation about the balance between individual liberty and collective safety.

56% of all Americans have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, which includes 68% of adults. But relatively few people believe in mandatory vaccination. According to a Morning Consult poll, only 21% of Americans would support making inoculation compulsory. Penn may face an uphill battle.

His nonprofit organization CORE has been working to provide “equitable access to free testing and vaccines across Los Angeles.” In March, CORE hosted the Rock ‘N’ Relief livestream, which raised funds for this mission with the help of Foo Fighters, Carly Simon, Perry Farrell, and more.