From James Dean’s fatal spin in the 1950s to Mel Gibson’s 87mph drunk driving in the noughties and Lindsay Lohan’s pranging of a Porsche on California’s Pacific highway this summer, the combination of Hollywood stars and cars has often been inglorious - and sometimes tragic.
Indeed so unfortunate is the perceived record of actors behind the wheel that they are ranked alongside journalists and footballers in official actuarial charts of recklessness – and are charged sky-high premiums for motor insurance.
Now the profession’s public voice, Equity, is challenging what it claims are outdated assumptions about its members’ prowess on the roads - and says it has found evidence that insurers are penalising them out of “prejudice” rather than a cool-headed assessment of the facts.
The trade union for thespians has become so angry with Britain’s £33bn-a-year insurance industry that it has launched a national campaign urging its members to demand a better deal.
According to Equity, which has 36,000 full and 5,000 student members, actors are not just charged high rates for motor insurance but are often refused cover entirely.
In one recent example, actor Branko Tomovic, whose credits include the TV series Casualty and A Touch of Frost, was refused car hire because of insurance problems.
“The company I spoke to didn’t even ask me what I was using the car for,” he told The Stage newspaper. “Many other professions have the same schedule as an actor. Any self-employed person has to be flexible and be able to work at night or in the day.”
Equity decided to launch the campaign at a recent board meeting at which the issue provoked animated discussion, after being deeply unconvinced by the industry’s explanation for why actors were being charged more.
In a letter to the union, the director general of the trade body the Association of British Insurers, Otto Thoresen, explained: “For actors, we have been told that they are much more likely to be involved in a collision than for most other occupations.”
The ABI said this was “probably” due to actors driving long distances and late at night when touring and the possibility of expensive claims from giving colleagues a lift – as well as the risk of settling a claim involving a high-earning star.
However when asked to share the underlying “actuarial data” demonstrating the higher risk, the ABI admitted that no single insurer had “a large enough number of actors as customers to be able to draw reliable statistical conclusions from their claims history”. As a result, Mr Thoresen said, underwriters had to draw conclusions about the increased risk “from what they know”.
Malcolm Sinclair, Equity president, responded with a sharply-worded attack on the industry on behalf of his members, most of which earn well below Hollywood wages.
He said: “Being charged high insurance premiums or being refused insurance altogether is something which blights actors’ lives and I am appalled that it is based not on clear data but on supposition and prejudice.
“This must stop and I appeal to Equity members to make their views known to the Association of British Insurers.”
The Financial Ombudsman Service, which investigates malpractice in personal finance, said it could not take up a grievance on behalf of the entire acting profession, but would pursue complaints from individuals.
Equity is calling for aggrieved actors to lodge complaints to FOS, whose service is free, and to write letters of protest to the ABI.
The average annual motor insurance premium for an actor so far this year was £1,049 a year, according to price comparison site Confused.com.