Sydney Sweeney talks in-depth about the financial cost of being an actress

Sydney Sweeney is both an “up-and-coming” young actress and a veteran actress at the age of 24. She’s already had significant roles in The Handmaid’s Tale, Euphoria, The White Lotus, and she’s currently filming Madame Web. Sweeney isn’t a nepotism baby – she came from a lower-middle-class family in Washington State, and her family moved to LA when she was 13 so she could work. Any kind of financial success didn’t come until about three or four years ago, and it’s abundantly clear in Sweeney’s THR cover story that she still thinks about and worries about money constantly. Her comments about money have become a big conversation in and out of Hollywood. Some highlights from THR:

Trying to book jobs as a teenager: “The rejection you get while you’re trying to learn to be yourself is insane. It’s insane how adults look at you.”

She still feels like a Hollywood outsider: “I had no idea getting into this industry how many people have connections. I started from ground zero, and I know how f–king hard it is. Now I see how someone can just walk in a door, and I’m like, ‘I worked my f–king ass off for 10 years for this.’”

Her parents’ marriage fell apart because of money: “I thought that if I made enough money, I’d be able to buy my parents’ house back and that I’d be able to put my parents back together. But when I turned 18, I only had $800 to my name. My parents weren’t back together and there was nothing I could do to help.”

When she’s asked about her rumored engagement to Jonathan Davino: She declines to comment on her relationship status and doesn’t wear a ring to the interview. “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. I was worried that, if I don’t work, there is no money and no support for kids I would have.”

The negotiator: There’s no longer a pressure to say yes to every offer, and she’s learned not only to negotiate her salary but to revel in the process of standing up for herself, yet she’s filling her schedule with as many movies and series as she can pack in. “If I wanted to take a six-month break, I don’t have income to cover that. I don’t have someone supporting me, I don’t have anyone I can turn to, to pay my bills or call for help.”

HBO paychecks aren’t what they used to be: “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.”

She takes modeling jobs to support herself: To stay relevant as a young actress, particularly one so deeply entrenched in and reliant on the internet generation, requires investment. There’s a lot of press to do, and the associated costs — styling, tailoring, hair and makeup, travel — aren’t always covered by a network. She says this is what motivated her pivot into brand deals, taking gigs as a Miu Miu ambassador and starring in an Armani beauty campaign: “If I just acted, I wouldn’t be able to afford my life in L.A. I take deals because I have to.”

She bought a house, but not in a ritzy gated community: She deadpans that she maxed out with this home purchase; there’s nothing left for a gate. “I couldn’t believe I was even able to buy a house. I want to be able to stay there.”

[From THR]

I wonder if she’s already gotten some calls from HBO higher ups, and I wonder if her comments were slightly pointed about how (I believe) Zendaya is making bank on Euphoria, but the other actors aren’t. I also wonder if SAG-Aftra shouldn’t negotiate some better residuals deals for actors whose works end up on streaming, because that seems like a huge actors-union issue. I appreciate that she’s talking about the real costs of being a young, working actress, and it reminded me of… well Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent tone-deaf, privileged comments about how she has to work twice as hard because she’s a product of nepotism. Gwyneth probably thinks her journey was similar to Sydney’s too.

Photos courtesy of THR.

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65 Responses to “Sydney Sweeney talks in-depth about the financial cost of being an actress”

  1. Snuffles says:

    Not dismissing anything Sydney said because she makes very valid points, but I believe Zendaya is an executive producer on Euphoria and that’s why she gets paid more.

    • Betina says:

      Totally agree. And, Zendaya’s opportunity cost is a lot higher too. If she wasn’t making euphoria, she could have said yes to (insert marvel movie here). She needs to be compensated for that and also the fact that she also worked hard to get where she is.

    • Wiglet Watcher says:

      Snuffles
      I believe that’s under a different job title so Zendaya would receive a separate income from her acting role.

      I’m sure she makes a ton to keep her.
      What’s interesting about payroll budgets is there’s always X amount. The more you pay 1 person the less there is for others.
      You can both know and negotiate your worth while also being aware you’re making so much that everyone else will be struggling.
      Not a dig at Zendaya. Just a general observation.

      • Snuffles says:

        I would argue that Zendaya was worth more. She’s coming from Disney and billion dollar Marvel properties. Not to mention her being a fashion “it girl”. Zendaya was hands down the biggest name on that project and brought eyes on it. Everyone wants to see a Disney girl go bad.

        Sydney is building her reputation and with her 2 Emmy nominations and brand deals she can now negotiate for bigger pay days.

    • Mika says:

      Executive Producer is a title that can mean a lot of things, but its typically not a “job” in the sense that there is work to be done everyday. It is typically about using connections or clout to secure financing or distribution. Often when they are given to actors with marketability and name recognition, its an acknowledgment that the show would not be picked up without them. There can be money attached but not necessarily work. When an actor is a “producer”… thats different.

      • Eurydice says:

        It can be much more than this. EPs make sure the project is on time and on budget. They supervise the other producers. They approve the talent. They manage the PR and marketing. Basically, they’re the CEOs. I’m not saying Zendaya is doing any or all of this, just that someone has to manage the overall project and that what EPs do.

      • Veronica S. says:

        It’s also a way to get around union limitations on actor pay. That was definitely going on with a show I was following with some of the actors in it. I don’t begrudge them for working the system, especially the ones that are lower on the totem pole, but it’s definitely used that way. They usually do take on more work, though, in fairness.

        In Zendaya’s case, I do actually think she’s likely lending quite a bit of input in addition to her star power and influence to the pot. The way she talks about the show, it’s clear that she’s passionate about the project, and I’m betting she uses a fair amount of her industry connections to help find and vet talent for it.

      • John says:

        Not at HBO it isn’t. They don’t secure funding. it’s having a stake in the series at an above the line top level. It is well paid and she probably has a lot of say in the show. I’d she’s like other actor/producers she’s in the know for everything and gives notes

  2. Div says:

    Honestly, it was wild how people on twitter were attacking her over this…then again, I swear twt loses their shit on everyone and anyone over nothing, made up sh*t, and out of context stuff. She wasn’t claiming to be poor, but discussing the real financial costs. Yeah, the streamers-much like music streaming services-get away with unethical business practices all the time with actors, writers, etc.

    Also, this is why so many celebrities do endorsement deals. They have insanely high overheads, especially the pop stars who tend to have stalkers.

    • Bettyrose says:

      Yeah I saw a lot of awful comments. The internet is really bad at reading comprehension and nuanced discussions. Yes it’s true that most Americans couldn’t take six months off. And sure compared to most Sweeney has been very fortunate in her career opportunities. But she’s discussing her position in the industry, without family money or connections. And it sounds like her parents sacrificed a lot. I don’t have a clue what the answer is to the streaming/ no residuals issue.

      • tuille says:

        I view her parents “sacrifice” as very self-serving. They appear to have been quite willing to bank on their 13 year old child’s ability to get them seats on the gravy train once they moved to LA and put her to work.

      • SarahCS says:

        Also I imagine that her working days/weeks probably looks quite different to the average American so taking six months off for her is probably the equivalent of everyone else having weekends off through the year.

      • Veronica S. says:

        Most Americans also aren’t working jobs where months or years long dry spells are common, either. The average persons works the forty hour work week. Her industry is more like freelancing. When you aren’t working, you aren’t making money unless you’ve been lucky enough to star in something with residuals.

        IMO, this is more reflective of how easily people are convinced to turn against each other instead of the elites that actually control most of the money in the country. The image of wealth is more powerful than the statistical reality.

      • I read about this and I want to add that people who don’t live here have NO idea how expensive LA is. EVERYTHING costs more here, Food, property tax, car insurance, health insurance (More then our mortgage because like her in entertainment industry and we have to pay out of pocket for it) Average nice bar is 17 for a simple martini, I dont’ even want to BEGIN on grocery and house prices. It’s just STUPID here. I can’t wait until we are no in the business and we can MOVE.

      • Tiffany:) says:

        LaurelCanyoner, she probably has good health insurance coverage through the SAG-AFTRA health plan, which is only $1500 in premiums for the entire year, which is amazing. It is tied to income earned during specific periods, though, so it can be easy to lose coverage.

    • liriel says:

      She got hated everywhere and I was so surprised. They made it seem like she wa entitled yet for me she explained for example how much actors get and why they rush to endorsements that much.

  3. Moominsummer says:

    I love reading about the lives of “middle class” actors. The ones booking work, even good work, but not earning enough for the gated community house, etc. if people are mad at Sydney Sweeney for this it’s probably really because the truth of her situation breaks the fantasy that Hollywood fame puts you on another plane of existence.

    • Thinking says:

      I like learning about this stuff too.

      it helps the rest of us be more knowledgeable about how business works, even if we don’t directly participate in that industry.

      She broke down the actual costs so I don’t think she was whining. In a way it’s like a warning to other actresses before they move out to L.A. to prevent them from making a career mistake that might not be worth it.

      If her parents were depending on her for income, I can also see why she’s pragmatic about what her financials mean and why she may feel under more financial pressure or constraints than other actors who come into the profession without the need to support their families.

      • Shoop says:

        I can see why some would roll their eyes at a beautiful / successful actress complaining about money, but it sounds like she’s had a tough enough road to fame, taking responsibility for her family as well as herself. I don’t know how anyone preserves their mental health while rising up the Hollywood ranks as a kid. I imagine the pressure is immense, and now there’s the added work of social media presence (clearly how some people get jobs). Add to that the various costs of management, styling etc and it looks pretty grim for anyone who isn’t reeling in millions.

    • Snuffles says:

      I spent over a decade in Hollywood trying to make it as a screenwriter and got no where. Luckily, I had a steady job that was in the industry. I had met quite a few working screenwriters who were barely scraping by and had to take side gigs like teaching. I eventually realized that even if did sell a script or got some kind of writing gig, that didn’t guarantee the flood gates would open and it would be smooth sailing from there. So, I left.

      • Bettyrose says:

        @Snuffles – the exploitation is crazy. The shows don’t exist without good scripts and someone is making bank of them, just not the talented writers. Income disparity in this country is problematic in every industry. Someone is hording profits while others barely survive.

      • Jan90067 says:

        It took my BIL over 8 yrs, of being a PA (from starting as a “gofer” to a secretarial PA) to get anywhere with his writing. All during that time, he was writing “spec scripts). Finally, the last person he worked for was a producer at Warner Bros., and BIL was able to get into a writing workshop there (it was impossible to get in unless you *knew* someone).

        From there, he and his partner started doing more spec scripts, but now these were seen by agencies because of the workshop. Still took time, but finally they were able to get an agent, who got BIL and his writing partner (met in the workshop) jobs as staff writers on a sitcom. Show only lasted one season, but that got them the next job, etc.

        S-L-O-W-L-Y over the years, they worked up from staff writers, level by level, finally up to story editors, up and up to co-producers, then producers, then finally they were able to sell a show that they created to Disney (as Co-Creators/Exec Producers/Show Runners). It took YEARS and YEARS to get to that point.

        TLDR: It is NOT an easy business to get ahead in, esp. if you’re looking to make it fast. Esp. in writing, there are DUES to pay, and they are never not collected.

      • Veronica S. says:

        I have a friend whose currently trying to make it there, and she’s going on three years without having picked up a single writing job (partly because COVID hit right after she arrived). She’s also much better positioned than most: wealthy parents that paid for her education, over $50K from four years of saving while working and living with her parents before the move, a paid off car, connections with industry professionals from her university that either taught or interacted with her and forwarded her work.

        If it’s THAT hard for somebody with her advantages to get a foot in the door, you have to imagine how impossible it is for somebody from a working class background with tons of school debt weighing them down. There’s a reason the arts have always been the arena of the wealthy and privileged, unfortunately. With the cost of schooling in America, I warn my friends with children not to be stupid about the reality they’re up against and pick something that’s either a guaranteed return or push them into fields that are lucrative outside schooling (i.e. certain trades).

        Stuff like this is important for people to hear, IMO. They need to understand the odds they’re up against before making such huge moves.

      • Meg says:

        @veronica
        College majors don’t matter unless your going into something that requires a license like medicine, architecture etc. Plenty of art majors worked in their field until they wanted a family and needed more money and transitioned into something else. They still made good money because their degree made them valuable on the marketplace and employers compensate them for that. For many art school is the only time they’ll have access to the tools and talent to make art in their lives at that level. An art degree is not worthless by any means. This doesn’t mean income levels aren’t a joke and need to change because life without art in it is just not as much as cheesy as that may sound

    • Green girl says:

      I agree this level of transparency helps everyone. A few years back, a writer shared the breakdown of her income from publishing a book that was on The NY Times bestseller list. It was fascinating to see that someone could have great success as a writer but still can’t quit their day job.

      • Snuffles says:

        My brother went to school with the Diary of a Wimpy kid writer. That dude kept his day job even though his book series was a huge success.

      • FHMom says:

        A school librarian friend of mine told me how little these children’s authors make. I could hardly believe her. She also books appearances and school readings for the district. THAT is where the authors make money. They get several thousands of dollars from doing book signings, personal appearances. I wish I could remember the exact financials, but it was shocking to me that an author of a successful series couldn’t quit their day job. Their best bet was personal appearances.

      • Jan90067 says:

        It’s like musicians. They don’t make much from record sales, it’s from touring, merchandising, and more importantly, WRITING/OWNING the publishing rights (as well as the masters) of their recordings/songs. THAT is where the real money is.

      • Korra says:

        My department VP just launched a series of children’s books that she had been working on for years. We were all so happy for her and told her to think of us as she ascends into becoming a big-time children’s lit author. She laughed and said she was happy to see books launch, but she is not quitting her day job anytime soon. FYI, her publisher is Simon and Schuster too.

    • FHMom says:

      I’ve often thought that with all these streaming services putting out original content that there are hundreds of actors you could bump into and never recognize. It’s wonderful that these actors get work, but it never occurred to me that they were barely making a living. It’s very eye opening.

  4. Fernanda says:

    I am actually here in the comments section just to say I cannot believe she is not a nepotism baby! What a refreshment!!! Lately all we see are those, so it is at this point a miracle if someone made it from the bottom! All the luck to Ms Sweeney! Keep on grindin’ sweetheart!

  5. Call_Me_AL says:

    I am all here for women talking about money. Even better for young women! It really is seen as kind of vulgar (at least in my experience), I am the one my family relies on for income, and it’s a lot of pressure. It needs to be destigmatized for us to discuss the mental, emotional, and physical impact of our money decisions and financial opportunities and lack thereof.

    • Dearirene says:

      @al: omg *this* exactly

    • BeanieBean says:

      Agreed. I’ve seen similar discussions from experienced models trying to explain to younger ones with stars in their eyes that they really need to keep an eye on their finances. Like Sydney explains, x amount goes to your agency, x amount to your business manager, and so on. A lot of models end up living with five others in a flat just to make ends meet because they’re not really paying attention to where the money goes. Who pays for that flight to Paris for Fashion Week? Who pays for your accommodations? Transportation to/from shows? Etc.

  6. Jessica says:

    When I read the original article, I took it as more shade towards Maude Apataw on the show..not Zendaya. I’ve never seen the show, but I applaud her for talking about the real costs. Not everyone is a George Clooney/Julia Roberts and even they have overhead costs for managers, PR, etc.

    I agree, the more women (in every field) talk about their salary and money and how to manage it, the better off younger women will be.

    • Bettyrose says:

      I got no hate for Maude Apatow but she doesn’t do much for the show, and her plot line was pointlessly elevated in season 2. Without spoilers the heartbreak of her making another character more relevant, human could have been written without hours devoted to that silly school play.

  7. margot says:

    She’s not the lead/star in any of her shows, so it’s not surprising that doesn’t paid a lot.

    • Bettyrose says:

      She has one of the most challenging roles on Euphoria and does 90% of the nude scenes, which brings in viewers, let’s not kid ourselves. I feel she should be fairly compensated for that. I can’t watch Handmaid’s tale. I didn’t even realize she was in it.

  8. Eowyn says:

    I love that this young actress is explaining how “the business” works.

  9. Tiffany:) says:

    I don’t think she was taking a dig at Z at all. I think she was saying you might hear headlines about people making tons of money, but most actors below top billing aren’t paid that much.

    You do get residuals for streaming, but I believe they include the first 90-days as the 1st run of the show, so residuals are like 45% for a year after the 1st 90 days. Then it falls to a lower percentage, like 30%{?), and gradually gets smaller.

    And it’s SAG-AFTRA, not SAG-Aftra (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists).

  10. Elsa says:

    I think it was brave of her to write this but I worry that it will get her labeled “difficult” and hurt her. I hope not.

  11. Cava 24 says:

    There’s a cost in having a lack of socio-economic diversity in tv and film, too. Aside from just people whose parents are in film or tv (Maude Apatow, Margaret Qualley) there are a ton of people whose parents are really wealthy and well connected. All these people attend the same schools, live in the same places (or types of places), have summer homes in the same places or vacation in the same places. So their points of view, their exposure to other people in different circumstances are really limited. Which is probably why when people who have spent their whole lives living in $15m houses in the Palisades and vacationing on Nantucket try to “get real” or make a wider point about society, it’s sort of empty and bland. It’s not coming from anywhere other than a programmatic understanding of what the final product should look like.

  12. likethedirection says:

    No discussion of this article is complete without talking about just how gorgeous her house is!! Such a refreshing departure from the all-white “modern” look so many celebs go for: https://www.dirt.com/gallery/entertainers/actors/sydney-sweeney-house-los-angeles-1203450651/sydney2/

  13. els says:

    I love Sydney Sweeney as an actress, I’m glad she’s getting recognized. It’s good to see she’s openly talk about this kind of topic.

  14. BeanieBean says:

    I couldn’t help but notice the credits listed for THR tweet include the manicurist. I hope her work is seen somewhere considering in that photo she’s got gloves on!

  15. PixiePaperdoll says:

    I can understand not wanting to address the relationship when dude is 13 years older than she is and they’ve been dating for four years.

    Also, if you’re going to hitch yourself to that wagon, you shouldn’t be stuck as the sole income earner.

  16. Nicegirl says:

    The part about wages as an actress is true. I’m always wondering how the heck people afford their lives! Many have second and third jobs or sometimes significant others with more consistent/higher incomes but for the most part we’re all really struggling financially. The last time I got a real residual check was in the 90s from an ‘I like the sprite in you’ commercial filmed in the late 80s; residuals used to be a staple in commercial acting. I’m always so happy when I see people scoring roles on tv series, bc as an actor, consistently working is key to financial health. It’s the ‘I don’t need/want to be famous, I just want to be able to afford my life/pay my bills from my acting work’ dream. Conversely, its not really the hardcore struggle as Gwyneth has lamented bc it’s being paid to professionally play act and a true ‘win’ is akin to social Teflon. However, especially as it’s coming from a non Hollywood elite nepotism actor, I really appreciate Sydney’s perspective here and I hope she gets to a point where she’s able to reach all of her dreams career wise and financially. I want the rising water to carry us all UP. Sorry for the novel

    • kirk says:

      Don’t really know about the whole income side of thing in acting. But recalled in Howard Stern interview, Billie Elish’s parents saying that you could make a living as an actor, but LA is an expensive city. Based on pix of Sydney’s house, she’s doing ok.

      • Bettyrose says:

        It’s a gorgeous house, and it’s true there are options besides buying a 5 bedroom home in a very pricey zip code. But I applaud her for buying a classic home in a centrally located area rather than a new build McMansion in a sprawling suburb that takes hours to drive any where. It’s a smarter investment in finances and quality of life. Not to speak of environmental impact.

  17. K says:

    I have binged Irma Vep this weekend and now I see where Sidney is coming from. No wonder so many actors develop issues and additions. However, she is earning now and quite frankly as soon as she begins aging her endorsements/ brand ambassador stuff will diminish. I would work nonstop and have a baby at 26 or 27. Still young.

  18. Candy says:

    10 years isn’t a long time and few people reach her level of success after 10 years doing anything. I had 6 years of school/post graduate work to start a low paying job in academia. It sounds like she was able to pay cash for her house too.

    I don’t know, she’s talking about the basic overhead for being an actor at the highest level. Not exactly a pauper’s sob story.

    I do believe her comments about how the industry treats teenagers though. But in general these Hollywood types are coming across increasingly self absorbed and ignorant about the state of our world and their incredibly privileged place in it.

    There is sexism, nepotism, rejection, and racism in every corner of our society. Few people get paid millions to deal with it.

  19. Gm says:

    I haven’t seen this actor yet but think the interview is refreshingly honest. I feel there are some who try to pit women against women “ cat fight”. I don’t get that vibe from this interview. My concern is the house she bought, the outside photos of it, I hope she has good security and takes care of herself.

    • Paisley25 says:

      I think TikTockers and college kids are posting in front of her house. That would drive me crazy and also I’d worry about my house when shooting on location. I’d rather live in a secure condo building if she can’t afford a gated community. I still remember what happened to Rebecca Schaefer.

    • bettyrose says:

      @Gm – If you have access to HBO Max, I highly recommend White Lotus. She’s great in that. I absolutely love Euphoria, and as I mentioned above, she has a very challenging role in the show, but it’s not for everyone. The teen drug use, sex, and down right violence is realistic but is actually pretty triggering for someone in my life, so I can understand why people might not want to watch it. White Lotus has many hard truths but very little graphic content. (I’m not sensitive to graphic content, but I have my own reasons for passing on Handmaid’s Tale.)

  20. Isa says:

    I just can’t imagine moving to LA so my 13 year old could work.

    • bettyrose says:

      I always wonder that about Hollywood parents. Like, at what point do you give up your entire life and move to LA for the tiny chance your kid is gonna make it big? The Lohans aren’t a great example of parenting, but they were far from a wealthy or connected family, and yet they successfully moved cross country to turn their pre-teen daughter into a personal ATM. They had little luck with the second daughter, though, which makes me wonder how many families take that same gamble and loose everything they have.

  21. TwinFalls says:

    She wasn’t trying to be relatable to anyone other than people living and working in the entertainment industry and speaking honestly about her experience. I’d rather hear about this stuff that her exercise routine or diet.

  22. Fabiola says:

    I commend her for being honest but it is her choice to be an actor in LA. Starting off as an actor or model does suck and the pay is low but the people who choose to stick with it are doing it mostly out of vanity and wanting to be famous so they keep going. The search for fame is what drives these people. Let’s keep it real.

    • bettyrose says:

      IDK. I get what you’re saying, but she’s very young and making a name for herself. Plenty of other people her age are probably on the verge of giving up their Hollywood dreams for more traditional professions and the chance at some day owning a home. Where’s the harm in giving it a try for a few years before working until 70 in an office job?

  23. Glamarazzi says:

    The streamers issue is going to be with us for a while. The WGA will probably strike over it next year when their contract with the producers is up, and word is SAG will join them. No one is making money on streaming except the owners/producers and the marquee names at the very top.

  24. liriel says:

    For me it was very interesting to read and when the costs add up and when I thought how many episodes each season has and how long I have to wait to see next season. Also the haters who love hate forgot one crucial aspect.
    She knows it’s her PRIME. She’s hot now and needs to make the most out of it. Secure herself financially and make good choices because in Hollywood especially you’re easily replaced. So I admire her honesty about this as well.
    Also haters telling her to not live in LA.
    Oh people love hate..

  25. L4Frimaire says:

    I have no issue with what she said or what she makes. It’s an interesting insight into a shifting industry. A lot of people are dependent on this woman for income and just because you have a prominent role doesn’t mean you just sit back and rake in cash. When actors do ads for beauty , fashion, water or insurance, it’s not because they only want attention or are greedy, but it’s to pad their paychecks with some security. She reminds me of classic Hollywood stars who came from humble backgrounds or the vaudeville circuit.

  26. Case says:

    A lot of people on the internet were bashing her for her comments, and I don’t get it. Most parts of the internet can’t seem to handle any sort of nuance. Personally, I loved hearing Sydney shed light on this and find it really interesting to learn what “normal” working actors make — sure, she’s a rising star, but she’s not a household name and is still building up her filmography. Being an actor is expensive — between maintaining your physical appearance, agents, lawyers, etc. I loved hearing her talk about it and why endorsement deals have been helpful to her.

    She’s not comparing herself to everyday people who work office jobs and obviously can’t take six months off. She’s saying there is constant pressure to book jobs and having a dry spell or taking time to have a family would be really difficult for her.

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