“I Had An Academy Award, No Health Insurance”: 14 Actors Who Received Shockingly Low Pay For Early Roles

14 Actors Who Made Low Paychecks For Early Roles


In her new memoir titled Rebel Rising, Rebel Wilson revealed that she was only paid $3,500 for her role in Bridesmaids — just enough to pay the fees for joining the SAG-AFTRA union. The actor said the low pay “didn’t matter” to her. She wrote, “The experience was everything!”


During an interview with GQ, Christian Bale said he was paid “the absolute minimum they were legally allowed” for starring in American Psycho. “And I had a house that I was sharing with my dad and my sister, and that was getting repossessed.”

He continued, “So the first thing was: ‘Holy crap. I’ve got to get a bit of money,’ because I’ve got American Psycho done, but I remember one time sitting in the makeup trailer, and the makeup artists were laughing at me because I was getting paid less than any of them. And so that was my motivation after that. It was just: ‘I got to get enough that the house doesn’t get repossessed.'”


Kimiko Glenn has been very outspoken about the poor compensation she and many fellow actors received from Orange Is the New Black. During last year’s SAG-AFTRA strike, she posted a TikTok, saying, “People were bartenders still. People had their second jobs still.”

She continued, “They were internationally famous, couldn’t go outside, but had to keep their second jobs because they couldn’t afford to not. We couldn’t afford cabs to set!” On Instagram, she explained that she earned $900 per day of shooting — netting her just $1,800 per month.


During an appearance on the Live at 9 show, Terrence Howard revealed that he was not fairly compensated for his early roles. “I made $12,000 for doing Hustle & Flow,” he said. “What Paramount did, instead of putting my name as Terrence Howard performing the songs, they put ‘performed by DJay.’ Well, they owned DJay, so guess what? The performance royalties went to Paramount.”

He also shared that he was only paid $6,000 for Crash, the 2004 film that won the Oscar for Best Picture. “The business don’t pay actors anything,” Terrence continued. “Actors are struggling.”


Ryan Gosling reportedly made $1,000 per week for his role in Half Nelson, which earned him his first Oscar nomination. Shooting took 23 days, and his compensation for the film was around $3,200.


Sharon Stone revealed that she wasn’t paid fairly for starring in Basic Instinct. “I didn’t get paid to do Basic Instinct,” she told CBC. “I made a little bit of money. Michael made $14 million and has points. I made not enough money to buy my dress to go to the Oscars the next year. I was in this weird limbo where I was suddenly famous, but didn’t have any money.”


On Chelsea Handler’s Netflix talk show, Chelsea, Hilary Swank revealed that she was only paid $3,000 for starring in Boys Don’t Cry. Her performance won the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Actress.

“I made $3,000. In order to have health insurance, you have to make $5,000,” she shared. “So I didn’t even know that I didn’t have health insurance until I went and tried to get a prescription filled. They said, ‘That’s $160.’ I went, ‘Um, did you try my insurance?’ They said, ‘Mmm-hmm.’ I had an Academy Award, no health insurance.”


According to the New Yorker, Barkhad Abdi was paid $65,000 for his role in Captain Phillips, which earned him Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, as well as a BAFTA win. After production ended, he returned to selling cellphones in a Minneapolis mall.

“How I thought about it was, like, ‘When the movie came out, reviews either gonna be good or bad. Either way, I cannot be working here,'” he recalled. Barkhad quit that job on the day of the premiere. While promoting the movie in LA, he lived in the hotel the studio put him up in and wore loaner clothes.


Jamie Lee Curtis was paid $8,000 to star in the original Halloween movie. During an interview with People, she recalled behind-the-scenes moments of the low-budget film, including shopping for her character’s clothing herself. “All the sudden, I was going to JCPenney and buying Laurie’s wardrobe with $200.”


According to Insider, Oprah was paid $35,000 for playing Sofia in The Color Purple. Her performance was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.


Jeff Daniels was paid $50,000 for his work in the ’90s comedy Dumb and Dumber. In comparison, costar Jim Carrey made $7 million. Bobby Farrelly, one of the film’s writers, told the Hollywood Reporter, “The studio didn’t want [Jeff], they said, ‘Please, anyone but him. Get a comedic actor.’ … They offered him 50 figuring he’ll say, ‘No, I’m not taking that,’ but he took it.”


Priyanka Chopra told Insider that she once costarred in a Bollywood movie where she was paid significantly less than her male counterpart. “A producer-director said to me, ‘Well, you know how it is in these big tentpole movies with the big boys. This is the budget for the girl, and we can’t move beyond that,’ which was a measly 5% of what [the male lead] was getting.”


James Earl Jones was paid $7,000 to voice Darth Vader in Star Wars: A New Hope. The actor told the American Film Institute, “George [Lucas] wanted, pardon the expression, a dark voice. So he hires a guy born in Mississippi, raised in Michigan, who stutters. And that’s the voice. That’s me. And I lucked out.”


And finally, Amanda Seyfried told the Sunday Times about the gender pay gap she experienced earlier in her career. “On one of my big-budget films, I found I was being paid 10% of what my male costar was getting, and we were pretty even in status.”

She continued, “I think people think that just because I’m easy-going and game to do things, I’ll just take as little as they offer. … It’s not about how much you get, it’s about how fair it is.” She also said that female actors “have to decide if you’re willing to walk away from something.”

Any other actors who received surprisingly low paychecks at the beginning of their careers? LMK in the comments below!

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