It’s bad enough the gender pay gap myth won’t die. But it’s even worse when someone who has control over how much money they make decides to claim they are a victim of the gender pay gap.
Star Wars and Thor star Natalie Portman gave an interview to Marie Claire talking about how her No Strings Attached co-star, Ashton Kutcher, made three times what she did for the movie.
‘I knew and I went along with it because there’s this thing with “quotes” in Hollywood… His [quote] was three times higher than mine so they said he should get three times more. I wasn’t as pissed as I should have been. I mean, we get paid a lot, so it’s hard to complain, but the disparity is crazy.’
For those who don’t know, a “quote” in Hollywood is the standard fee that an actor or actress asks for to take part in a film. It’s sort of the least amount required for an actor or actress to show up and shoot a film. When you hear or read something like “Tom Cruise makes $15 million a movie,” they are usually referring to his standard fee. The final amount can go up based on the type of movie and what the actor or actress is expected to do during the filming.
Here’s the thing: the actors and actresses themselves are the ones who decide how much they are worth (with a lot of guidance from their agent, I’m sure). And depending on the movie, that standard fee is just a starting point in negotiations. In the interview with Marie Claire, Natalie Portman herself admits that Ashton Kutcher’s quote was three times higher than hers. What is not in the article is why Portman was asking for so much less than Kutcher then. Did she or her agent feel she was only worth that much? Since she was a full co-star in this movie, why didn’t she or her agent demand a clause in her contract stating that she had to be paid the same amount as Kutcher?
Of course, asking to make the same amount as your co-star is no guarantee that producers will agree to pay you that amount. Back in 2010 when this movie was cast and filmed, Ashton Kutcher was a known quantity in this type of role. Based on the past, it was expected that people would fill the theater seats to see Kutcher play this type of role again. Natalie Portman was much more of an unknown quantity. Yes, she had filmed all three of her Star Wars movies by then. But if you remember, her character’s romance with Anakin Skywalker is often derided by critics of the movies. And none of her other movies really scream “I’m great at romantic comedies!”
Based on information I found in a 2012 Forbes article, I guesstimate that Portman made about $3 million for the movie. This means that Kutcher would have made about $9 million. While the movie’s producers may have been willing to take a $9 million gamble that Kutcher would fill theater seats, they may not have been willing to pay that same $9 million gamble for Portman. Had she asked for that much, which she had every right to do and there doesn’t seem to be any reason she couldn’t have done so, producers may have said, “Thanks, but no thanks” and looked for another leading lady to fill the part.
But that’s the risk you take in Hollywood, or any field where you are allowed to negotiate your own salary. If you ask for too little, you may be disappointed when you find out later you might have been able to ask for more. If you ask for too much, you may be left with no job at all. It’s ludicrous to expect anyone to voluntarily say, “Hey, we’re paying your co-star $9 million for this movie so we’re going to pay you $6 million more than what you are asking for even though we don’t think you will draw as many people to see this movie as your co-star will. But at least you will be able to say you were paid the same.”
Portman says that she “wasn’t as pissed as I should have been.” The only person Portman should have been pissed at is herself for asking for not asking for $9 million a movie back then.