Haggling with the Stars
by Kim Masters
You’re Scarlett Johansson. You’re pretty and you’re pretty famous, too. And you’ve just been offered the part of the Black Widow in Iron Man 2! That’s got to be some payday, right?
How about $250,000, which is what Marvel Studios offered Johansson and Mickey Rourke to be in the film?
The stars negotiated the number up to something over $400,000. Still, it’s not hard to imagine that even a year ago Johansson could have expected to break seven figures for a role in a big franchise film. It’s a pretty thrifty deal for such a recognizable name.
But salaries are being slashed now in Hollywood and even bigger stars are not immune. “Why would anybody pay Julia Roberts $20 million to do Duplicity?” says one producer. “That won’t happen again.” Indeed, this source says Sony Pictures is ponying up $15 million for Roberts to do Eat, Pray, Love and probably already regrets having committed to pay that much.
What the revolution in technology had started, the economy has hurried right along. After years of impotent promises to choke off rich deals with talent, the studios are finally making it happen. They’re hammering on star salaries and perks like private jets, too. “They’ve wanted to go in this direction for a long time and the global financial crisis has given them the lever to do it,” says one veteran talent representative.
These changes may cheer up ordinary citizens who can’t understand why a star ever got millions to be in a movie in the first place. But the fact that the studios are finally laying down the law also illustrates the strains they are under as they try to crank out expensive popular entertainment when the model is collapsing. Stars in the middle range—famous names but something well short of, say, Will Smith--are facing the toughest battles. “The studios are going out to actors who have been $10 million players and saying, `Here’s $5 million.’ Here’s two and a half,” says a top agent. “It’s like there are no rules.” If an actor balks at the deal, the studios say they will move to another choice immediately. “They’re not fucking around,” says the talent representative. “They know exactly who that next person is. Sometimes they’ll tell you.”
That clearly seems to have been the case with Johansson and Rourke, says an agent who doesn’t represent either actor. “On certain movies, they feel like whoever they put in a part is fine. Once they lock down Robert Downey, Jr., on Iron Man 2, everything else is fine. I don’t think they give a shit if it’s Mickey Rourke or Scarlett Johansson.”