12 times celebrities fought for equal pay in their starring roles

hollywood gender pay gap

  • January 1, 2021 is the third anniversary of the launch of the Time's Up movement combating gender-based discrimination in Hollywood and beyond.
  • Patricia Arquette called for wage equality in her viral 2015 Oscars acceptance speech and took her activism to Capitol Hill.
  • Jessica Chastain turned down a role with a wage gap in 2017, and she negotiated equal pay for herself and Octavia Spencer in 2018.
  • Chadwick Boseman took a pay cut in order for Sienna Miller to be paid equally for "21 Bridges."
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

On January 1, 2018, spurred by the revelation of Harvey Weinstein's widespread sexual misconduct and the #MeToo movement, celebrities came together to protest sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination in Hollywood and beyond. They founded a movement of their own called Time's Up to fight for safer workplaces and equal pay in the entertainment industry.

Even before the Time's Up movement, women in Hollywood have spoken out about being paid less than their male co-stars. Sometimes, they've been able to negotiate fair compensation. Other times, they didn't even know they were being paid less until after the fact.

Here are 12 times actors fought for the equal pay they deserved.

Even after Patricia Arquette's viral Oscars acceptance speech, in which she called out America's gender pay gap, she told The Daily Beast that she's still offered less for her work than men.

Arquette's 2015 Oscars acceptance speech galvanized women everywhere to demand equal pay.

"To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else's equal rights, it's our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America," she said to thunderous applause.

She took her activism to Capitol Hill, as well. In 2016, Arquette marked Equal Pay Day with Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) by highlighting the results of a Congressional report that found women make $10,800 less per year than men. She also testified in front of the House Judiciary Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee about the Equal Rights Amendment in 2019.

Still, Arquette finds herself fighting for equal pay in her acting work.

"I've walked away from several jobs because they were giving me really bullsh** deals that were really sh**** and different from men in a really f***** up way," she told The Daily Beast in 2018.

Jessica Chastain told Variety that she "drew a line in the sand" when she turned down a role with a wage gap in 2017.

Chastain described a phenomenon where movie studios would use whatever money was leftover from her salary to add to a male actor's pay, and said that she turned down "something huge" where she would not have been compensated equally.

"I remember afterwards I was like, 'What did I do? Maybe it was a mistake.' But it wasn't, because everyone in the studio system heard what I did," she said. "So what you're doing is creating a reputation: Don't bring Jessica something where she's not being fairly compensated compared to the male actor."

Chastain also helped Octavia Spencer negotiate for higher pay after Spencer shared what it was like as a woman of color in the film industry.

When Spencer told Chastain how much she was making for her movie roles, she says Chastain "was quiet, and she said she had no idea that that's what it was like for women of color." Chastain then negotiated higher pay for both herself and Spencer for the film they were working on together.

"I love that woman, because she's walking the walk and she's actually talking the talk," Spencer said at a Sundance Film Festival panel called "Women Breaking Barriers" in 2018. "She said, 'Octavia, we're gonna get you paid on this film … You and I are gonna be tied together. We're gonna be favored nations, and we're gonna make the same thing.' Fast forward to last week, we're making five times what we asked for."

Charlize Theron negotiated a reported $10 million paycheck for "The Huntsman," the same as her co-star Chris Hemsworth.

After hacked Sony emails revealed pay disparities in Hollywood in 2014, Theron fought for equal pay for her work in the sequel to "Snow White and the Huntsman."

"I have to give them credit because once I asked, they said yes," she told Elle UK. "They did not fight it. And maybe that's the message: That we just need to put our foot down. This is a good time for us to bring this to a place of fairness, and girls need to know that being a feminist is a good thing.  It doesn't mean that you hate men. It means equal rights. If you're doing the same job, you should be compensated and treated in the same way.'

When Robin Wright asked to be paid the same as co-star Kevin Spacey on Netflix's "House of Cards," she told executives, "You better pay me or I'm going to go public."

Wright was reportedly earning $420,000 per episode of "House of Cards" to Spacey's $500,000 before she asked for equal pay.

"It was a perfect paradigm," she told audiences at a 2016 event at the Rockefeller Foundation. "There are very few films or TV shows where the male, the patriarch, and the matriarch are equal. And they are in 'House of Cards.'"

Jennifer Lawrence wrote about her experience with Hollywood's gender pay gap in Lena Dunham's Lenny newsletter in a 2015 essay entitled "Why Do I Make Less Than My Co-Stars?"

When Sony Pictures was hacked in 2014, emails showed that Lawrence and her "American Hustle" co-star Amy Adams had made less than their male co-stars Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper.

"I didn't want to seem 'difficult' or 'spoiled,'" Lawrence wrote. "At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn't worry about being 'difficult' or 'spoiled.'"

Now she fights for equal pay. "I feel I know my worth, and I feel like I work to keep it that way," she told 60 Minutes in 2018.

It took three seasons of "The X-Files" before Gillian Anderson was paid the same as co-star David Duchovny.

When "The X-Files" originally aired from 1993 to 2002, the studio made Anderson stand behind Duchovny on camera so that they wouldn't appear side-by-side, she told The Daily Beast. Anderson also told The Hollywood Reporter that when "The X-Files" was revived in 2016, she was initially offered half of Duchovny's pay.

"I'm surprised that more [interviewers] haven't brought that up because it's the truth," Anderson told the Daily Beast. "Especially in this climate of women talking about the reality of [unequal pay] in this business, I think it's important that it gets heard and voiced. It was shocking to me, given all the work that I had done in the past to get us to be paid fairly. I worked really hard toward that and finally got somewhere with it.

"Even in interviews in the last few years, people have said to me, 'I can't believe that happened, how did you feel about it, that is insane.' And my response always was, 'That was then, this is now.' And then it happened again! I don't even know what to say about it."

Her fight paid off in the end: She eventually took home the same amount as Duchovny for the new episodes of the show, sources told the Daily Beast in 2017.

Chadwick Boseman donated part of his salary to ensure that "21 Bridges" co-star Sienna Miller would be paid fairly.

Miller revealed Boseman's act after his death in an issue of Empire magazine dedicated to his memory.

"This was a pretty big-budget film, and I know that everybody understands about the pay disparity in Hollywood, but I asked for a number that the studio wouldn't get to," Miller said. "And because I was hesitant to go back to work and my daughter was starting school and it was an inconvenient time, I said, 'I'll do it if I'm compensated in the right way.' Chadwick ended up donating some of his salary to get me to the number that I had asked for. He said that that was what I deserved to be paid."

Miller had previously turned down a role on Broadway when she was offered less than half of what her male co-star would have made.

Emmy Rossum refused to sign on for season eight of "Shameless" until she received the same salary as her co-star William H. Macy.

Rossum said that Macy supported her during salary negotiations.

"I'll tell you the person who supported me the most was William H. Macy," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "To have the man counterpart on my show be like, 'Yes, she does deserve this and more' was so validating. And after it became public, it was a quick resolution."

Claire Foy played Queen Elizabeth in "The Crown," but was paid less than her co-star Matt Smith. She called the revelation "embarrassing," and was eventually paid more.

Producers of "The Crown" revealed on a 2018 panel that Claire Foy made less than Matt Smith due to Smith's fame from "Doctor Who." Foy made about $40,000 per episode out of the $7 million-per-episode budget.

"I certainly won't be naïve about those things," Foy said at CinemaCon in 2018, per Vanity Fair. "It's really opened my eyes about what I am allowed to have an opinion about, and what I'm allowed to stand up for myself about. And I think that's really changed my approach to myself and other women in this industry. It's been only a positive thing—even though, embarrassing."

Left Bank Pictures, which was responsible for budgeting and salaries for "The Crown," issued an apology, and after the fallout, Foy reportedly received more than $275,000 in back pay.

In a statement, Left Bank said, "We are absolutely united with the fight for fair pay, free of gender bias and for a rebalancing of the industry's treatment of women in front of the camera and behind the scenes."

Amanda Seyfried told The Sunday Times that she was once paid 10% of what her male co-star was making on a big-budget film.

Seyfried didn't name the actor or the film, but said she and her male co-star were "pretty even in status."

"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," she said. "It's not about how much you get; it's about how fair it is."

Julie Delpy wasn't paid the same as co-star Ethan Hawke until the third installment of the "Before" trilogy.

For the first movie, "Before Sunrise," Delpy told Variety she earned one-tenth of Hawke's paycheck. For the second film, "Before Sunset," she earned half. Finally, she refused to appear in "Before Midnight" unless she was paid equally.

"I was very outspoken all of my life, and it gave me the reputation of being a pain in the a**," Delpy said. "I think of equality as something that should be a complete normal thing."

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