Jessica Chastain on Hollywood’s Gender Pay Gap: ‘It’s Not Right’

Jessica Chastain Jennifer Lawrence gender pay
Gregory Pace/REX Shutterstock

Hollywood’s compensation gap is being hotly discussed this week thanks to Jennifer Lawrence’s viral essay detailing her anger over being paid less than her male co-stars.

The conversation seeped over to the red carpet at Wednesday’s premiere of “Crimson Peak,” where stars Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska praised the Oscar winner for highlighting the issue and bringing attention to sexism in the film industry.

“I’m proud of her,” said Chastain. “Sometimes when you’re doing well, you’re afraid to say something’s wrong because then there’s going to be a bunch of people out there going ‘OK, well, you’re a big old movie star.’ But it doesn’t matter.”

“There’s no excuse,” she added. “There’s no reason why she should be doing a film with other actors and get paid less than her male co-stars. It’s completely unfair. It’s not right. It’s been happening for years and years and years. I think it’s brave to talk about it. I think everyone should talk about it.”

Lawrence’s piece was featured in Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter newsletter. In it, she said she was going to be more assertive when it came to demanding equal pay, writing  “I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable! F— that.”

Wasikowska said she agreed with Lawrence and hoped her essay would lead to change.

“It’s about time that gap was closed and it’s still quite surprising that it’s still an issue,” she said.

Fear kept women silent, Chastain argued. Fear that they would be branded “difficult” and might never find work again. But she said that reserve is crumbling, and she’s noticing that people aren’t afraid to raise the issue publicly. Not only has Lawrence discussed her frustration at finding out that “American Hustle” actors like Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner and Bradley Cooper made millions of dollars more for their work, but Patricia Arquette made the pay gap the focus of her speech when she won an Oscar for “Boyhood” earlier this year. Others, such as  Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow, have recounted instances of harassment from studio executives and have hit back at the double standard they faced as women trying to navigate a business largely controlled by men.

“What I really appreciate is that it’s not just women,” said Chastain. “It’s men and women and all groups talking about how we need more diversity and more equality in American cinema. I don’t know what’s happening. We’re supposed to be a mirror that’s held up to society and tells the story of what’s happening around us. And sometimes the American film industry only tells the stories of a few and I don’t want my story to be erased. I want to see women out there and I want them to be equally compensated for the work that they do.”

Studies show that male actors have far more opportunities than females. A recent report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that females comprised a mere 12% of protagonists in last year’s top-grossing films. “Crimson Peak” is a rare project that features meaty roles for women. Wasikowska plays an aspiring novelist who unwisely marries a baronet with secrets and a menacing sister in Chastain — a forbidding figure that makes “Rebecca’s” Mrs. Danvers seem warm and fuzzy.

Just don’t call it a horror film. Director and co-writer Guillermo del Toro stressed to his cast that “Crimson Peak” has its antecedents in books like “Wuthering Heights” and “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” that mixed the macabre with matters of the heart.

“For him it’s a romance along the lines of Bronte or Shelley and he really is an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to Gothic romance and women’s roles in those stories,” said Chastain.

The actress drew on films such as “Misery” and “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” which feature actresses Kathy Bates and Bette Davis both wielding instruments of physical and psychological torture, when it came to shaping her character.

“These actresses give the most incredible performances and they really throw themselves into it,” said Chastain.

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  1. Happy Happy Joy Joy! says:

    It’s great that Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain are speaking out against gender pay discrimination. The two of them have more power than they know! First, is drawing attention to the issue. Check! Next is action. I have some suggestions:

    J-Law and Chastain are highly in demand, just as much as Bale, Renner and Cooper. I would suggest that they put a clause in their contracts that gives them “Favored Nations” status. The clause would state that they will receive equal pay to all major male cast members in any given film (and then base that pay on a day rate — so that day for day of work they would never be underpaid). I would also suggest that any male actors who actually care about working with these strong and talented women, get a similar clause in their contracts which prevents producers from paying women less for equal work. I would also like to suggest that this extend to other crew in the major crew positions.

    Far too long have women accepted the stupid excuses that this is “just the way” Hollywood does things. They always say women “aren’t experienced enough,” not “in demand” enough and don’t have the “same credits” or “experience” as men. Wommen are expected to be more qualified than a man to get less pay and all when women are being considered for 14% of the jobs or less! It’s like a Chinese finger trap toy that you put your lady digits into and you can’t get out of. The only way out is not let them trick you into putting your fingers into it in the first place! You’ll never win if you let the producers, agents and money people determine your value! So happy these ladies are making the first steps to take back the control.

  2. katniss everdeen! :Dx says:

    Love Jennifer Lawrence!! And love that she didn’t blame men in her essay, but blamed herself. Because, yeah, if she thought she deserved more, she should have negotiated harder. I mean, sure, there are some misogynistic jerks out there – but there are definitely the same about of women that are horrible like that too. But the truth is that every man that I’ve ever met (including my own Dad) has been nothing but supportive as heck of me & had more belief in me than I’ve ever had in myself. Furthermore, I feel like men are a million times more kind to women as opposed to other men (and way more willing to give women second/third/etc chances!). I personally think I’ve got it a lot easier by being girl… But you don’t here guys sitting around complaining about that now do you?! But found Jen’s essay so refreshing. And so well written. You go girl!! xxxx

  3. Judith says:

    I wonder how much they pay their maids, groundskeepers, cooks, hair stylists, mani-pedicurists and pool boys?

    • cadavra says:

      What the hell is wrong with you? There are roughly 120,000 members of The Screen Actors Guild. About 86% percent of them are chronically unemployed and must work day jobs–sometimes even as maids, groundskeepers, cooks, hair stylists, mani-pedicurists and pool boys. Nine percent earn a “decent” living. Only 5%–about 6,000–make over $100K a year. And crew members make a lot less.

      Funny how people who worship billionaires like Trump, the Koch Brothers and the Bush Crime Family love dumping on rich people who actually earn their money by working.

  4. BillUSA says:

    Face it. The market is still male-centric. That means males want to see male actors in leading roles. When real-life experience (and a little bit of physics) reveal that women are as physically capable of action roles, as emotionally steely to make tough decisions, and as daring and aggressive as men, then perhaps we’ll see equal pay. As it stands now, they might as well get the male actors complaining about equal opportunities for roles which require them to play roles that include pregnancy, wild emotional swings and physical frailty.

    Life ain’t fair and I like it that way because it makes the strong endeavor to be the strongest. If our biosphere worked using the same logic as all lefties who think whining is the way to success, we’d have been lucky to even reach the Stone Age.

  5. Al Swearengen says:

    Ugh this is beginning to get insufferable. Bunch of rich women whining about money, no wonder people think the industry has their heads up their own a……..

  6. Will says:

    Don’t these actresses have agents? Aren’t their agents responsible for negotiating their pay? Why aren’t they getting angry at their agents?

    Also, since when is pay supposed to be fair? They don’t pay the extras $$ Millions either, they aren’t complaining about *their* pay gap.

  7. Kerry says:

    How can women and their films be more bankable if they never have the opportunity to prove that they are able to do so? It’s easy to say, “Play the lead role in hit movies.” It’s another thing trying to find the projects that allow that. The problem starts at the bottom. Stay and read the credits of the next film that you watch. Note that most, if not all, of the Production Assistants (entry level jobs in movies) are males.

    • Reel Injun says:

      Forget the Production Assistants- look at the number of women’s vs. men’s names in the credits as a whole. The only departments that are consistently female heavy are Hair & Make-Up, Costume, Casting and administrative assistant positions (Accounting Assistant, etc). I have been taking stock since I was a kid and although it’s getting better, it’s still absurdly disproportionately male across the board.

      This makes no sense. Women represent 51% of the population of this country, 49.6% of the world’s population and by most accounts, make up 50% of enrolment in the top film schools. This is an institutional and systemic problem and thank god women who hold some power in this industry are speaking out.

    • CelluloidFan35mm says:

      Aren’t Production Assistants the lowest paid on Hollywood’s totem pole?

  8. Dawn says:

    I’ll be honest and say I don’t pay attention to who is popular but will say this: there is a pay gap in acting but the other question is is that gap fair? for example, if it’s a long acting male versus a new actress then yes he should be paid more (and vice versa) in most cases. However, if we are talking equal male and female then it should be fair. For example I remember an interview Marion Ross from Happy Days did where she almost left the show because Tom Bosley, Ron Howard and Henry Winkler were all making more. She stayed on because the producers said they would just replace her. Or that Gillian Anderson from the X Files was paid less than her costar. In both cases definite bias. There have been many television shows where the lead male and female were on equal terms (same amount of experience for example)and yet the male was still paid more. Someone mentioned how aging actresses aren’t as popular and sadly that’s part of society’s hatred against older women. Older women are often called names and not considered attractive.

  9. Greg Marotta says:

    I agree with Lawrence and Chastain. The question arises: have their agents and other agents of female talent undersold/conspired against them?

    • CelluloidFan35mm says:

      I don’t know how agents can undersell or conspire against them unless they’re lousy at their jobs because if their client gets big money, the agents get a piece of the action.

      • CelluloidFan35mm says:

        That still makes no sense to me. Why on earth would you take less money just to prove a point?
        Again, unless the agent is a total idiot and doesn’t know what they are doing.
        More money for your client means more money for the agent and isn’t what motivates people in Hollywood? Money?
        I wouldn’t turn down a bonus check for getting the most for my client.

      • jim says:

        Here’s how agents “conspire” against their client.

        If the agent has an unconscious bias that “woman should be paid less than men,” then, when negotiating on behalf of their female client, they will demand less and accept less for said client.

        It’s only until the client (or someone else) brings this bias to their agents conscious level, that the agent can acknowledge said bias and then consciously act against it on their client’s behalf.

        That is why Ms. Lawrence speaking out on this is a good thing, because it brings that unconscious bias into the open so people can acknowledge their part in it and hopefully amend their behavior accordingly.

  10. taffy says:

    Want to get paid more per movie? Play the lead role in hit movies. Nobody’s going to pay top dollar to a loser.

    • katniss everdeen! :Dx says:

      Taffy, why are you commenting on Variety when you clearly know nothing about movies?! I mean do you even watch movies? Because I have no idea how you could possibly not know how huge of a star Jennifer Lawrence is.

    • GKN says:

      Because Jennifer Laurence, the lead in the massive hit trilogy, “Hunger Games” is a loser? Get a clue.

  11. I am trying to figure out why the ladies get less pay and the only thing I can think of is they are not as bankable as the guys. Look at the Hollywood blockbuster films. The Hunger Games aside, most films that are box office successes have a male lead. If you pay an actor 20 million dollars a film, the studio wants that back plus profit. Also, we know a woman’s value in Hollywood goes down as she gets older (not the same with the guys). Example: Meryl Streep is a wonderful actress but she is not a huge box office draw. I am just speculating here.

  12. Free says:

    While I agree that the gender wage gap is problematic, there is a good reason (in this case) for Jennifer to be paid less than Christian and Bradley: she was a SUPPORTING character. The Renner aspect is weird, though, but overall, I’d say the real loser out of this was Adams, who probably should have gotten paid the most, frankly.

    • GKN says:

      That would depend how much less. I didn’t see the Sony emails, but American Hustle was very much and ENSEMBLE piece, as far as I could tell. Counting up actual screen time for all 4 or 5 of them might bear me out, but even if it doesn’t quite, they each played a weighty role.

  13. Jeff says:

    The thing that I think is admirable about her letter is that she keeps the blame on herself. She’s not saying “Woe is me!” She’s saying “I should have done a better job negotiating than I apparently did, and next time I’m not going to let my desire to be perceived as a nice girl stand in the way of my business.”

    I found it to be a very adult take on the situation, with the emphasis on personal responsibility.

  14. Queenie says:

    Insanely rich people playing the perpetual victim. Hollywood is pathetic.

  15. Steve says:

    Jennifer Lawrence is amazing. What an inspiration for young girls and women around the world!

    • Patrick says:

      Those nude photos were hacked Mr. Chesto. Nice example of slut shaming. I am sure you took a look didn’t you? About the only time you see a woman nude is online.

      • Patrick says:

        Have private nude photos hardly makes one a slut. Are you pure and holy taffy? Judge not lest ye be judged. Calling Jennifer Lawrence a slut is profoundly ignorant.

      • taffy says:

        It’s only slut shaming if she’s a slut.

    • Chesto says:

      Yeah, especially those naked pics, and then appearing nude on the cover of Vanity Fair to complain about the naked pics.

  16. Not U2 says:

    Actually is isn’t ‘brave’ . It is naive and silly. I encourage her to take some time away from the catering table and do a little research. Don’t just pen an essay based on myths you’ve heard. You’re in the wrong business to be whining about it anyway. Seriously silly.

    • freeek says:

      You’re an idiot, it is not a myth. And she’s not in the wrong business, it does not make a difference which business she’s in. If she gets less money for the same amount of work then it means that there’s something wrong.

      So be quiet already you fool.

  17. Stergios says:

    Jennifer is indeed brave for highlingting an extremely issue when there are so many people who can easily claim that she has no right to complain since she’s paid millions anyway. As for Jessica, she’s such a class act. We need more people like those two, brilliant artists who’re not afraid to speak up about things that truly matter. Being paid what you deserve is important even if you’re the most successful actress out there. When you hear Jeremy Renner got paid more than her for American Hustle, it’s truly ridiculous. Actors get paid a ridiculous amount of money anyway, that’s not right as well. But since it’s a business that runs millions and millions of money, at least it would be nice to see less sexism in that. One can’t deny the fact that Jennifer Lawrence was already a huge star and a much bigger box office draw than Renner when American Hustle was being made so the whole thing is indicative of a situation that’s just not the way it should be. I’m proud for Jennifer, she’s truly a badass, what she did with this essay is to my viewpoint much more important for younger actress out there than it is for her. She’s even fearless enough to admit she didn’t even really need the money to star in the film in the first place. God bless both Jennifer and Jessica. They’re really in a league of their own.

    • Jack says:

      They’re two crybabies whining about money as their maids do their laundry, groundskeepers trim their mansion lawns, and their chefs prepare their meals. I wonder what Jennifer pays her maids and hair stylists?

    • CelluloidFan35mm says:

      So if she were to ever get a supporting role and gets $20 million, that should mean that everyone else in the supporting cast gets $20 million each as well and if she is getting $20 million for a lead role and the rest of the lead cast is being paid less, I guess that means that they all get $20 million each.
      Also it looks like they will never do indie films because indie producers probably cannot afford any of these highly paid actors and I seriously doubt any of them would agree to a significant pay cut.

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