How Jessica Chastain Negotiates for Equal Pay

Jessica Chastain Power of Women
Marco Grob for Variety

Jessica Chastain has become an outspoken advocate for gender equality in Hollywood, from pushing for the hiring of more women directors and crew, to seeking better representations of female characters on the big screen. Here, in an interview with Variety, the Oscar-nominated actress (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Help”) spoke candidly about how she negotiates her contracts to make sure her wages are on par with her male counterparts.

Jessica Chastain: I’m not taking jobs anymore where I’m getting paid a quarter of what the male co-star is being paid. I’m not allowing that in my life.

I remember watching Amy Pascal — it was after the Sony hack, and she was giving a talk somewhere. She said part of the reason women don’t get paid equal to men is they don’t ask for more; actresses need to stop being so grateful. That really hit me. At first, I was really pissed off. And then I thought, “She’s touching on something here.” Women need to step forward and demand they’re fairly compensated for their work.

You have a scale to measure it by, because the big agencies know what the male actors are getting paid. So when they’re negotiating, they should feel empowered. They can come forward and say, “This is 2017. We’re not doing this anymore.”

Marco Grob for Variety

What I do now, when I’m taking on a film, I always ask about the fairness of the pay. I ask what they’re offering me in comparison to the guy. I don’t care about how much I get paid; I’m in an industry where we’re overcompensated for the work we do. But I don’t want to be on a set where I’m doing the same work as someone else and they’re getting five times what I’m getting.

In the past, what I used to do — this is terrible — a movie would come to me with an offer. They wouldn’t want me to do my deal until they cast the male actor. They would wait and see what they had left over, even if they’d come to me first. And so I stopped doing that. Now, if someone comes to me and has an offer but wants to wait, I’m like, “Goodbye.” If you want me in your film, do a favored-nation clause. Don’t determine my worth based on what’s left over.

There was something huge that I recently turned down. For me, it wasn’t about the money; it was an old-fashioned problem of the wage gap. I turned it down, and they didn’t come back. 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. 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. Even though I lost that film, I’ve created a boundary. I drew a line in the sand.

The power of “no” means you’re educating people in how to treat you.

This story is from Variety’s Power of Women: New York issue.

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  1. Soooo wait. She turned down a role because she expected to be paid like a star(she is not A list by any means) expecting them to come back with a bigger offer and they never did? That is how she negotiates for equal pay? There are quite literally a million women who would step into her shoes and fill these roles. Sorry to tell her this but she is a dime a dozen and in hollywood at her age they come cheaper than that. By all means turn down roles because YOU feel like YOU are a star. You will find out that hollywood has moved on to a prettier, younger, cheaper actress

  2. If the roles of the two stars are on equal footing (ie screen time and central to the story) of course they should be paid they same barring one star being egregiously more famous than the other. In the end I think this is something the Screen Actors Guild should address on the whole, individual actors and actresses should have to deal with this.

  3. mjweir0317 says:

    JC is one of my favorite actors. This only cements it for me. She is absolutely spot on. Why should she get paid less than her male counterpart in a film?

    And as she said, she recognizes they are already overcompensated for what they do and it’s not about money, but be that as it may, she should still get the same salary as the male at the same tier. Be it star or co-star.

    • I says:

      Why should she get paid less than her male counterpart in a film?

      Because he is the lead and she is supporting?

      • Max Borg says:

        She specifically says she asks for equal pay if she is the co-lead, meaning they have equal screentime and work the same amount of days. She is not “supporting” in that case.

  4. sandra says:

    holy crap, this variety site is nothing but feminist propaganda all day long…..think i will find my movie news elsewhere

  5. Marco says:

    Hollywood is a market-orientated industry and so, ultimately, the amount a particular star gets paid is dependant on their market value (i.e. how much their last few films made, especially where it’s clear they were the biggest name on the bill). That said, actresses would also get paid more if they were given more high-profile parts in potential blockbusters.

  6. Marco says:

    Good on Jessica for her stance. Unfortunately, however, the reality is that a super-talented, in-demand, and relatively well-established actress like her can afford to make such a principled stand. It’s much harder for actresses who are relatively unknown and less esteemed to say no to such sexist practices.

  7. Legally, this is not a tough problem. You don’t need to be first or second to sign a contract. Just include a clause that says that your pay will be adjusted to be equal to the highest paid actor in the film in the event that any other actor is paid more than you are. You can also require a disclosure of the top 5 paid actors on the film. See there! The entire problem with gender equity solved with two sentences. You just need a good lawyer.

  8. godzilla502 says:

    There is equal pay in SAG, DGA & WGA. They’re called minimums. These exist in below the line unions as well. Everything above minimum is based on whatever the financier/producer is willing to pay for the service of the artist. That’s how it all works. This idea of “pay inequality”, the way it’s depicted here by Ms. Chastain is disingenuous.

    She isn’t actually lobbying for “equal pay for equal work”. She simply wants to be paid as much as the biggest named Male Actor. Equal pay would mean that Jessica would get paid the same rate as a day player actor.

    She doesn’t want that.

    And it’s amazing when the Female does get a bigger check than the male, no one mentions those films. How much did Jessica get for Miss Sloane? How much did Sam Waterson? Equal pay? No. I know FOR A FACT, on her new film WOMAN WALKS AHEAD, Jessica got paid more than all her male stars combined.

    Equal pay indeed.

    The Sony hack revealed that Jennifer Lawrence, working less days and hours, made OVERALL less than Bale & Bradley Cooper. JLaw actually had a higher daily rate than the 2 male leads. Bale and Cooper worked 50+ days compared to JLaw’s 22 days. Producers paid JLaw MORE per day than the boys. Producers gave Bale & Cooper an extra back end point each than JLaw got.

    That was the controversy.

    What was JLaw’s idea of “equal”? Should she have received the same TOTAL amount of pay even though she worked less than 1/2 the time? That’s “equal”?

    I didn’t see JLaw kick Chris Pratt over some of her $$$ to make them equally paid on PASSENGERS even though Pratt worked more days and hours.

    This is all a farce. And when millionaires like JLaw and Chastain complain about equal pay, it’s insulting to REAL pay inequality issues.

    Tom Cruise should be paid more than Renee Zellwegger on JERRY MAGUIRE, the same way Julia Roberts should be paid more than Albert Finney on ERIN BROCKOVICH. Stars earn a potrion of their salary based on the actual work and the other portion on their sale-ability.

    I’m a writer-director. Have been for nearly 20 years. Nothing major, but I do the same job as Katheryn Bigelow and Shondra Rhimes. Should I be paid equally? Of course not. They’re award winning, mega high rated artists. They should get more than me.

    This is a non-existent controversy. Stop printing these irrelevant and hate inducing articles.

  9. Mark says:

    Jessica is one of my favorite actresses of all time and I admire her willingness to fight for equality…but when it comes to picking roles, she should probably keep the box office performance of Ms Sloan and The Zookeepers Wife in her mind. Scarlett Johansson got paid crap for the first Avengers film, but that film made her an indedpensible part of thr franchise and she’s now one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood. Sometimes takeing less early on is a very smart long term strategic move.

    • Steve. says:

      Sloan and Zookeeper are very low budget films, you can’t compare them to a superhero film.

      • truth is stranger than fiction says:

        Some commenters don’t know much about the business. The Martian made a lot of money and was a big budget film. Zookeeper’s Wife is tops in indie films and was made for less than $20m. It’s doing great and she got incredible reviews for it. Some of her films hit, some flop, same as everyone. You’re blaming her for standing up for her convictions?

      • Haz says:

        Umm in regards to Miss Sloane low budget or not the movie was an utter failure. Zookeeper is doing decent from what I’ve read but Crimson Peak and Miss Sloane both bombed badly. I’m sorry while what she’s trying to say comes off as admirable experience, training, and box office results should matter in the negotiation process.

    • Well let’s think of it this way…it’s the audience’s fault. What’s her choice of roles? Intelligent, grounded, thought-provoking. What broke box office records this weekend…The Fate of the Furious about a bunch of former convicts who now use CARS to save the world. Not all actors put focus on their physicality. Let’s look at the highest grossing female actresses. Jennifer Lawrence, Scarlett Johanssen. Let’s not pretend to be ignorant to why they sell. Their roles are VERY sexual. Look at box office mojo. Lawrence sold outside of “X-Men” and “The Hunger Games” (Franchises, not really successful because of her) three films. “Silver Linings Playbook”, “American Hustle”, and “Passengers”. The commonality of those roles is pretty obvious (A sexual character who spends much of the film showing it off). Scarlett Johanssen, it’s practically part of her image! Directors comment on how intimidated they are by her sexuality.

      But let’s go back to the 1970’s (The New Hollywood era). Who were some of the big actresses of that era? Diane Keaton, Sally Field, to a lesser extent Talia Shire. But look at them! They weren’t curvy blondes and there most well known roles were factory workers and people who were…I guess normal be the word but their characters ended up displaying so much internal depth. Sex wasn’t the first thing that was made obvious about their characters. Chastain’s earliest roles were very sexual roles (I’m pretty sure she was nude for her first three major roles) but she found her footing very intelligent, adult roles. Studios will make films based on what sells. “Passengers” was actually altered to feature the romance aspect more. In a lot of ways, the fate of cinema really does come down to what audiences will see. That’s up to us. Chastain does films that are for grown-ups. I don’t go into a film of hers expecting skin. I sure as hell would pay her more before I would Lawrence and Johanssen. But I don’t consider films about outlandish love stories worth paying someone millions of dollars. I say good for her for not settling. But as an audience…maybe we need to start doing the same. Cause I’m not going to lie. When the most recent F&F broke records this weekend there was a serious pit in my stomach. How did we get from movies like “The Godfather” being the big sellers (Check the numbers) to that?! :(

      • BigAl112 says:

        How did we get from movies like The Godfather being the big sellers to movies like Fast & Furious? Simple answer, 3 years after The Godfather, Jaws was released and made nearly double what The Godfather did.

      • Yep. Pretty much signs it up. More thrill. At the time, it was an ode to Alfred Hitchcock, now it’s mindless half of the time. :(

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