Hollywood’s short list of stars who can open movies is fairly common knowledge, while TV’s $1 million-per-episode players are growing in notoriety. Sometimes all it takes is one hit: witness movie actor Vin Diesel’s $10 million asking price in the wake of “The Fast and the Furious,” or Julia Stiles’ reported $4 million pricetag after “Save the Last Dance.”
But New York theater is a whole different animal. Broadway actors’ salaries depend on so many variables — producers’ largesse, weight of the role, size of the cast, length of the commitment — that few rules apply. In a musical, stars can receive between $20,000 and $40,000 a week, with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick of “The Producers” pushing that upward of $50,000.
Midrange actors receive something less. In fact, agents, producers and general managers agree that as star salaries and the production contract’s Broadway minimum (now set at $1,252) rise, actors caught in the middle are the one commodity on which producers can economize.
Apples and oranges
Most midrange actors receive double or triple minimum on Broadway, with the rare good-guy producer throwing in additional $500 per week as the grosses increase. (Stars receive anywhere from 5% to 7.5% of the gross, provided the weekly tally remains potent.) A Tony nomination and/or win also may figure into the equation.
Stars or not, actors earn less under the League of Resident Theaters contract used by such not-for-profit outfits as Lincoln Center Theater (“Thou Shalt Not”) and the Roundabout (“Assassins”). Even though it’s Broadway, the minimum here falls to $728, with stars sometimes not receiving more than that.
Still, it’s often apples and oranges. Reportedly, the stars of “Gore Vidal’s The Best Man” (Charles Durning, Elizabeth Ashley, Chris Noth, et al.) bagged no more than $4,000 a week last season due to a relatively short commitment (17 weeks) and the huge size of the ensemble (19 actors).
Elsewhere, Michael Cumpsty began at $5,000 a session for an open-ended run in the three-person play “Copenhagen,” says a source close to the production. Certain actors in the “45 Seconds From Broadway” ensemble are reported to do even better.
For years, Vanessa Redgrave in “Vita and Virginia” set the outer limits of Off Broadway salaries with her $1,750 a week in 1994.
In the past year, Alan Bates in “The Unexpected Man” and Macaulay Culkin in “Madame Melville” easily topped that figure. But for midrange actors, $1,000 to $1,500 is more the Off Broadway rule, with the weekly minimum falling anywhere from $763 to $440, depending on the size of the theater.