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How Jessica Chastain Negotiates for Equal Pay

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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