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Hollywood Stars That Demanded A Higher Paycheck

Even with a track record of critically acclaimed performances and phenomenal ratings, or not, celebrities remain at the mercy of studios, directors, and producers regarding their multimillion-dollar paychecks. Project budgets, cheaper alternatives, and overconfidence can all ruin the chances that a particular actor or actress will or will not be selected for a role. Some luck out and achieve a significant pay raise while others have their salaries cut. Some are even so unlucky that they’re actually removed from a project entirely. Either way, take joy in the Hollywood celebrities that managed to receive better, and worse, paychecks.

Robert Downey, Jr.

All the way back in 2008, Robert Downey Jr. and Director Jon Favreau came together to kick start the modern-era of Marvel Cinematic Universe masterpieces in Iron Man. Marvel originally flat-out refused to hire RDJ, concerned about his past drug and alcohol abuse alongside his negative public perception. Thankfully, Jon Favreau kept fighting for his leading man.

Eventually, Marvel relented and allowed Favreau to cast Downey Jr. as the “Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist” Tony Stark, more famously known as Iron Man. Interestingly, he was only paid $500,000 for that first role. With the film’s success, RDJ subsequently asked for $10 million for the sequel, Iron Man 2. Realizing Stark would be the center of the future Avengers anthology, Marvel relented and caved to his serious new salary requirements.

Helen Hunt

Through eight seasons, Mad About You saw Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt play a married couple living in New York City through the show’s 1992-1999 run. Several seasons of original episodes and countless reruns later allowed parent company NBC to make hundreds of millions of dollars through advertising revenue. Therefore, when salary negotiations came knocking, the show’s two stars requested $100,000 per episode. As with any new sitcom, Hunt and Reiser gave the show their all to help establish the show. They were both handsomely rewarded for their efforts – they received their $100,000 asking fee.

Simon Cowell

American Idol, Fox’s once widely-acclaimed singing competition television series, first aired on June 11, 2002. Even with several notable series winners like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, the face of American Idol, then and now, was no doubt English television personality and record executive, Simon Cowell.  Somehow, Cowell was able to negotiate a stunning $35 million salary on his behalf for seasons one through five, the length of his contract. Conversely, his peers, judges Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, were only making $5 million each season for their own presences.

Millie Bobby Brown

With its first season purchased by Netflix in 2015, Stranger Things finally debuted on July 15, 2016. Acclaimed for its writing, directing, atmosphere and pacing, Stranger Things has become a truly international phenomenon. Anchored by Hollywood heavyweights Winona Ryder and David Harbour, the series has also given rise to its young cast – one of which being actress Millie Bobby Brown. With interest in the show growing immensely, Bobby Brown asked for a raise at the start of the third season. Rather than accept $25,000 pay for episode, the budding actress asked for $250,000 per episode. Her renegotiation with the streaming giant was a huge success.

Rob Lowe

Created by television writer/producer and director Aaron Sorkin, The West Wing was an American political drama that largely took place in the West Wing of the White House during the fictional administration of Democrat Josiah Bartlet.

Originally running from 1999 until 2006, Rob Lowe played Deputy Communications Director to Toby Ziegler, Sam Seaborn, for seasons one through four. As time went on, Lowe saw his screen-time reduced. He was also upset that he was only taking home $75,000 per episode while his costars were raking in $300,000 per episode. Lowe’s eventual salary request was ignored. Therefore, Lowe left through a “mutual” understanding with the network.

Michael C. Hall

Focusing on the antihero “vigilante serial killer” protagonist Dexter Morgan, Dexter featured the acting chops of Michael C. Hall as he portrayed a forensic technician specializing in bloodstain pattern analysis.  Seasons one through four were well-regarded but the following seasons saw a drop in reception. Nonetheless, season four’s finale saw 2.6 million viewers tune in, the most-watched episode of an original Showtime series (at the time). With an achievement like that, Hall had some room to request higher pay. He took his chance after the ending of season six. What initially became a moot point for both parties, Showtime eventually relented and gave Hall his asking price, $48 million for an additional two seasons. Showtime originally offered $40 million for two seasons.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Audiences were crazy for the “show about nothing” through the Seinfeld’s nine-season, 180-episode run. Created by Larry David and title character, Jerry Seinfeld, the show heavily involved Seinfeld’s on-screen friends portrayed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards, and Jason Alexander. Even with the show’s incredible success, its cast was still paid pretty scantly. As Louis-Dreyfus, Richards, and Alexander were denied from receiving royalties, they banded together and requested a proper $1 million per episode during the show’s final season. The request was easily granted, given the show’s ratings and numbers, but Alexander stated that the $1 million pay is what they all “should have had” long before.

Ray Romano

Between 1996 and 2005, audiences far and wide fell in love with Raymond Barone and his Italian-American family living on Long Island in the comedy-laden Everybody Loves Raymond. The show has been named as one of the funniest television comedies, best all-time series, and best sitcom starring a stand-up comedian. With such honors, Romano decided to take the opportunity to really increase his earnings in 2003. He requested an enormous $1.8 million per episode along with residuals. Believe it or not, CBS took the bait. However, as his “family” and cast-mates were only receiving a paltry $160,000 per episode, they all took a stand together and walked out. Since the sitcom was a success, they too were rewarded with notable salary increases.

Evan Rachel Wood

Based on the 1973 film of the same name, Westworld was originally written and directed by the late Michael Crichton. In 2016’s television adaptation of Westworld, the basis of the plot was recycled; advanced humanoid android hosts living out their fictional lives in a Wild-West amusement park while entertaining wealthy guests. Review site Rotten Tomatoes gave the show a stellar consensus, “With an impressive level of quality that honors its source material, the brilliantly addictive Westworld balances intelligent, enthralling drama against outright insanity.” Star Evan Rachel Wood, alongside several costars, asked for $250,000 per episode before the third season began filming. As Westworld become HBO’s most-watched first season of any of their original programming, their humanoid requests were granted.

Kelsey Grammer

Spun-off from Cheers, the series centered on the titular bar in Boston, Massachusetts, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” Frasier continued the story of psychiatrist Frasier Crane. The series saw Kelsey Grammer play the lead character as he returns to Seattle, begin a new career as a radio host, reconnect with his father and brother, and make new friends over the course of 11 seasons. For the last two seasons, Grammer requested $1.6 million per season, seeking to “never have to work again” once the show concluded. Even without the use of reverse psychology, Grammer made it happen.

Jorja Fox

In 337 episodes, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, also known as CSI or CSI: Las Vegas, became the de facto American procedural forensics crime drama. For a long 15 years, from October 2000 to September 2015, the character-driven team employed by the Las Vegas Police Department won six Golden Globe Awards, six Primetime Emmys, and many other awards.

Even with monumental success and viewership, the producers were penny pinchers. When Jorja Fox and costar George Eads asked for a $20,000 raise per episode (for a total of $120,000), CBS, in turn, fired them. Fox and Eads, missing out on their salaries… and jobs… accepted their original $100,000 pay per episode once again and returned to work.

Chrissy Metz

Premiering in September 2016, This Is Us was an American drama that explored the lives of two parents alongside their three children amongst several different time periods. Chrissy Metz was almost homeless before she was picked to play Kate Pearson. In the first season, Metz earned a tiny $40,000 per episode. However, her pay demands changed when the show developed a national following. Before the third season finally aired, Metz and other costars asked for substantial raises. They all received their financial wishes. Metz was moved up to $250,000 per episode.

Daniel Dae Kim

Created as a reboot of the 1968-1980 original Hawaii Five-O series, the 2010 – 2020 version was produced by CBS Productions and Television Studios. In this modern version, actor Daniel Dae Kim played Detective Lieutenant Chin Ho Kelly, a veteran HPD detective. As his pay was substantially lower than costars Scott Caan and Alex O’Loughlin, he wanted to negotiate a more “even” salary. Therefore, in 2017, Kim asked CBS for $200,000 per episode. Sadly, the request was denied and Kim was written off the show following the season 7 series finale.

Taraji P. Henson

Released in 2008, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a romantic fantasy drama that saw star Brad Pitt spectacularly age in reverse. Actress Cate Blanchett played his lifelong love interest while actress Taraji P. Henson played his adoptive mother. Henson, nominated for Best Supporting Actress upon the film’s premiere, was expecting a $500,000 payday. Disgustingly, she was given a mere $150,000, instead. Henson felt “gutted” by this unfair and unequal pay.

Sharon Stone

After a San Franciscan rock star is murdered, police detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) begins investigating. In a twist of fate, he becomes intimately involved with the prime murder suspect, Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone). Basic Instinct would become one of Stone’s breakthrough roles but her pay for the performance did not signify this in the slightest. Michael Douglas was paid a hefty $14 million while his female costar, Stone, was paid a humiliating $500,000. Frustrated with her power in the process, Stone has since become an advocate for closing the gender pay gap in Hollywood.

Kathy Griffin

In Suddenly Susan, Brooke Shields plays a San Franciscan magazine writer, Susan Keane, that is forced to learn how to be an independently strong woman. Kathy Griffin was hired to play Vicki Groener in one of her first paid roles. Unfortunately, Griffin was paid poorly. With such a forward-facing role, she was drastically underpaid and she knew it. She was unafraid to ask for a raise, but she did not achieve her desired salary. Referring to the act of asking, Griffin noted that when she’s “simply told, ‘No,” the rejection is “brutal.”

Halle Berry

Around the turn of the century, actress and model Halle Berry was beginning to make her mark in Hollywood. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in 2001’s Monster’s Ball and became the mutant Storm in 2001’s X-Men. With more name recognition in the industry, she requested over a $1 million dollar raise from Revlon CEO Ron Perelman, a company she had existing contract work with. Annoyed with the expectation that she would be paid more, Perelman flat out denied the ask. Berry would stick with her $1.38 million salary.

Suzanne Somers

Three’s Company was the American adaption of Man About the House, a British sitcom that ran from 1973 until 1976. The series followed the lives of Janet Wood (Joyce DeWitt), Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Somers), and Jack Tripper (John Ritter) as they lived platonically in their Santa Monica, California apartment complex. In the beginning, Suzanne Somers was earning $3,500 a week. Her pay was then moved up to $30,000 a week. But the fact that John Ritter was paid more than $150,000 each week forced Somers to try her hand at an equal pay rate. Instead, Somers was fired upon the season five finale.

Jennifer Lopez

Singer, model, actress, and two-time American Idol judge, Jennifer Lopez judged the Fox-branded reality singing competition in 2011 and 2012. At first, Lopez signed on to judge Idol for a cool $11 million. This rate continued into her second year of judging. However, by 2013, Lopez sought $22 million to again appear as an Idol judge. Although her fame and power can’t be underestimated, executive producers didn’t want to shell out the big bucks. Therefore, Lopez was left to walk as her seat was replaced by pop star Nicki Minaj.

Steve Whitmire

Steve Whitmire is best known for his imaginary character portrayals. By this, we refer to his voice and movement acting of Muppets Kermit the Food and Ernie (following the death of Muppet’s creator and original voice of these two characters, Jim Henson), Rizzo the Rat, Foo-Foo, Wembley Fraggle, and Sprocket the Dog. Whitmire was fired after a 27-year-long tenure following several allegations made by the Disney company over his salary demands and business misconduct(s).

Jaimee Foxworth

As a spin-off of Perfect Strangers, Family Matters explored the lives of the Winslow family living out in Chicago, Illinois. It also gave us one of the most memorable characters to come out of the 1990s, Steve Urkel, played by none other than Jaleel White. Another favorite of the cast was that of Jaimee Foxworth who played “Judy” Winslow. Fans were saddened to see her time on-screen begin to disappear in season four. In hindsight, producers were setting up for her departure. It’s said that she had asked for a raise before her unexpected firing. It’s unfortunate that even after Foxworth had left the show, she was “not invited at all” Family Matters reunions. The distaste between the former actress and network was sickly.

Lauren Cohan

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes may have been the face of the long-running The Walking Dead series, but Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene was another long mainstay of the zombie apocalypse series. For some time, there was talk that Cohan would be leaving as salary negotiations had soured the star’s working relationship. Thankfully, Cohan herself came out and noted that the presumed “tense” negotiations were anything but. Cohan never considered leaving the show, especially with Greene’s unfinished story arc. It was just that her character was being treated to new roles within The Walking Dead universe. That said, there was no word on the successful or failed salary increase demand.

Will Ferrell

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues brought back the original cast of the original Anchorman film, along with a long list of additional Hollywood comedians, a whole nine years after the original’s success. Originally, the sequel was given $35 million to complete the project. However, as Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell had both achieved phenomenal success following the first film, and Ferrell sought a higher $10 – $20 million salary, the film’s budget was easily increased. Rather than be stuck with $35 million, Paramount Pictures upped their budget to $50 million.

Keanu Reeves

In The Devil’s Advocate, a young Keanu Reeves plays a Florida lawyer who moves to New York City with his wife (Charlize Theron) to work for the owner (Al Pacino) of a large law firm. That law firm owner just happens to be the devil. Interestingly, unlike the previous actors and actresses on this list, Reeves voluntarily took a payout from his initial $15 million salary. He did so to ensure that Pacino could be hired for his devilish role.

Jason Genao, Brett Gray, Sierra Capri, and Diego Tinoco

On My Block is an American teen comedy/drama that premiered on Netflix back in 2018. The series stars Jason Genao, Brett Gray, Sierra Capri, and Diego Tinoco who play four teens coming from a rough inner-city LA neighborhood that have their friendships and relationships tested as they all begin high school. With exciting storylines and excellent performances by the diverse cast, the four stars sought a salary increase for the third season. Netflix, who had previously paid the four $20,000 per episode in the first two seasons, agreed to pay each $65,000 per episode in the third season.

NeNe Leakes

Nene Leakes is a fashion designer, author, television personality, and actress best known for her presence on the Real Housewives of Atlanta series. Making her first appearance in the series back in 2008, Leakes remained a full-time cast member for the first seven seasons. She left for seasons eight and nine, and returned for seasons ten through twelve. Leakes was seeking a high salary per episode but was not granted the wish, thus causing her to miss or skip out on a number of seasons. She also realized that her time on the series was waning, making the choice to leave herself.

Dylan Minette

Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why premiered in 2017 and ran until its “natural conclusion” in 2020. The series is based off the 2007 novel of the same name. Its plot followed Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette) in the aftermath of the death of his crush, Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) in the first season. Critics praised Minnette for his portrayal. This allowed Netflix the easy decision to accept his pay-per-episode demand. His salary then jumped to $150,000 – $200,000 per episode.

Bruce Willis

The Expendables, first released in 2010, saw Sylvester Stallone bring together some of Hollywood’s toughest actors. Names included Arnold Schwarzenneger, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Wesley Snipes, and original “tough guy” Chuck Norris. In the third installment, ultimately released in 2014, Stallone wanted Bruce Willis to appear. For four days worth of filming, Stallone offered Willis $3 million. However, Willis wanted $4 million. Surprisingly, Willis walked away from the offer.

Tom Cruise

Yes, yes, we know this is a picture of Angelina Jolie and not Tom Cruise. Although Jolie would ultimately be cast in the lead role in 2010’s Salt, the part was originally given to Tom Cruise. However, as Cruise asked for $20 million for the role, an amount the studio did not care to meet, Jolie was then hired. The character was slightly tweaked to align with the film’s new female lead.

Katherine Heigl

2010’s Valentine’s Day brought together a huge ensemble cast: Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Jamie Foxx, Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Garner, Emma and Julia Roberts, Taylor Swift, Topher Grace, George Lopez, and still many others. Actress Katherine Heigl was asked if she would like to appear in the film but she requested a huge $3 million salary. Her famous co-stars accepted much lower salaries. Therefore, Heigl was ultimately left out of the production.

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