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Superheroes are underpaid

This isn’t just an issue with Gal Gadot

Warner Bros.

Gal Gadot earned a reported $300,000 for starring in Wonder Woman, which is by all accounts a huge hit. While the viral story about the pay gap between Gadot and Superman’s Henry Cavill turned out to be bunk, there is a sense in some corners that $300,000 for that kind of roll is already a lot of money. Why are stories written as if that money — which is comparable to what Marvel stars make in their first roles in the cinematic universe — is too low?

Because it is, for a variety of reasons. It sounds like a nice, big number when you say it out loud, but the work these actors are being asked to do is brutal, and it goes on for a much longer time than people assume. It’s hard to put yourself in a position where you feel badly for good looking people making, on paper, more than we ever will, but they’re doing a job that would break many of us.

And the acting is only a part of it.

The gym

These are superheroes, remember, and they are expected to look like superheroes. Whether you’re Chris Evans or Gal Gadot, you are expected to look preternaturally fit, with next to no body fat and thick layers of muscle. Trainers will tell you that muscles are built in the kitchen, not the gym, which means you’re likely having a miserable time eating a whole lot of brown rice and chicken breasts.

“Training and dietary changes work, but not magically,” Vanity Fair explained in a story about training actors to be heroes. “Muscle remodeling and psychological re-mapping take time, which is surprisingly short with any movie deadline. On Batman v. Superman, during nine months of intensive training — and eating — Gadot did the hard work to bring about a physical and psychological change.”

So you’re spending a ridiculous amount of time in the gym doing punishing work with someone else in total control of what you eat and drink, and there’s little margin for error. It’s also important to remember that the most aesthetically demanding shots and photo shoots don’t capture what actors look like, they capture what those actors look like after preparing extensively specifically for that moment.

“When lifting I'm always with a trainer because the thing that makes a difference is that last 20 percent in your training, and he very scientifically looks after my food as well, because when I'm going for a ‘shirt off’ shot, everything changes the month before, and I'm timed down to the day,” Hugh Jackman said in an interview. “There is water dehydration for 36 hours before. It's quite a scientific process to looking your best.”

So if you see a male actor without a shirt, keep in mind they are likely dehydrated and have been training specifically to be shirtless for a good amount of time. And that physical condition leaves quickly, which is why shots that focus on a lot of skin and muscle are usually bumped to the front of the shooting schedule, when it’s harder for actors to fit in the gym.

This is even worse for Gadot, whose suit shows off much more skin than what you see in male heroes. She couldn’t wear a rubber suit with included muscles or that hid any weight she put on during shooting ... which is quite the challenge considering she was pregnant while shooting much of the film.

If you think any of this is easy, or even healthy, I invite you to try it. The reality is that these actors are working punishing hours, are often in physical pain and are trying to attain an impossible level of physical perfection that sometimes only lasts for a matter of hours.

The acting itself

It takes months, if not years in some cases, to shoot a film, and the stars put in incredibly long hours doing often physically uncomfortable and emotionally demanding work. The pressure is intense, especially in action films where a mistake can mean hundreds of people lost hours of work.

Gadot took part in reshoots after the movie was completed, while her pregnancy was impossible to hide. They covered her belly in green fabric so they could remove it in post-production.

So you’re looking at six months of intense work, with intense responsibility, and long, draining hours. This is a job, and it’s not easy one even without adding in all the additional work that goes into carrying a franchise. Besides, once shooting is over ...

Then you have to promote the damned thing

The movie is done, and it’s coming out, and you can take a sip of water and maybe sleep in a day ... but not really because now you’re contractually obligated to promote the living shit out of it.

You gotta go to conventions, and late night television and do endless interviews with endless people asking usually the same damned questions. You have to travel around the world to sit in hotel rooms for longer than anyone should have to while speaking with hundreds of people, one after the other.

Welcome to the junket.

“[Studios] plant their star, director, or whomever in a chair, and then, for hours or days, they conduct a series of tightly scheduled interviews, one right after the other, in person or via satellite,” Flavorwire explained. “The duration of the interview varies, based on the demand of the interviewee and the importance of the interviewer; sometimes, the slot lasts as long as 20 minutes, but it’s often 15, ten, or even just five...”

It’s part of the job, but when you dislike the film itself ... it has to feel torturous.

Imagine sitting in a chair for days on end, being asked the same thing over and over, while having to smile and look your best and be as bright as charismatic as possible for every one. Why? Because if you do it perfectly, there is a small bit of publicity value in doing a good interview for a small television station in Italy — and if you mess up, the clip will go viral instantly and your reputation will suffer. If you ever watch those interviews with the logo of the film behind someone and wonder why the star seems tired and bored and kind of done with your shit ... well, all those things are likely true.

There’s little room for error, which is why these interviews tend to be so bland. Why risk candid answers?

So I mean ...

The math on all these things changes drastically when you’re paid a few million to basically give up your life and autonomy for a few years to make a film, but it feels like exploitation at the lower levels of payment. The system is weighted dramatically toward to the studios in circumstances like Gadot, and the amount of work actors are asked to put into these roles for a few hundred thousand dollars is kind of obscene.

It’s a complicated situation due to the fact that Gadot will very likely be asking for more money in future films and may have a profit-sharing agreement in place as well. But studios know that they don’t have to pay the Chris Evans and Gal Gadots of the world much money up front, while asking for the maximum amount of work possible out of them.

This situation isn’t likely to change, as there’s always going to be someone willing to take the role for even less money, if it comes to that, in Hollywood, but the idea that actors in these franchises are obscenely paid for work, or that the fringe benefits are all positive, isn’t looking at the whole picture. There’s a physical and mental cost to shooting these films, and the hours border on the ridiculous both before and after the production itself.

$300,000 isn’t a lot of money for that level of commitment — it wouldn’t even fully pay off a modest house in many parts of the country — and the requirements to do the job well are so steep many of us couldn’t do even one aspect of what’s being asked of these actors, much less all of them. The demands may be superhuman, but the payment, at least in the beginning, is not.

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