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10 Actors Who Were Underpaid for Significant Roles

6. Miles Teller was paid only $8,000 for playing the ambitious jazz drummer in the Oscar-winning drama Whiplash (2014).

Miles Teller
Miles Teller. Image Source: Gage Skidmore, IMDB

Though he started playing drums when he was 15 and was part of rock bands, Teller had to learn to play the more different jazz drums for playing the character, Andrew Neiman.

All the scenes with him playing the drums were really him playing the drums. They were shot sequentially so that progress in skill for him as well as for the character was sequential. Neither the three Oscar wins and two nominations, nor the intense performance required for depicting Neiman’s ambition and obsessive passion to become the best jazz drummer, made Teller’s remuneration any bigger. (source)

7. Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson were paid only $250,000 each for Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) even though the film grossed $570 million. 

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson. Image Source: Ibsan73, IMDB, Patrick L.

Based on an unexpected best-seller of the same name by EL James, Fifty Shades of Grey went on to become a huge hit following timely marketing and bringing in fans of the book, couples, and people curious about experimenting in their relationships. Though both the actors signed in a deal for filming all three books, they were only given the $250,000 along with some box-office bonuses for the first by the studio Universal Pictures. After its success, they were able to negotiate a higher, seven-figure salary. (1, 2)

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8. The actors who played the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz (1939) were paid just $50 a week, while Terry the Dog earned $125 per week for playing Toto. 

Singer's Midgets
Singer’s Midgets. Image Source: Public Domain, IMDB

The actors who played the midgets were part of a vaudeville band known as the Singer’s Midgets and were managed by an Australian-born American known as Leopold von Singer. He was responsible for casting many of his performers in films during the 1930s such as Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), They Gave Him a Gun (1937), and Block-Heads (1938). Terry the Dog, too, was a star by the time having performed in seven different films by then. Nevertheless, the difference in pay between the two was certainly considerable. (1, 2)

9. Jon Hader was paid just $1,000 for the lead role in Napoleon Dynamite (2004) which grossed $46 million.

Jon Hader
Jon Hader. Image Source: Gage Skidmore, IMDB

The American comedy film Napoleon Dynamite was developed from a short film made by Hader and his fellow film student, Jared Hess, which was well-received at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2003. After being convinced by producer Jeremy Coon who also managed to find investors, Hess turned it into a feature-length film mostly casting his friends including Hader because of its extremely tight budget of $400,00. This meant that Hader could only get a meager $1,000 for his performance as Napoleon. However, the film went on to become a runaway success, earning over $46 million. After this, however, Hader was able to renegotiate for more. (source)

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10. Nick Castle, who played the famous horror character, Michael Myers in the original Halloween (1978) film, was paid just $25 per day. The film grossed over $60 million.

Nick Castle
Nick Castle. Image Source: GabboT, IMDB

The American independent slasher film co-written and directed by John Carpenter was shot on a budget of a little over $300,000. It featured actors like Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis, who too were paid relatively low salaries of $20,000 and $8,000 respectively for their roles, with Nick Castle receiving just $25 per day. They had to make many improvisations due to the low budget of the film. The notorious mask of Michael Myers, for example, was made from a $1.98 Captain Kirk mask bought from a costume shop on Hollywood Boulevard. Released in October 1978 and despite the low budget, the film was a huge commercial success. (source)

Bonus Fact: Canadian comedian and actor, John Candy, was just paid $414 for his role as the polka musician in Home Alone (1990).

John Candy one of Actors Underpaid
John Candy. Image Source: IMDB, IMDB

When Kevin’s mom unsuccessfully tries to get back to Chicago after realizing he was left alone at home, it was John Candy’s character, Guy Polinski, who offers to give her a lift in his van along with his traveling polka band. Candy’s shoot was for 23 hours, and he was the only one in all the cast whom the film’s director, Chris Columbus, allowed to improvise his dialogue. For his role as Polinski, he was only paid $414, despite the budget being $18 million and the gross over $476 million. (source)

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