As­sess­ing Wil­son’s worth no easy task

Sunday News - - WORLD - KARL QUINN

SYD­NEY Rebel Wil­son may be a Hol­ly­wood star, but fig­ures re­leased in court this week show that a big name doesn’t al­ways equal a big pay­day.

The Aus­tralian ac­tress’s enor­mous defama­tion pay­out was cal­cu­lated on an as­sump­tion of past and likely fu­ture earn­ings. Though high, the fig­ure (al­most A$4.57 mil­lion) was in fact con­ser­va­tive, re­flect­ing just 20 per cent of what a Vic­to­rian Supreme Court judge ac­cepted she might fea­si­bly have been ex­pected to earn for three films at an av­er­age fee of US$5m each.

But buried in the 136-page judge­ment de­liv­ered by Jus­tice John Dixon are a bunch of other fig­ures that give an in­sight into just how much an ac­tor’s earn­ings can fluc­tu­ate, and how lit­tle they can be paid early in their ca­reer for even ma­jor hits.

Wil­son moved to Los An­ge­les in 2010, with a string of Aus­tralian tele­vi­sion com­edy cred­its to her name and a burn­ing am­bi­tion to make the big time. She landed a guest spot in the sit­com Rules of En­gage­ment that year, but it was her small role in the break­out hit Brides­maids (2011) that saw her hit the big time.

Brides­maids re­port­edly cost US$32.5m to make, and earned more than US$288m world­wide.

Wil­son was paid just US$3000 for her role.

But it paid enor­mous div­i­dends in other ways. Chief among them was the fact it changed Hol­ly­wood’s mind – a lit­tle at least – on the mat­ter of whether or not au­di­ences would pay to see a com­edy peo­pled al­most en­tirely with women. Not only that, but women who did not con­form to the in­dus­try’s nar­row ideal of twig-like beauty.

Speak­ing in 2014, di­rec­tor Paul Feig said of Wil­son’s au­di­tion for the film that ‘‘she was unique. Unique in al­most a per­plex­ing way’’. He paid trib­ute to her ‘‘out of far-left-field im­pro­vised lines’’, adding ‘‘she was so beau­ti­fully weird’’.

By 2012, the rest of Hol­ly­wood was be­gin­ning to agree. This was Wil­son’s break­through year, in which she ap­peared in six films. But there were no big pay­days for the woman who would share a flat with her Brides­maids co-star Matt Lu­cas un­til 2015.

For Pitch Per­fect, she was paid US$65,000. Her voiceover work on Ice Age: Con­ti­nen­tal Drift earned her US$20,000.

What to Ex­pect When You’re Ex­pect­ing paid US$35,000, Bach­e­lorette – in which she was sec­ond-billed, be­hind Kirsten Dunst – paid just US$15,000, Struck By Light­ning brought her US$12,000, and Small Apart­ments (in which she again ap­peared with Lu­cas) paid US$5000.

In all, that’s fees of US$152,000 for roles in six Hol­ly­wood movies. Roy­al­ties and bonuses (paid over a pe­riod of years) bumped it up by an­other US$230,000.

That’s a long way short of the US$5m-$6m a film ex­pert tes­ti­fied Wil­son might have ex­pected to earn in the 18-month pe­riod from mid-2015 to late-2016, had a series of defam­a­tory ar­ti­cles that painted her as a se­rial liar not GETTY IM­AGES al­tered the per­cep­tion of her in Hol­ly­wood.

I don’t mean to sug­gest for a mo­ment that the pay­out is wrong. It’s just that cal­cu­lat­ing an ac­tor’s likely fu­ture earn­ings based on past earn­ings is no easy mat­ter.

The key to Dixon’s cal­cu­la­tion was Pitch Per­fect 2, the 2015 film that con­firmed Wil­son’s sta­tus as a comic draw­card.

Made for US$29m, it took al­most 10 times that fig­ure glob­ally (US$287m) at the box of­fice. Wil­son’s por­trayal of Fat Amy turned up in au­di­ence test­ing as its key point of ap­peal. Her pay (US$2m, plus bonuses of about US$2m and roy­al­ties of at least US$100,000) re­flected that. More im­por­tantly, it gave her lever­age for an even big­ger pay­day should a Pitch Per­fect 3 even­tu­ate (it did; the film will be re­leased in the US in De­cem­ber and in Aus­tralia next Jan­uary).

Ac­cord­ing to Wil­son’s agent, Sharon Jack­son, the pe­riod im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the re­lease of Pitch Per­fect 2 in May 2015 was when Wil­son should have been at her hottest. In­stead, she re­ceived no of­fers of work.

‘‘There is a pivot to where an ac­tor is chas­ing jobs and then jobs chase the ac­tor,’’ she told the court in video tes­ti­mony from Los An­ge­les. The fact that this didn’t hap­pen in this in­stance ‘‘didn’t make sense’’ and ‘‘was a real mys­tery’’, she said.

Of course, you could ar­gue that Hol­ly­wood has far fewer Fat Amy roles than it does cute girl­friend or sexy su­per­hero.

Wil­son’s ca­reer has since re­bounded. She has had roles in The Broth­ers Grimsby (2016), Ab­so­lutely Fab­u­lous (2016) and How To Be Sin­gle (2016), though her pay for those was not re­vealed in court.

She also has forth­com­ing roles in Isn’t It Ro­man­tic (due for re­lease in 2019) and Nasty Women (a re­make of Dirty Rot­ten Scoundrels), and has been linked to a re­make of Goldie Hawn’s 1980 com­edy Pri­vate Ben­jamin. But while her an­tic­i­pated pay for at least some of these projects was dis­closed in court, Dixon sup­pressed re­port­ing of it for a pe­riod of at least five years.

By the time that sup­pres­sion or­der ex­pires, Wil­son’s fees for those movies may seem like a bar­gain, or they could be seen as a crazy blowout. Given the ups and downs of an ac­tor’s earn­ings in Hol­ly­wood, as re­vealed in the fig­ures we were al­lowed to tell you about, it’s im­pos­si­ble to tell. Fair­fax

Rebel Wil­son was paid a to­tal of US$152,000 for roles in six Hol­ly­wood movies, but her huge defama­tion pay­out was based on what she might have been ex­pected to earn for three films at an av­er­age fee of US$5 mil­lion each.

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