Assessing Wilson’s worth no easy task
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.