33 Days: Natalie Portman and the Oscar Pay Bump
The Best Actress Oscar often comes with a bump in asking price for its winner, but are the winners actually worth it? Leaving aside the years where academy tastes overlap with the audience and focusing on the average winner, it seems like the answer is no. The pool of talent vying for lead actress is rarely drawn from the same pool of women who attract audiences into the theater. Other than being able to have trailers and posters advertise the presence of an Oscar-winning actor in some forgettable dreck, what is the real value of a Best Actress Oscar?
The Hollywood Reporter wrote:
For Portman, a best actress victory could propel her into the Reese Witherspoon stratosphere of $10 million-plus a picture, a lot more than the high-six figures she made on the $13 million Swan — just as Halle Berry’s asking price shot up to more than $10 million after her win for Monster’s Ball. (There were few takers; ditto for Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman).
There’s a lot to unpack in that parenthetical statement: “There were few takers; ditto for Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman”. Before Portman begins spending her pay increase let’s examine the fortunes of some recent Best Actress winners.
- Helen Hunt. In 1998 Hunt earned an Oscar for her performance as a waitress in James L. Brooks’ As Good as it Gets. Since her win she’s appeared in a handful of roles with her most prominent opposite Richard Gere in Altman’s Dr. T and the Women. Perhaps she could command bigger salaries if there was anyone interested in paying them. While there’s nothing shabby about a resume that includes a successful long-running sitcom and a truckload of Emmys, there’s nothing to suggest winning the Oscar had a lasting impact on Hunt’s career.
Reese Witherspoon. Since winning her statuette for playing June Carter Cash, Witherspoon has busied herself in a variety of forgettable fare, which might have netted her a nice paycheck, but probably left the studios questioning whether it was money well spent. Her most recent box office bomb – How Do You Know – enjoys a 31% rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes!
Halle Berry. Halle was already a box office draw and A-lister prior to becoming the first black woman to earn a Best Actress Oscar. Still that didn’t prevent her from making some critical missteps in her choice of projects. To place so much emphasis on the Catwoman debacle is to miss out on other stinky performances in: Gothika, A Perfect Stranger (with Willis) and the second X-Men sequel.
Arguably, nabbing the statuette does come with the potential for a pay bump. Agents and handlers can ask, but there needs to be someone eager to pay. In addition, a pay bump in no way guarantees a quality bump. If Portman wins, to be sure there will be more scripts to sift through, but it’s unlikely a win will place her in the running for parts currently shopped to Meryl and Tilda! More likely, Portman will find herself competing for the top tier roles in a field crowded with Oscar winners whose pay bump is no match for the lackluster career offerings post Oscar win.