The Disparity Is Out There

As the X-Files resurfaces, a scandal erupts:

In infuriating news, Gillian Anderson revealed she was initially offered half of David Duchovny’s salary for the upcoming “X-Files” reboot, despite putting in equal star power and screen time.

“I’m surprised that more [interviewers] haven’t brought that up because it’s the truth,” Anderson said in an interview with the Daily Beast. “Especially in this climate of women talking about the reality of [unequal pay] in this business, I think it’s important that it gets heard and voiced. It was shocking to me, given all the work that I had done in the past to get us to be paid fairly. I worked really hard toward that and finally got somewhere with it.”

James Joyner is unimpressed:

My overall perception, though, is that Duchovny is by far the bigger star. He was already a known commodity when the original show aired, having been the lead on “Red Shoe Diaries,” and went on to star in “Californication.” Anderson, by contrast, was a 25-year-old unknown when the show started and, while she’s worked steadily, hasn’t carried anything of note.

The amount of screen time surely isn’t the only factor in who gets paid what in the entertainment industry. I presume Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe got paid more on “The West Wing” than did John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, and Richard Schiff (whose names I actually had to look up just now). I presume Cybil Sheppard made more when “Moonlighting” debuted than did Bruce Willis, given that she was already a star and nobody had ever heard of him.

Similarly, Tom Petty gets a much bigger cut than any of the Heartbreakers and Don Henley and the late Glenn Frey made more than their Eagles bandmates.

There are a lot of examples of the pay discrepancy between male and female actors. A lot of them are pretty bad. Of course Harrison Ford is going to be able to demand a premium for his small role in The Force Awakens, he’s Harrison friggin’ Ford. Further, he was the face of the role, meaning that he had the leverage of being able to relieve them of the fan controversy of a recast. The role of Rey may have been more important to the movie, but it was also open casting. Actress One declines, take Actress Two. (Now, if the actor for Finn made more money, that is more revealing. I haven’t read one way or the other on that, but if there is a disparity – and if there is that in itself may be important – there almost certainly isn’t as large of one. The other comparison, between Ford and Carrie Fisher, is also undone by what Ford has done since and Fisher hasn’t, as well as the importance of the roles that they did play in the movie.

This, though? This is the best exemplar of actor/actress pay inequality I can imagine. When they were first getting started, way back when, there was a good argument for there to be a gap. As the series wore on and Scully’s role because more integral, the gap closed just as it should. But for this project, there is really no reason to believe that they shouldn’t start on at least comparable footing because both Mulder and Scully have necessary roles for an X-Files reboot to work. Duchovny may have had more success after X-Files, but not terribly much more (in fact, I’ve not seen anything he’s done since and I have seen Anderson since). And indeed, when Anderson discovered the disparity and demanded a change, she got it. Indicating that yeah, she is pretty important.

But the fact that they offered her so much less to begin with says… something. Why? Why wasn’t it obvious that they were at least in the same ballpark? Why did they assume that she would take less? The Occam answer is because they expect women to take less by default. Why did Anderson initially take less? Probably at least in part because she is used to being offered less.

So yeah. Raise hell, Scully.

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Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter. ...more →

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44 thoughts on “The Disparity Is Out There

  1. I saw this and agree this was bullshit. She’s as much or more important to the show than Duchovny is, she’s a better actor (I LIKE Duchovny, but he’s pretty limited in range), and frankly Anderson has been on more of a hot streak of late than Duchovny, who had, er….Californication. And I guess Aquarius.

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  2. Joyner strikes me as a guy who is going to be constantly underwhelmed and unimpressed by arguments or examples of pay disparity.

    That is when we argue over these things, what I think we are arguing about is burdens. The liberal argument is that the burden is on the employer to treat people doing equal tasks equally. Mulder and Scully are the two main characters in the X-files, they get equal screen time, they are both well loved by fans. They should be treated equally off the bat.

    I suppose the conservative-libertarian argument is that the burden is on the individual to get equal treatment and equal pay.

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  3. The Star Wars thing was definitely a ridiculous complaint. You mean one of the biggest stars in the known universe gets paid more for playing a role that only he can play than two relative nobodies do for a role that could easily be played by somebody else? Do tell.

    For the X-Files, my impression is that Duchovny has had a more successful career since then. The starring role on a well-regarded series that went for seven years is pretty serious. It looks like Anderson has worked steadily since then, but working steadily isn’t how you run up the big numbers. Low balling her probably made sense.

    The fact that she’s just as indispensable for an X-Files reboot made it possible for her to agitate and close the gap. The network wasn’t really in a great position to play hardball. They figured she might be hungry enough to do it for less, but they needed her more than she needed them.

    The thing that surprises me about the whole thing is that Duchovny ended up in the position he was in instead of Anderson. I always figured he would fizzle pretty badly and she would probably get at least a couple more projects that kept her on the map.

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      • To me, she seems higher-profile, since I watched both The Fall (ugh, aside from her) and Hannibal (awesome, especially her); however, cutting against my calculation is that The Fall is BBC, so a lot of Americans haven’t seen it, and the other was Hannibal, so a lot of Americans haven’t seen it.

        Still – how many Americans actually watched Californication? It was on Showtime; lots of Americans don’t even GET Showtime, and I hardly think the show’s pirating numbers were anywhere near Game of Thrones levels. I know I’m getting into “nobody *I* know watched or talked about Californication territory”, but both Hannibal and The Fall certainly seemed (subjectively) like they got more cultural-conversation buzz?

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  4. My recollection of Scully’s character was not so favorable. She was the straight-person to the quirky, scene-stealer, and when Duchovny left the show, it lurched into a pretty sad place. This isn’t a reflection of her acting abilities, that was how her character was written. The closest analogy I can think of is Two-and-a-half Men, with Charlie Sheen getting paid more than twice per episode as Jon Cryer. The brother-relationship was at the heart of the show and I think Cryer was arguably doing the better acting. I would have assumed Anderson would get paid less, I just don’t know how much less.

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  5. This may be the first time that I’ve agreed with James Joyner, but here goes:

    Pricing of movie starts seems, to me, to be an almost entirely market phenomenon.

    Movie producers don’t have a sufficient stake in feminism (or a sufficient opposition to feminism) to work it into their business model. If David Duchnovy could be had for $800, I’m pretty sure that is what they’d be paying.

    The salary paid a star is a function of 1) The economic value of having that star in their movie, and 2) the negotiating ability of the star and his representatives. Since it’s almost impossible to imagine an X-Files reboot without Anderson, I would have to think that Anderson’s representatives simply didn’t negotiate very well.

    Otherwise, we would expect producers to up their budget by an additional $10 or $12 million just to alleviate their pangs of conscience and service their innate “fairness.”

    I don’ t see that happening.

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    • ,
      That’s a nice thought, but there are so many perverse incentives swirling around how movies are paid for that it’s at least half-fairytale.

      The person who decides whether Gillian Anderson gets paid $2 million or $4 million for a movie probably gets paid more if the answer is $4 million. Not sure if that’s strictly true of TV, but there’s a lot more going on than “What is the marginal worth of this actor’s labor?” when it comes to who gets paid what in Hollywood.

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  6. Hard to have a real opinion in a story missing so many facts. Every article I have read says clearly that the insulting 1/2 money was an “initial offer.” What was Duchovny’s “initial offer?” In a negotiation for payment for a role, surely the producers would start low and raise if necessary; just as an agent would start high and come down. All of the stories make it sound as if Anderson was doing her own negotiating. That can’t be true, can it? Surely her agent was on the phone, in the room, whatever, talking numbers. Is it sexism or is it that Duchovny’s agent is bigger, tougher, savvier? I don’t know.

    Money is only part of what an actor negotiates for. Is there a possibility that Anderson’s agent held out for a higher percentage of ancillary rights or back door participation rather than up front salary. Don’t know. Bigger trailer. Specific costumer. ???

    She was ticked off about the situation, but nothing I have read makes seem as if she had to fight very hard to come up to equity. (I know, she shouldn’t have to fight at all, but still…) And how did she find out Duchovny’s salary. It seems very likely that he must have told her…who else would?

    Arguments about who is the bigger star and who draws more eyes are very subjective. Full disclosure: I find Duchovny a very appealing performer. Been a fan since “Twin Peaks.” Check out “Evolution.” But Anderson’s name alone will sell me a ticket — she’s near brilliant and has a very special aura in her work.

    “Hollywood” as some monolithic entity that people talk about all the time just plain doesn’t exist. No, the Academy didn’t collude to exclude. No, it’s not a very liberal place (actors are pretty liberal overall, but they don’t run things. Not at all.) Cutthroat business at its core and with tens (if not hundreds) of millions on the line for each studio picture, things get ugly. I’m glad she achieved some measure of justice.

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    • What was Duchovny’s “initial offer?”

      That’s what I was wondering too. I also want to know whether it is standard in the industry to low-ball to begin with and it’s generally accepted that someone may negotiate to end up much higher.

      Not that any of that means that Anderson wasn’t right to complain. Maybe it made sense for her to.

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      • While the subsequent articles do not make clear, Anderson is actually pretty specific in what she said to the Hollywood reporter: ‘Once we agreed, negotiations happened somewhere else. There’s no point in dealing with my side [first] because, as usual, they come to me with half of what they want to offer David.’

        Her offer was half of his *offer*.

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  7. I presume Cybil Sheppard made more when “Moonlighting” debuted than did Bruce Willis, given that she was already a star and nobody had ever heard of him.

    Did…James Joyner just use an *assumption* of wages as *evidence* that pay scales are fair?

    He was already a known commodity when the original show aired, having been the lead on “Red Shoe Diaries,” and went on to star in “Californication.” Anderson, by contrast, was a 25-year-old unknown when the show started and, while she’s worked steadily, hasn’t carried anything of note.

    Anyone who think that Duchovny is meaningfully more successful as an actor than Anderson is an idiot. He had a seven year starring role on Californication and two-year role on Aquarius. She has had starring roles in half a dozen different miniseries, a supporting role on Hannibal, and currently has a three year staring role in The Fall.

    And Californication was on *premium cable* channels, and during most of his career, premium cable shows were completely off the radar of most people. Yes, now, Game of Thrones and all that, but when Californication started, original content on those channels was not well regarded, and often little more than softcore porn. (Speaking of the Red Shoe Diaries…)

    Neither of them has had a lot of success as an actor, but, seriously, Anderson is currently staring in a very very well-regarded British drama in its third season with 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, getting huge ratings for the BBC. Duchovny, meanwhile, is in a *summer* TV show that got 13 episodes last summer and just got renewed for another thirteen, and is part of a weird experiment that NBC is running (You can watch episodes online before they air.). It got mediocre ratings and people were a bit surprised it got renewed.

    Comparing the careers of two actors is difficult, and I’m not trying to say Anderson is a better actor than Duchovny, or her character is more important…but no. She is not at half the ‘acting cost’ of Duchovny. Both of them have recently moved to the big leagues of ‘Real TV shows’, and she’s doing a *little* bit better than he is, although admittedly she’s doing it in Britain so maybe it doesn’t count quite as much. There is no real justification for her starting salary to be lower than his.

    More to the point, how much you pay actors taking up *existing* roles doesn’t even work like that. Unknown actors get paid poorly when *originally cast*, and tend to sorta get locked into their original pay scales even if they do good. But, uh, Anderson and Duchovny didn’t just get *cast* for the X-Files. They were hired to reprise a role, with a brand new contract, and their pay should reflect how much they are *needed* and how replaceable they are.

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      • I don’t know what else to call something that has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

        The way the reviews read, it seems to be one of those extremely well-written and acted shows that only seem to happen on British TV.

        All this is second-hand…I haven’t watched it. Which is why I called it ‘well-regarded’ instead of ‘good’.

        And every time I hear about that show, I make a note to find it and watch it…and this time, we’ve talked about it so much I will actually do that. (Probably wait until the X-Files is over, though.)

        Or maybe I will wait until The Fall is over…I cannot stand the British TV schedule. The Fall is not quite as bad as some of them, managing 16 episodes of 60 minutes in 3 years, which is basically the same as an American TV season (22 episodes of 45 minutes), but it would still drive me crazy.

        (I calculated the other day: When Sherlock comes back in 2017, the first episode will *finally* push it over the ‘first season threshold’ of TV, with it finally hitting 11 episodes of one and a half hours. One season equivalent…over *seven* years.)

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        • …it’s not good (though she is, and Dornan is a pretty good actor – the issue is the writing, not so much the actors).

          It starts out promisingly (Anderson’s character in particular is presented refreshingly), but devolves into contrivance and silly unnecessary subplots and serial-killer movie cliche (there’s a bit where I guffawed at the classic “clue wall” behind Anderson, with the most generic notes you can imagine on its pictures – “GOOD/EVIL?” – seriously, freeze-frame that scene, it’s hilarious) pretty quickly.

          It also does that thing where it glamorizes the killer and his fetishes (yes, yes, he’s an artist, you see, blah bleh); Hannibal obviously does this to some degree too, but Hannibal takes place in such an aggressively-unreal (really, mostly internal/psychological) universe, and also pointedly steers clear of sexual violence, that Hannibal disturbs me in a way that doesn’t feel so cheap and icky and tawdry as does The Fall.

          Anyway, The Fall is maybe perfect “sick day on the couch” viewing, but it’s no more than that.

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  8. I wonder how much of this and related would be resolved by female actress’s agents gettin a little more game when it comes to negotiating? I mean, presumably, even tho they’re part of the industry as well – familiar with the norms and all – they’re supposed to have their client’s best interests in mind, which includes – obvs – compensation. Or simply put: I’m curious why Gillian’s agent accepted the offer without doing any due diligence?

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