10 Times Actors Worked on Movies for Free

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It’s no secret that Hollywood stars make the big bucks. Producers shell out millions of dollars to secure the biggest names in the industry. Whether a beautiful face that attracts viewers, a respected and beloved master of their craft, or a popular name that fills up theater seats.

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Or sometimes, that person could be all three. Every now and then, though, you hear a surprising tale of a Hollywood star who worked on a movie for free. That’s right, free, as in they were paid zero dollars for their role in the film. But even if an actor or actress is already a millionaire, why would they ever work on a movie for free? Here are 10 instances where that’s exactly what happened — and why.

10 Jennifer Lopez — Hustlers (2019)

hustlers
Hustlers

Release Date
September 12, 2019

Director
Lorene Scafaria

Rating
R

Hustlers follows a crew of New York City strippers who steal money from stock traders and CEOs who visit their strip club, drugging them and then running up their credit cards. Based on New York magazine’s 2015 article “The Hustlers at Scores,” the movie features an all-star female cast that includes Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Lizzo, and Cardi B.

Jennifer Lopez Took $0 Upfront

Jennifer Lopez had a supporting role in Hustlers as veteran stripper Ramona Vega. And she wasn’t paid a dime upfront for the role. “Like Jenny from the Block — I do what I love,” she told GQ in 2019. That’s nice and all, except Lopez also worked as a producer on the film. So while she didn’t take any money for her role upfront, Lopez likely made dividends on the film for being its producer, which places her at the bottom of this list.

9 Much of the Cast — A Rainy Day in New York (2019)

Written and directed by Woody Allen, A Rainy Day in New York features a star-studded cast that includes Timothée Chalamet, Elle Fanning, Selena Gomez, Jude Law, and Liev Schreiber. It follows the romance of two young college students, Gatsby and Ashleigh (Chalamet and Fanning) visiting New York City for the weekend, and it’s one of the more negatively reviewed films on Allen’s resume.

Thick With Controversy

The release of A Rainy Day in New York coincided with the MeToo movement, the social phenomenon that swept across the nation and inspired women everywhere to speak out against sexual abuse, especially in Hollywood. Because of the sexual abuse allegations in Allen’s past, made by his own adoptive daughter who he had with Mia Farrow, A Rainy Day in New York came under fire, forcing reactions from those who worked on the film.

Amazon Studios, the movie’s initial distributor, decided not to release the film. Several cast members, including Timothée Chalamet, Selena Gomez, Griffin Newman, and Rebecca Hall, expressed regret for their roles and donated their salaries to charitable causes, such as the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and Time’s Up.

It was nice of them to do that, but they did initially accept payment for their roles. They only donated their salaries because of the controversy that followed, which places them lower on this list.

8 Brad Pitt — Deadpool 2 (2018)

The sequel to the 2016 smash hit, Deadpool 2 brings Marvel’s foul-mouthed, sarcastic anti-hero Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) back for more sarcastic jokes — and violence. Here, he forms the X-Force, a team of mutant superheroes, to protect a young mutant from the time-traveling soldier Cable (Josh Brolin). Deadpool is set to make his violent return in Deadpool 3 in 2024, alongside Hugh Jackman’s iconic Wolverine.

Brad Pitt’s Cameo Was the Equivalent of a Starbucks Coffee

Brad pitt deadpool 2 cameo head cables
20th Century Fox

Deadpool 2 features a boatload of cameos, including James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peter, and a disguised Matt Damon. But the most notable (and shortest) cameo is Brad Pitt’s. He plays the Vanisher, an invisible mutant on Deadpool’s X-Force. The audience has no idea that it’s Pitt, until the Vanisher accidentally parachutes into telephone wires and gets electrocuted, revealing Brad Pitt’s face for all of five seconds.

This secret cameo was filmed during post-production. Because of the cameo’s short length, Reynolds and Pitt agreed that he should be paid to “scale,” which basically comes out to the equivalent of a Starbucks coffee. A Starbucks coffee ain’t cheap though, which ranks Pitt’s cameo lower on this list.

7 George Clooney — Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

Legendary CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow (played by David Strathairn) and his producer Fred W. Friendly (George Clooney) use their news broadcast to take on US politicians, particularly Senator Joseph McCarthy, who are touting the threat of Communism during the 1950s. Based on a true story, Good Night, and Good Luck focuses on media responsibility and what occurs when U.S. journalism clashes with government policy.

Related: George Clooney’s 10 Best Performances, Ranked

George Clooney’s $3 Salary

Good Night, and Good Luck had a limited budget of $7 million. In order to keep costs low, George Clooney sacrificed the big paycheck he’d usually get for a movie. Even though he directed, co-wrote, and co-starred in Good Night, and Good Luck, Clooney paid himself a mere $3 for his efforts — a single dollar for each role.

This was likely to make sure that the requirements of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) for actors to be paid for their work was fulfilled. And, in fact, Clooney was so determined to make this movie that he mortgaged his own house. Because Clooney made more than $0, even if it was only $3, this one falls higher on the list.

6 Amitabh Bachchan — Black (2005)

Amitabh Bachchan - Black (2005)
Applause Entertainment

Based on the story of Helen Keller, Black is a Bollywood movie that follows the relationship between a deaf-and-blind woman named Michelle (Rani Mukerji) and her elderly alcoholic teacher Debraj (Amitabh Bachchan). It was co-written, directed, and co-produced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a legend in the world of Indian filmmaking.

Amitabh Bachchan Just Wanted to Work with Bhansali

It was apparently Amitabh Bachchan’s dream to work with the famed director. He was so overjoyed when Bhansali offered him a role in the film that he refused to take any payment. Bachchan would later say in a blog post:

“I had just wanted to work with Sanjay, after seeing all his other works he had done… And when the opportunity came it was quite overwhelming. I did not take any salary for the film… Just being a part of such an enterprise, was sufficient fees!”

5 Adam Levine — Begin Again (2013)

After the success of his musical film Once, John Carney returned in 2013 with the musical comedy Begin Again. Featuring an all-star cast that includes Keira Knightley, Mark Ruffalo, and Hailee Steinfeld, Begin Again follows a singer-songwriter who’s discovered by a struggling record label executive in New York City.

Adam Levine Declined a Salary

Another big name who appeared in Begin Again was Maroon 5 frontman and lead singer Adam Levine. He was the only person that Carney considered for the role of Dave. Levine earned the part after a Skype meeting with Carney and declined a salary for the movie.

As for why, Levine said he was already wealthy and didn’t care about the money. “I want to have good experiences,” he clarified in an interview with USA Today. “I want to treat [acting] completely differently because I have the very fortunate luxury of not having to think of this in terms of money.” Begin Again marked Levine’s acting debut in a feature-length film.

4 Bruce Willis — Four Rooms (1995)

Loosely based on the works of legendary author Roald Dahl, Four Rooms is a black comedy anthology: four different stories, each one written and directed by a different person, that all weave together on New Year’s Eve in the fictional Hotel Mon Signor. Fun fact: one of those writers and directors is Quentin Tarantino.

Bruce Willis’ Uncredited and Unpaid Role

Bruce Willis appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s segment in Four Rooms for fun and as a favor to the director. Because of this, he didn’t take any money for the role.

This was very cool of Willis — what wasn’t cool was SAG’s reaction to this decision. Willis violated SAG rules for appearing in a movie without payment, even though it was by choice. SAG threatened to sue Willis, unless his name was excluded from the credits. So not only was Willis’ role unpaid, it was also uncredited.

3 Christopher Lee — The Wicker Man (1973)

Christopher Lee The Wicker Man
British Lion Films

The Wicker Man is a British folk horror film that follows an unsuspecting police officer to an isolated Scottish island, where its inhabitants practice a strange form of Celtic paganism. Not to be confused with the infamous Nicolas Cage remake, which has spawned countless hilarious internet memes, this 1973 original has been hailed as one of the greatest horror movies of the 1970s.

Christopher Lee Gladly Worked for Nothing

Long before he became a legendary actor, Christopher Lee was known for his work in the iconic British horror films from Hammer Productions, like when he portrayed Frankenstein’s monster in 1957. However, Lee was eager to separate himself from Hammer’s films and take on different roles.

Although The Wicker Man was another horror film, its story and the role of the Celtic pagan leader intrigued Lee; it stood apart from the typical horror films he had made. Because of the film’s minimal budget, Lee declined any payment for the movie.

And he wasn’t the only one. Several cast and crew members were forced to forego a salary. Lee never seemed to mind it though. He became The Wicker Man’s biggest champion and always regarded his role as Lord Summerisle as one of the greatest performances of his career.

2 Beyoncé — Cadillac Records (2008)

Cadillac Records is a biopic that explores the musical era from the early 1940s to the late 1960s. It follows the budding careers of notable musicians who worked with Chicago-based record label executive Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody), such as Etta James (Beyoncé) and Chuck Berry (Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def).

Related: Actors Who Made Over $100 Million From One Movie

Beyoncé Donated Her Salary

Etta James struggled with heroin and drug addiction throughout her life. To prepare for the role, Beyoncé spent time in the Phoenix House, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization, interacting with recovering addicts.

Beyoncé was actually paid $4 million for her role in Cadillac Records. But she donated every dime of it to the Phoenix House. What’s $4 million to someone who’s worth over $500 million anyway?

1 Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell — The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

Directed by Terry Gilliam, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus follows a theatre troupe and their mystic leader, Doctor Parnassus, who sold his soul to the devil for immortality. Now he fights for the freedom of his only daughter’s soul, all while taking audiences through dream worlds and imaginative landscapes.

In Honor of Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger was the original, and only, Doctor Parnassus at first. But the actor tragically died one-third of the way through filming, which temporarily suspended production.

To complete the film, Gilliam recast three actors to play Doctor Parnassus, each one representing a different iteration of the character in a different dream world: Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell. Out of respect for Ledger, all three actors donated their salaries to his only daughter, Matilda. ​The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus marks Ledger’s final film performance.

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