Ahead of the release of Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up next month, Jennifer Lawrence covers the new issue of Vanity Fair, her first magazine profile in a long time. Over the last couple of years, almost every time I’ve posted about JLaw, I’ve written about her break, about her taking a break from the spotlight – a move that’s hard for a lot of famous people, especially of her generation. Actors themselves joke about how deeply insecure they are, and that insecurity, the worry about whether or not anyone will miss them makes it hard for them to make people miss them.
Jennifer talks about this with Karen Valby in Vanity Fair. About people being sick of her, about being sick of herself, and about working incessantly in the past to please people – and then making the choice to step away from it for a while, and how that has in turn helped her personally and professionally. Professionally, then, like around 2018-19ish, she seemed to be in a career slump, coming off of four movies (Passengers, Mother!, Red Sparrow, and X-Men: Dark Phoenix) that weren’t winners. Now, professionally she’s come back at a delicate personal time. She got married and pregnant during her time away, and she doesn’t want to talk about either of those topics. But all of this is related to the part of the profile that’s making headlines; it’s about the pay gap.
As Jen says in Vanity Fair, she’s pretty proud of the fact that she pushed for top billing in Don’t Look Up, over Leo. She was #1 on the call sheet, so her name should show up first in the credits. That didn’t translate, however, to their pay.
Jennifer “was paid $25 million for the movie, compared to DiCaprio’s $30 million. In other words, she made 83 cents to his dollar. These figures are in startling line with Bureau of Labor Statistics data that showed annual earnings for women working full-time in 2020 were 82.3 percent of men’s. That gap is tragically wider for women of color in Hollywood and beyond.”
When asked about this in a follow-up conversation, after she’d been so chuffed about getting top billing, this was Jen’s response:
“Yeah, I saw that too,” she says, choosing her words carefully. “Look, Leo brings in more box office than I do. I’m extremely fortunate and happy with my deal. But in other situations, what I have seen—and I’m sure other women in the workforce have seen as well—is that it’s extremely uncomfortable to inquire about equal pay. And if you do question something that appears unequal, you’re told it’s not gender disparity but they can’t tell you what exactly it is.”
This, to me, is all about confidence. She had four movies underperform and now she’s deferring to Leo’s box office. Imagine a male actor coming off a few underperforming projects and taking less money than a woman? Please. As for Leo’s box office period…
It’s true that he’s had one of the more blemish-free careers in the business in terms of stinkers. Very few, if any. That said, I don’t know that he takes as many risks. Working every other movie with a Scorsese or a Nolan or a Tarantino etc isn’t exactly risky. But Leo’s range is another conversation altogether. The point is, yes, he has an excellent track record. At the same time, he’s allowed to have had an excellent track record.
It is a fact that more interesting opportunities come to actors as they age. George Clooney just said this about Ben Affleck. It has, traditionally, been the opposite for women as they age. Take Reese Witherspoon, a Leo contemporary, for example. They’re around the same age. They each have an Oscar. But after Reese won her Oscar, as she has said many times, the roles were derivative, the characters weren’t compelling, which is why she started producing and acquiring her own projects.
So, yes, while it may be numerically factual that Leo’s box office is impressive, that’s not the end of the discussion. You need to add that context, and where Jennifer Lawrence is concerned, and other young actresses who say yes to everything in their 20s, resulting in the occasional flop – well maybe they feel like they have to because they know, in just a few short years, that sh-t will dry up. Those are all the words that she didn’t say but that are floating around this conversation.
And, well, maybe she doesn’t need to be the one to say it. The match has already been lit. It’s out there now that she got paid less than Leo. Is anyone going to ask Leo about this? How he feels about it? Because why should she be the only want talking about it? Why can’t we pull him into the chat and actually involve men, successful ones, in the pay gap conversation? Is anyone going to go there on the junket or whenever he gets pulled into a round table or a podcast to promote this movie? Or does he get a pass there too?