Acting is a job. It’s easy to forget that simple truth when you watch your favorite stars on screen. Great actors make every movement seem easy, and they always seem committed to their roles. Still, many actors take roles, in part, because of the pay that they’re being offered. It’s like every other job in that way. At the end of the day, cash is still king.
To that end, many actors have decided to take roles in films or TV shows because of the money they were being offered. While it’s sometimes obvious when an actor is phoning it in, and the product suffers as a result, at other times it’s less clear. In fact, some of the actors on this list were in movies that are quite popular, even today. Many of the world’s best actors would rather avoid big budget fare, where character is often less important than a propulsive and captivating plot. Still, they have to pay the bills like everyone else.
Almost every actor has taken a role for the money, but only a handful have been candid about which roles they weren’t passionate about. This list is filled with actors who are richer for the roles they took, even if they didn’t’ want them.
Here are 15 Actors Who Took Roles Just For The Money.
15 Charles Dance - Space Truckers
We know Charles Dance is capable of truly great performances. After all, he was a big part of what made Tywin Lannister so sinister in the world of Game of Thrones. In his pre-Thrones days, Dance’s roles weren’t always so stupendous. It was filled with films like China Moon, The Blood Oranges, and yes, even Space Truckers.
During an interview with the Evening Standard in 1999, Dance agreed with an interviewer who inadvertently described his film career as full of “junk.” “I’ve done some appalling films,” Dance said. “You do what you can with the stuff you’re given. It’s a misconception that actors make choices. For all but the most privileged few, the only choice is to work or not to work.”
Dance’s description of an actor’s life gets at the core of what many misunderstand about acting. Choice is a luxury, one reserved for only the very top of the field.
14 Joan Crawford - Trog
Trog doesn’t sound like a good idea, and that’s because it almost definitely wasn’t. The film about a caveman who rampages through the English countryside was a complete flop, and it’s one of the films in Joan Crawford’s career that she regrets the most. Crawford did manage to negotiate a killer wardrobe budget, which is part of the reason she signed onto the project. The role would be the last of Crawford’s career.
When she was later asked about the project, she made it clear that she regretted her decision to take the role, and that it was part of the reason she decided to retire. “I hate being asked to discuss those dreadful horror pictures I made the mistake of starring in,” Crawford said. “They were all just so disappointing to me.” Crawford had enough money to comfortably retire thanks to her work on films like Trog, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t hate her participation in them.
13 Glenn Close - Guardians of the Galaxy
Glenn Close’s role in Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t huge, but it seems like she was perfectly fine with that. When discussing the differences between big budget roles and parts in smaller films in 2013, Close was remarkably frank. “I just did two independent films this summer and I had an absolute ball with fantastic actors, but in August, I’m going to go off and do the next generation of Marvel Comics/Disney and I get to be the chief police of the galaxy,” Close said at the Nantucket Film Festival.
Close went on to explain that those movies pay for the smaller projects she loves to do. “I’m doing that because it will then afford me to go do the other kind of movies that I really love, and hopefully I will have a great time,” Close said. “It’ll be a new experience for me, but practically speaking it will mean that I can do those smaller movies and it’ll be okay.” As the old adage goes, you do one for them and one for you.
12 Morgan Freeman - London Has Fallen
Morgan Freeman has been a ubiquitous presence at the movie theater for decades now, and not every one of the projects he’s involved with is one that he’s deeply passionate about. When making the press rounds for London Has Fallen, the 2015 sequel to Olympus Has Fallen, Freeman was frank about why he did the movie.
When discussing the studio making the film, Freeman told Digital Spy “they’ll be right back out there making another movie, and you never know when they’re going to call you back.”
Freeman’s point here seems to be that, even if an actor isn’t passionate about the project they’re currently working on, it’s important to remain friendly with studios who sign large paychecks. Honestly, it doesn’t seem like Freeman would have much to worry about with regard to continued employment. After all, his voice is the most iconic in cinema’s history.
Still, it’s important to keep up relationships, and Freeman took London Has Fallen to do just that.
11 Laurence Olivier - Inchon
Laurence Olivier is regularly described as a once in a generation talent. His skills on stage and screen are legendary, but even he is not immune to the desire for a large paycheck. When asked to explain why he took a role in Inchon, which is widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made, Olivier made it quite clear that the answer wasn’t complicated. “Money, dear boy,” Olivier told a reporter on the film’s set.
Olivier was paid $1 million to play Douglas MacArthur in the film, and explained that late in his life, there were no roles he wouldn’t take. “Nothing is beneath me if it pays well,” he explained. “I’ve earned the right to damn well grab whatever I can in the time I’ve got left.”
Olivier could feel the end of his life coming, and although he didn’t die for another eight years, it’s hard to blame him for taking whatever money he could in that time. After all, lots of money certainly does make things easier.
10 Michael Caine - Jaws: The Revenge
Michael Caine has been remarkably frank about which films in his career were not quite up to snuff. Perhaps the most obvious of these films is Jaws: The Revenge, which forced Caine to miss an Oscar ceremony in which he won a trophy for his role in Hannah and Her Sisters. Still, Caine doesn’t regret taking part in the sequel to Jaws, even though he’s never seen it.
“I have never seen it but by all accounts it is terrible,” Caine wrote in his memoir. “However, I have seen the house that it built and it is terrific.” This wry sense of humor is indicative of the attitude Caine takes towards many of his more unpopular projects, and it’s one that has served him well during his decades in Hollywood. He seems to understand that not every project can be a success, and roll with the punches. After all, some of those punches build really nice houses.
9 Ian McShane - Game of Thrones
Deadwood veteran IanMcShane appears in only a single episode of Game of Thrones, and he didn’t seem to take his role very seriously. In an interview with the BBC before his episode, in which he plays a priest who is eventually murdered, he meant to offer a few small hints about his role and ended up dropping a spoiler. When he discussed the interview with the Telegraph, he made it clear that he didn’t think it was a huge deal.
“I was accused of giving the plot away,” McShane said. “But I just think, get a f—ing life. It’s only t--s and dragons.” He also made it clear that he wasn’t looking for any sort of long term commitment to the show. As he said during his interview with the Telegraph, “They said it would only be for one episode, so I said, ‘So that means I must die at the end of it. Great, I’m in.’”
8 Orson Welles - Transformers: The Movie
The legendary director of Citizen Kane probably wasn’t a natural fit for the world of Transformers, but he voiced the part of Unicron in Transformers: The Movie anyway. Unicron was an evil mechanical moon, and Welles didn’t seem to have any particular fondness for it when he was describing the role to his biographer Barabra Leaming. “I played the voice of a toy,” he told Leaming. “Some terrible robot toys from Japan that change from one thing to another.”
Welles continued by explaining, in vivid detail, the plot of the film. “I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I’m destroyed.” While Welles may not have treasured the role, he didn’t seem to have any disdain for it either. He was glad to collect the paycheck, and Leaming explained that while Welles was often deeply sarcastic, he was rarely angry.
This sentiment is backed up by Peter Bogdanovich, who explained in a Reddit AMA that Welles wasn’t an angry man. “He was very acerbic. He could be rather cutting. But I wouldn’t say he was bitter.”
7 Richard Dreyfuss - Poseidon
Richard Dreyfuss announced his retirement from acting in 2004, but the move didn’t stick. Less than a year later, the actor was starring in a remake of The Poseidon Adventure from director Wolfgang Peterson.
Fortunately, Dreyfuss was candid about the reasons for his quick return to the profession he wanted to leave behind. “Money, simple,” Dreyfuss told CinemaBlend. “I announced my retirement just one number short of winning the Spanish national lottery. I waited until the tenth and then, ‘I’m retired! Oh sh*t! Ahhhh!’”
It seems Dreyfuss returned to the world of film because he needed the cash, and couldn’t manage to find it other ways. Still, Dreyfuss doesn’t seem to regret his decision too much. He has credited roles in more than 20 films since his return in Poseidon. He may have thought that acting was just a job to him, but it looks like Dreyfuss may enjoy it more than he initially believed.
6 Bob Hoskins - Super Mario Bros.
Video game adaptations have always been riddled with problems, and Super Mario Bros. was no exception. For Bob Hoskins, the film was an absolutely nightmare, one that he remembered as the worst experience of his career. As Hoskins explained in an interview with the Guardian, “It had a husband-and-wife team directing, whose arrogance had been mistaken for talent. After so many weeks their own agent told them to get off the set!”
Hoskins may have taken the part for the money, but he regretted the decision until the day he died. When he was asked what he would change about his past, Hoskins said “I wouldn’t do Super Mario Brothers.” Some jobs are definitely worth the money, but it doesn’t seem like this one was, at least not for Hoskins. Actors might be lucky in the long run, but even they can take jobs that they deeply regret. In that way, they’re just like the rest of us.
5 Stephen Dillane - Game of Thrones
Stannis Baratheon was a fan favorite during Stephen Dillane’s four years on Game of Thrones, and that’s in large part thanks to Dillane’s performance. Although Dillane did plenty to enrich the world of the show, it seems most of what he remembers the role for is the money it made him. As he explained in an interview with Radio Times, “Money is the main thing I got out of it.”
Dillane also noted that there’s a strange taboo around discussions of money.“It’s an odd situation. There is a kind of etiquette around these things,” he said. Although Dillane doesn’t seem to have many warm feelings about his role, he was adamant that the show itself is an enormous phenomenon.
Dillane doesn’t watch the show, claiming it’s too brutal, but he also said he had plenty of fun on the set with actors like Liam Cunningham and Carice van Houten. Dillane played a legendary character, but for him, the role was nothing too special.
4 Jackie Chan, Rush Hour
The Rush Hour movies may be among the most popular films in Jackie Chan’s career, but the action star wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about his role in the series. Although he appeared in all three films, Chan seemed confused about the need for their existence. “I have reasons to do each film, I have something to say,” Chan explained to The Hollywood Reporter. “Unlike Rush Hour—there was no reason [in making it], you just give me the money and I’m fine. I dislike Rush Hour the most, but ironically, it sold really well in the U.S. and Europe.”
Chan seems to understand that for actors, sometimes making money is worth it so that you can make other projects that you’re more passionate about. While Chan has mentioned that he would be open to doing another Rush Hour film, he’s also made it perfectly clear that his reason for doing each film is purely financial. Still, if it’s what people like, Chan’s not opposed to giving them more of it.
3 Billy Bob Thornton - Armageddon
Although Thornton doesn’t have any interest in trashing Armageddon, even to this day, it’s clear that he didn’t take the role of a NASA chief because it was a part he’d been dreaming about. Famously, Thornton took the part because he was going through a divorce and needed a substantial chunk of change quickly, and because his agent advised him to take the role.
“I got to wear a suit and tie and spout off a bunch of lingo that I didn’t know what it meant, and it was great, you know?” Thornton later recalled at SXSW. “The movie did a lot for me so I can never knock that movie.” Thornton’s philosophy is simple—you should never speak badly about a good paying job. “Nobody should ever knock anything you get to do in your entire business because it’s not working in a saw mill.”
2 Eddie Murphy - Best Defense
Eddie Murphy made a string of hits in the 1980s, but 1984’s Best Defense wasn’t exactly one of them. Murphy turned down the role several times, but eventually took it for understandable reasons. “Yeah, I turned down the lead role, but Paramount was determined to get me in the movie,” Murphy explained to Interview magazine. “They finally came back with an offer of a million dollars for some like a couple weeks’ work.”
While he acknowledges that the movie wasn’t a success, Murphy wondered who in his position would have turned down the money. “I want you to tell me a 22-year-old is going to turn down a million dollars for two weeks work,” Murphy said. If the part wasn’t great, at least it was over quickly, and the return on the time he spent was definitely pretty sweet.
Paramount might regret paying Murphy such a large sum, though, especially since Best Defense tanked at the box office. Still, Murphy made out alright.
1 Alec Guinness - Star Wars
Undoubtedly the pinnacle of actors performing roles for cash is Alec Guinness’s work in the original Star Wars as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Because Guinness had a profit-sharing deal on the film, his decision to take the part was probably wise. Still, Guinness spent much of his time on the set bemoaning his characters confusing and campy dialogue, and wondering what his character’s motivation actually was.
As Guinness explained in his diary: “Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film. I like them well enough, but it’s not an acting job, the dialogue — which is lamentable — keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young.”
Of course, Obi-Wan doesn’t make it through to the end of Star Wars, which worked out well for Guinness. He got to take his enormous pile of cash and run off into the sunset.
If you were a big star, would you take roles just for the cash? Let us know in the comments!
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