You have to wonder what people think when an actor willingly does something for free. Celebrities can’t do anything today without being scrutinized for never being right on anything. The same might be happening with Adam Levine who’s financially comfortable enough where he agreed to do the new musical film “Begin Again” for free in order to gain a positive experience. Almost immediately, some online commenters saw this as some kind of ego trip as if he was being the altruistic auteur in the world of music and acting. While people are entitled to their opinion, you have to find it refreshing that someone who’s made untold millions decided to do something only for the experience and not for the money.
It’s a philosophy that’s probably foreign to just about every other notable out there, and they may provide a backlash as a result. Then again, Levine might influence others to do the same thing, especially in a time when some legendary stars don’t find appealing material in mainstream Hollywood movies and do other things for creative fulfillment.
The Advent of Actors Working for Scale
If you pay attention to Broadway news, then you know about how many actors have ended up going there to find creative outlets they can’t find anywhere else. Many mainstream movie actors who make millions doing way too much dreck have finally found their calling on the stage where Broadway is having a huge renaissance with plays that are almost cinematic in quality. Despite getting paid only scale, the creative work means enough to them where they don’t balk if they aren’t paid millions. On the other hand, some A-list celebrities going to Broadway get paid more than other stage actors do. Nevertheless, it’s still considerably less than the $10 million paychecks they receive for doing a movie that may bomb at the box office.
Vanity Fair, for instance, reported that Scarlett Johansson received $40,000 a week when she was on Broadway playing Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” That’s more than any actor usually receives when performing on a Broadway stage. At the same time, Johansson herself defended the pay based on the emotional exhaustion she experienced playing the role twice a day, eight times a week. With that in mind, a lot of the high salaries actors command may be for more than good reason almost as an insurance policy.
The stage is a much more intense beast to tame considering some of the most challenging roles ever written were for the stage. Movies can also be the same, particularly when an actor insists on doing their own stunt work. To casual observers, though, actors may seem like a cakewalk in far too many films that give people a pain in the head hearing about $10 million dollar payouts.
In the case of musicals, it’s a different experience, and there may be a public perception it’s a much easier acting job than anything else out there. Perhaps Adam Levine would have felt like a heel asking for millions of dollars when his role in the film isn’t thought to be as complicated as an intense drama or even a musical with Gene Kelly acrobatics. Perhaps the only time he’d be sorry not to have the payout (or a cut of the profits), is if “Begin Again” becomes a sleeper hit like “Once” was.
Whether it’s going to be a hit or not is still up in the air as of this writing. If it does become a hit, it may persuade other actors who bank on the power of money to realize a payday so they can be sure they won’t feel like they’ve just donated their time. With all the disconcerted actors moving to Broadway lately, however, there may be a huge contingent of actors like Adam Levine who have more money than they need and will start giving film performances for free just to help a movie with a lower budget.
The only question is whether working for free brings a motivation to do a good performance, or if money gives a psychological boost in bringing better performances. Because Adam Levine’s acting is still untested at this point, it might have been the best solution for everybody to see how much of a future box office draw he’ll be.