Michelle Williams And Mark Wahlberg’s Reshoot Pay Gap Isn’t As Simple As It Seems (But Also It Is)

A complicated issue in a depressing narrative for gender parity.

Back in November, the Washington Post reported that Mark Wahlberg was being paid vastly more than Michelle Williams for reshoots on All the Money in the World. Last night, USA Today cited three people familiar with the situation in reporting the disparity was between Wahlberg's $1.5 million and Williams' $80 per-diems, totalling $1000. It's a shocking difference in pay, and a terrible headline for the film - but it's not quite as simple as it seems.

This incident is slightly different from the all-too-common Hollywood gender pay-parity issue, although that certainly factors into it, as we'll see. The reshoot was famously carried out in highly irregular circumstances, to replace the newly-exiled Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer. Otherwise, the film was complete - no reshoots were scheduled. Both Williams and Ridley Scott gave interviews in which they claimed that the cast and director were, figuratively or literally, working for free on the reshoot, simply to ensure it got done - in Williams’ words, “because I appreciated so much that [the production team] were making this massive effort.” Christopher Plummer was paid a more substantial rate, due to being new to the production, but so the story goes, everyone else above the line chipped in for the good of the film.

Such a bold claim, though it sounds noble as hell, is a little bit preposterous, given the way Hollywood works. Working “for free” is well against union regulations for actors, as is the reported per diem. The actors would've had to have been paid either the union-mandated minimum daily scale, or the flat “Schedule F” fee in order to comply with regulations. In order to work “for free,” Williams and the other cast members would have had to simply never cash their checks. SAG-AFTRA is looking into the pay disparity, but essentially, as long as everyone got paid scale or higher, it was in compliance with union rules.

This is where Mark Wahlberg and his agents come in. Wahlberg, or his representation, negotiated a deal to get paid $1.5 million for the reshoot. That could be for a number of reasons. Williams, the film’s lead actor, might have had a deal that originally included reshoots, while Wahlberg, a supporting actor, might not have. In fact, Wahlberg’s original deal may have been set up specifically to penalise reshoots. The $1.5 million may have been a penalty against the production due to the reshoot throwing another film’s schedule out of whack. Wahlberg’s agent may have argued that as he shared the most scenes with Plummer’s character, he should be paid more for the reshoot, or used the fact that he took an 80% pay cut from his usual fee in order to work with Scott as a bargaining chip. Or it could simply have come down to greed. Point is, we simply don’t know the details of the two actors’ deals on the production, and there are any number of “legitimate” reasons - if unfair ones - why this could have happened.

Complicating matters further, of course, is the fact that both Williams and Wahlberg are represented by WME (William Morris Endeavour). Given Williams’ statements to the press at the time of the reshoot, it’s even possible that Wahlberg didn’t disclose his pay rate to the rest of the cast - and that WME didn’t inform Wahlberg’s fellow client Williams they could have pushed for more money. The agency will certainly be assembling its best spin artists to explain (or explain away) its behaviour this week, and rightly so. Regardless of whatever reasons caused this disparity - and they may have been legitimate - the incident looks terrible for the agency, creating an equal-representation crisis that should raise many of its clients' eyebrows. It could also spark an industry-wide look at guidelines regarding pay for emergency reshoots of this manner.

It's important to stress that all of these differentiating details do not negate the very real fact that women tend to be paid less than men - across the board, and especially in Hollywood. This incident is definitely part of that sorry phenomenon, extenuating factors aside - whether it be thanks to WME pushing for a better deal only for Wahlberg, or simply thanks to Williams having been trained into quietly appreciating the work she has. As I wrote in my editorial on The Disaster Artist, the performing arts industry is really good at convincing people to allow themselves to be exploited in order to do what they love. Michelle Williams is of a much higher echelon of performer than the average jobbing actor, of course, with several hits and Oscar nominations under her belt, but one cannot overstate how powerful the pressure and even internalised urge to play along for the good of the project is in these circumstances.

Why is this only becoming a major issue now? It was first made public knowledge a good six weeks ago - why is it only exploding on social media this week? The answer may lie, depressingly, in awards-season politics. The Golden Globes were held this week - and are one of the few awards bodies to nominate All the Money in the World - and Academy Award ballots are due this Friday. This is speculation, of course, but it'd hardly be a new phenomenon for publicists to spread bad buzz about competing films in the final days before voting closes. The Oscars are big business, dominated by PR campaigns and narratives, and though it's no frontrunner, the film in question is good enough that rivals might want to change its public image for the worse. Stranger and dodgier things have happened in the Oscar race.

Again: this is all speculation. We may never become privy to the specific deals that resulted in this particular pay disparity. What we know for sure: pay levels on the All the Money in the World reshoots were not fair, for one reason or another. Ridley Scott never should have bragged about the cast working for free. Someone in the chain between actor, agent, and producer was a bit of an asshole. WME has a crisis on its hands. Women in Hollywood and elsewhere are paid criminally less than men. And All the Money in the World is a really good movie with really good performances whose public narrative, once a paragon of hard work and creativity under adversity, is now once again dominated by scandal.

It's ironic, actually: in light of all this, the movie’s scornful view of the misanthropes who buy, sell, and trade people for a living rings all the truer.