MOTW: Managing the Money Behind "The Wolf of Wall Street"

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
February 21st, 2014

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Movie stars are known for pulling in huge salaries for their work. They may only work on set for a few weeks or months to make a single movie, but big names make big money. That is, of course, unless they take the role simply for the love of acting, which some actors did to produce the 2013 film "The Wolf of Wall Street."

Jonah Hill played one of the lead characters in "The Wolf of Wall Street." Although he is arguably a well-known actor, having starred in such box office hits as "Superbad" and "Moneyball," Hill accepted a paltry sum for his portrayal of Donnie Azoff in "The Wolf of Wall Street."

"The Wolf of Wall Street" was no independent film with a next-to-nothing budget, but it was made with far less money than other big-screen releases in 2013. The movie was directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese and had a reported budget of $100 million. It later garnered nominations for five Academy Awards, including one for Leonardo DiCaprio as Best Actor and another for Jonah Hill in the category of Best Supporting Actor.

Leonardo DiCaprio was reportedly paid $10 million for his leading role in the film. Hill, by contrast, received a comparatively tiny $60,000 salary. The disparity between the two actors' incomes for the movie has fueled quite a bit of conversation about why Hill, an established and generally respected actor, would sign on for the movie knowing he would be paid so little.

Jonah Hill explained the surprising move himself in an interview on The Howard Stern Show. According to Hill, the production representatives offered him what amounts to minimum wage in Hollywood. He jumped at the offer. It was not for the money, obviously, and it was not purely for the love of the role, although the role was enviable. It was to fulfill a lifelong dream to be cast in a Martin Scorsese film.

Hill said that he was shocked and thrilled when he was offered the role. He was so eager to seal the deal that he asked the production studio to send him the contract immediately. He wanted to sign the papers before he went to bed that night so the studio heads legally could not change their minds.

According to Hill, he would have sold his house and given every penny of his own money to Scorsese for the chance to be in the film. "The Wolf of Wall Street" is a project on which the actor signed because he genuinely cared about it. Money was not a factor, which is ironic given that the film portrays the rise, fall and subsequent prosecution of a hotshot 1980s stockbroker.

The other stars of "The Wolf of Wall Street" have not been quite so forthcoming with information about their salaries. Although he has not confirmed the figure, Leonardo DiCaprio has not denied that he earned $10 million for his starring role. The figure is half of what he earned for his previous movie, "The Great Gatsby." Still, a 50 percent pay cut does not seem like a sacrifice when the paycheck is still a cool eight figures.

Margot Robbie, an Australian native and newcomer to the Hollywood scene, played DiCaprio's wife in "The Wolf of Wall Street." Although she did not give any candid interviews about her own earnings for the movie, the actress' net worth is estimated to be around $8 million. Robbie's small (for Hollywood, anyway) net worth and the fact that she only had three previous movies under her belt suggest that she, like Hill, accepted her role for the love of the art and not for a huge paycheck.

Other actors in "The Wolf of Wall Street" have been reluctant to reveal their own salaries for the film. They have been far more likely to talk about how amazing and fulfilling it was to work with Martin Scorsese and the award-nominated ensemble cast.

Plenty of well-known actors played parts in this black comedy about the excesses of 1980s stockbrokers. Matthew McConaughey, Jean Dujardin, Jon Favreau and Rob Reiner are just a few of the household names who rounded out the cast that has received wide critical acclaim. With the film's lower-than-average budget of $100 million, it is highly unlikely that any of these big names earned their regular levels of pay.

It seems almost poetic that a movie about an era of decadence was produced with such a small budget. The big-name actors who portrayed some of the most widely despised crooks, criminals and corrupt businessmen of the 1980s probably earned far less for their performances than the real-life subjects of the film took home in a week.