Why would you assume it wouldn’t be enough to live off of?
James Cromwell has done an immense number of character roles. Just because he isn’t the lead in the movies he makes doesn’t mean that he doesn’t make much money. Cromwell makes at least several hundred thousand dollars a year, and he probably has made more than a million dollars in some years.
It’s harder to tell with Danny Trejo since he’s been acting for a shorter time, but he probably also makes several hundred thousand dollars per year.
You don’t think James Cromwell makes enough to live off from acting? I think you severely underestimate the income of actors in major features. This guy has been working steadily since 1974.
In no particular order, voice over work for TV, feature film animation, as well as TV and radio commercials; theater work; teaching acting classes; small parts in films and TV; part time non show business jobs. Comedians can do corporate shows, dramatic actors can do industrial or training films.
Many actors can survive off of the big paychecks from their good years, assuming savings and investment, together with residuals, they can do quite well after a few years on a top twenty TV show.
Cromwell works regularly enough to make his living primarily as an actor. His IMDB resume is impressive, and he’s certainly done work that we’re not aware of. He probably gets theater work, and voice over work to fill the gaps. He may also teach, many experienced actors do.
Less well known actors often work as extras. Since they’re in the Screen Actors Guild, they get the Union extra rate, about 120 bucks for 8 hours, time and a half for overtime. Stand ins (doubles for lighting setups who look similar to regular cast members) make approx ten per cent more. Working as union extras also maintains their SAG health insurance, which can be the most important issue for them.
Actors also get residuals for films shown on TV, and reruns of TV episodes. For a series regular, or a small part in a hit film, this can turn out to be substantial money over time.
There is also commercial work, though experienced actors may shy away from it because it damages their brand. Radio commercial voice over work may be preferable because the actor can’t be identified by his or her face.
Actors will also try to start their own production companies, using their experience and connections to launch other people careers and material.
There’s also real estate. A lot of actors own rental property, or buy and sell houses to more successful Hollywood types.
Danny Trejo and James Cromwell are by no means ‘B’ List actors. They are almost always cast in major motion pictures.
Cromwell was probably a bad choice I know he probably makes a lot.
Sean Astin wrote in his autobiography that before he made “Lord of the Rings” he was making about $250,000.00 a year as an actor/writer/producer and that he had bought a house in Encino for $650,000.00
So it seems you can be a working actor and get by OK. (He also says he got $250,000 for ALL THREE “Lord of the Rings” movie, not each one)
ISTR reading an article in Time or a similar magazine about some apartment building destroyed by the Northridge earthquake. The building looked (in “before” shots) solidly lower-middle class to my eye, not unlike what I’d find here in Springfield housing people who worked third-shift, barely-above-minimum-wage jobs.
Among the people made homeless by the destruction of the building were several cast members of a popular (at the time) TV show. They weren’t the leads, but they were definitely a major part of the show, and were household names.
This article led me to believe one of two things (probably both):
- What looks like a low-rent apartment building in Springfield isn’t necessarily low-rent in LA.
- Non-lead actors in a TV series, even a popular one, don’t make much money.
He only got a quarter million for working on LOTR? That’s terrible.
Not everyone requires a house or condo that looks like a showplace from the outside.
That’s probably just his salary for the job, not counting all the residuals he’ll get for years and years to come for the three movies.
I was watching Intervention a while back and one of the addicts was a woman with agoraphopia who’d been on the first 3 seasons of ER playing a minor part.
She had a shopping addiction and at one point was worried about paying a bill or something, but then her $45,000 residual cheque arrived. She recieves 4 of them a year. That’s almost $200,000/year. I would think most people would be able to get by on that, assuming they didn’t have the super glam holywood lifestyle.
I have a friend who appeared in a couple of movies with bit parts, sitcoms, and tv commercials and he still gets residual checks that allow him to live at a certain level of slacker comfort.
While $200,000/year isn’t the same as $20,000,000 for one movie, it’s a lot more than the average person in the US makes, and one can live quite comfortably on that amount.
Plus what was said upthread re teaching, writing, stage plays, etc. When I read a bio of someone who doesn’t have a lot of recent movie credits, I think “stage work”. For instance, Gary Sandy played Andy Travis in WKRP in Cincinnati. According to imdb, he’s worked in TV/movies sporadically the last few years (1999, 2000, a couple of credits in 2001, nothing til 2004, which was the latest credit listed), but I know (no cite) he’s performed in a lot of plays over the years. He lives (lived at least) outside of Louisville Kentucky, and has been written up in newspapers over the years in the Louisville/Cincinnati/Indianapolis area from time to time, and they always mentioned a play he was in.
Whether Sandy is a ‘B’, ‘D’, or ‘Z’ actor is left to the definition of the reader.
You mean, housing prices are different in LA than in Springfield? I’m shocked!
But you raise a good point: to be a regularly-working actor, you probably have to live somewhere expensive, like New York or LA; so what sounds like a good income might not be quite so good.
Bill Cobbs, an older black character actor you’d recognize the minute you saw him even if you didn’t know his name (he was one of the three older laid-off guards in Night at the Museum, and Whitney Houston’s manager in The Bodyguard) owns some real estate in Cleveland, his hometown. He once appeared before me as the plaintiff in a small claims case for back rent. Nice guy.
Thank you for the Forbes article; that was interesting. So Richard Herd gets $39 every time a particular episode of MAS*H is broadcast on a local station. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s not bad, and presumably the bigger stars get bigger residual checks. I wonder what’s the cost for broadcasting that episode?
Does anyone know that site that profiled B/character actors? Those faces you see everywhere but don’t know their name?