HBO Complained About Nicole Kidman’s Big Little Lies Payday, but Then Gave Her Another Show

She's worth every penny.


As just about the entire world knows by now, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and the rest of the women are coming back to HBO for a second season of Big Little Lies, with Meryl Streep in tow.

Because the network never anticipated a sequel, the cast was free to renegotiate bigger contracts for season 2, and Witherspoon and Kidman will reportedly nab $1 million each an episode. Assuming that, like the first season, the sequel is seven episodes (and IMDB listings appears to confirm this), that means each actress take home $7 million, or $14 million total, for the season. Incidentally, that total is still less money than HBO shells out for the production of a single episode of Game of Thrones these days. (It takes a lot of money to animate those dragons.)

Still, the big paydays should be heartening news in the age of Time’s Up and serious discussion of Hollywood’s gendered pay gap (it was also revealed today that Netflix paid Claire Foy less than co-star Matt Smith for The Crown). Yet, an HBO executive couldn’t help but openly lament the situation during a television conference in Israel this week.

“From a budget standpoint going into season two of Big Little Lies without any options in place we’ve been… um… short of raped,” HBO drama chief Francesca Orsi reportedly said.

Now, that is never an appropriate expression to employ when talking about anything other than sexual assault. But it seemed especially egregious when used to discuss negotiations around a show that deals explicitly with the repercussions of rape and domestic abuse.

Orsi quickly issued an apology to CNN, writing, “Obviously, I am embarrassed by my poor choice of words.”

This isn’t the first crude comment made by an entertainment executive about the show. A former Amazon exec asked a group of staffers if the two stars would “show their tits” and mused aloud why he would greenlight the show if they didn’t. But particular word choices aside, how are we expecting the pay gap to ever be closed when it’s still OK to openly lament occasions where women actually triumph in a negotiation? Especially when HBO can almost certainly afford it.

After all, the network is signing on Kidman for yet another limited series. She’ll team up again with Big Little Lies executive producer David E. Kelley for an adaptation of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s 2014 novel You Should Have Known. For television, the project will be renamed The Undoing, and Kidman will star as a celebrated therapist on the verge of publishing her first self-help book when someone gets brutally murdered; her husband, who has been leading a second life all along, goes missing; and her entire life falls apart. The catch is that her book was all about telling women to not ignore the major red flags hanging about men in her life and, well, it turns out she wasn’t really taking her own advice.

No word on how much Kidman will get paid per episode, but, hey, we hear she doesn’t come cheap.

Still, HBO could probably bankroll half a dozen Kidman-starring limited series (and we’re sure there’s an audience for that) for the price it pays for a single cycle of Game of Thrones. The past season is rumored to cost somewhere around $90 million for just six episodes, and Orsi also talked about the potential “budget conundrum” that might come with greenlighting one of the potential spinoffs. “We can’t obviously start with the budget of season 8, but would it be a Game of Thrones season 3 budget?” she said at the same conference.

Just for context, the network reportedly shelled out $100 million for the first seasons of both Westworld (a nice hit) and Vinyl (a ’70s-set flop that didn’t even have any CGI dragons or robots in its budget). It can probably afford to keep giving some A-list actresses $1 million an episode for some quality work here and there.

Related: Emily Blunt Thinks Hollywood’s Gender Pay Gap Calls for ‘Aggressive’ Action

Emma Stone, Meryl Streep, Octavia Spencer, and More of Hollywood’s Biggest Stars Demand Equal Pay

Oprah shared with Time magazine that in 1986 when her talk show became syndicated, the female producers were not getting paid enough. “Well, either my producers are going to get raises or I’m going to sit down. I just won’t work. I will not work unless they get paid more money,” she told the executives.

Photograph by Juergen Teller for W Magazine.

At CNN’s “Women in the World” salon, Viola Davis announced that she would no longer “hustle” for her worth, and reminded audiences that actresses of color get paid “a tenth of what a Caucasian woman gets” and “half of what a man is getting paid.”

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When Patricia Arquette won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2015, she used her acceptance speech as an opportunity to remind Hollywood that “all women deserve equal pay” in every industry. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

“I don‘t like the fact that I get paid much less than the boys,” Quantico star Priyanka Chopra told the BBC in 2017. “I don‘t like the fact that the disparity is so massive.”

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Meryl Streep has been a longtime supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. In 2015, the actress revealed that she is still paid less than her male co-stars. While promoting her Oscar-nominated film The Post, Streep told Gloria Steinem, “Equal means equal. And if it starts at the top, none of these shenanigans would have filtered down and it wouldn’t have been tolerated.”

Michael Thompson

In August 2017, Amy Schumer revealed that she negotiated for more than the initial $11 million offer for her Netflix special, The Leather Special, due to the fact that comedians Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle were offered $20 million each for their own respective specials.

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Jessica Chastain made headlines in January 2018, when it was revealed that she negotiated higher salaries for herself and Octavia Spencer in an upcoming holiday comedy film starring both actresses. Spencer told the story for her, explaining, “She said, ‘Octavia. we’re gonna get you paid on this film… You and I are gonna be tied together. We’re gonna be favored nations, and we’re gonna make the same thing.’ Fast-forward to last week, we’re making five times what we asked for.”

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In July of 2017 Emma Stone told Out Magazine that “In my career so far, I’ve needed my male co-stars to take a pay cut so that I may have parity with them. And that’s something they do for me because they feel it’s what’s right and fair.”

Photographs by Juergen Teller; Styled by Edward Enninful

“Here’s the thing, women of color on that spectrum, we make far less than white women. So, if we’re gonna have that conversation about pay equity, we gotta bring the women of color to the table,” Octavia Spencer said to her co-star Jessica Chastain when the two decided to negotiate a salary raise for their upcoming joint project.

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In October 2015, Jennifer Lawrence published an essay on Lenny, titled “Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co‑Stars?” which tackled her questions about the wage gap in Hollywood.

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Charlize Theron discovered her The Huntsman: Winter’s War co-star Chris Hemsworth made more money than she did, and negotiated a $10 million increase in salary. “This is a good time for us to bring this to a place of fairness, and girls need to know that being a feminist is a good thing. It doesn’t mean that you hate men. It means equal rights. If you’re doing the same job, you should be compensated and treated in the same way,” she told Elle UK.

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“I knew I was being paid less,” Amy Adams told Vanity Fair about her role in American Hustle.

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In support of the Equal Pay Day initiative, Kerry Washington tweeted, “Equal pay for equal work.”

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Brie Larson stood up for former E! host Catt Sadler, who quit after discovering she made half the salary of her male colleague Jason Kennedy. “We stand with you,” Larson tweeted. “Equal pay for equal work!”

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When asked by a journalist about pay disparity in Hollywood, Julianne Moore replied, “I think that that’s something that’s not endemic just to show business, but I think that it’s something that we’re all dealing with. That was what the Lilly Ledbetter Act is all about.”

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“I think it is right that I am paid the same as my male counterparts,” Emma Watson said in a speech about gender equality at the United Nations as the U.N. Women’s Goodwill Ambassador in 2014.

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In a 2014 essay titled “Gender Equality Is a Myth!”, Beyoncé wrote that “Equality will be achieved when men and women are granted equal pay and equal respect.”

Photograph by Patrick Demarchelier for W Magazine.