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Henry Cavill quitting Superman is nothing but an ugly negotiation tactic, and it has happened before

What you’re seeing play out in public – the curiously timed reports of Henry Cavill’s dismissal as Superman – is nothing but an ugly negotiating tactic. And it has precedent.

weekend binge Updated: Sep 15, 2018 11:52 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Henry Cavill,Superman,Henry Cavill Superman
Chris Pine, Henry Cavill and Mark Wahlberg have all been involved in contract disputes.

The Hollywood Reporter said this week that Henry Cavill was most likely being dropped as Superman in Warner Bros’ ‘evolving’ (and rapidly unraveling) DC Extended Universe. The actor quickly responded with a cryptic Instagram video – which, if anything, only made things worse – and Warners was quick to ‘clarify’ that no firm decisions had been made.

But pay closer attention to their statement and two things will pop out. One, they’ve very conveniently avoided an outright denial (or confirmation) of that THR story. And two, they’ve emphasised – a little too enthusiastically – that they (continue to) have a great working relationship with Cavill.

But that’s not what several journalists are reporting. According to multiple people with inside information on the matter, the blame – just like it was during the moustachegate kerfuffle – can safely be directed towards Mission: Impossible – Fallout. But this time, instead of one studio playing the ultimate power move and forcing another to spend millions of dollars on digitally erasing the moustache Cavill had grown – and was contractually obligated to keep – while filming the sixth Mission Impossible film, Cavill believed his supporting role in the movie had somehow made him an A-list star.

It hadn’t. But with The Rock’s ex-wife (and the mother of his child), Dany Garcia, by his side in a managerial capacity, Cavill believed he could engage Warner Bros – the studio that picked him out of relative obscurity and made him Superman – in a game of chicken.

Because what you’re seeing play out in public – the curiously timed reports of Cavill’s dismissal and the enigmatic statements subsequently made by both parties – is nothing but an ugly negotiating tactic.

The THR story reported that the problem began when Cavill blamed ‘scheduling conflicts’ for his refusal to film a cameo appearance in DC’s upcoming Shazam! movie. Cavill reportedly still has one film left in his DC contract, and the cameo would have counted. Both ScreenRant and Beyond the Trailer report that the reason Cavill was holding out was because he felt that he was owed more money now that his star had risen. The strategy worked well for Gal Gadot, who not only negotiated a hefty pay-rise for Wonder Woman 1984, but also scored a producer credit.

It’s one thing for an actor to demand fair compensation, but Cavill is yet to deliver a solo hit. All three of his DC movies are commonly categorised as having ‘underperformed’ – which is the modern blockbuster code for ‘films that flopped theatrically but will turn a profit in the long run’. And only one of his non-DC movies is a bonafide hit – the aforementioned Mission Impossible 6.

As his next move, Cavill signed onto the Netflix fantasy series, The Witcher – which is a good (but crucially not great) plan B – perhaps to send the message that he was already moving on. And shortly after The Witcher was announced, THR broke the news of his dismissal. Again, it has been reported online that the story was ‘leaked’ by Warners as an arm-twisting maneuver, but who knows?

What we do know is that situations such as this have precedent. There’s no telling how this might end up, but as these five examples show, Cavill has little option but to lower his asking price.

Terrence Howard – Iron Man

In one of the rare examples of roles being recast in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – remarkable especially considering the sheer number of actors and schedules they have to juggle – Terrence Howard was removed as War Machine for Iron Man 2. And Howard – whose history of domestic abuse hardly makes him the victim in this situation – has publicly blamed Robert Downey Jr for his ouster.

“It turns out that the person I helped become Iron Man … when it was time to re-up for the second one took the money that was supposed to go to me and pushed me out,” Howard said. The role was subsequently recast with Don Cheadle. “It was going to be a certain amount for the first film, a certain amount for the second, a certain amount for the third,” Howard continued. “They came to me with the second and said, ‘Look we will pay you 1/8th of what we contractually had for you because we think the second one will be successful with or without you.’”

Howard added: “I called my friend that I helped get the first job and he didn’t call me back for three months.”

Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth – Star Trek 4

It was recently reported that Paramount’s talks with both Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth had broken down because they were asking a higher price to reprise their roles as James T Kirk and his father in the fourth Star Trek film. Hemsworth played a cameo in the 2009 reboot, before he became a household name thanks to the Marvel movies. The plot for the fourth film is rumoured to involve a time travel element, what with Captain Kirk’s father being dead and all.

While neither Chris is a part of the Hollywood A-list, they’re certainly bigger stars than Cavill. And they know it, because even though Paramount wants to keep the budget for the new Star Trek in check, especially after the third one became the lowest-grossing of the reboot series, the actors are still holding out. Pine recently said that talks were ongoing and that he hopes to arrive at an understanding, but with the series’ flexible timeline and the option of another Trek movie (this one being written by Quentin Tarantino) available, the ball is firmly in the Chrises’ court.

The cast of Modern Family

In 2012, five lead actors of the hit sitcom Modern Family, excluding Ed O’Neill - Sofia Vergara, Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet – asked a judge to rule their contracts illegal, claiming that they were being underpaid and that the contracts restricted them from taking on other work.

The actors at the time were being paid between $60,000 and $65,000 per episode, according to Variety, and were asking for at least $300,000 per episode were the show to last more than eight seasons, which it has. The same actors are now getting paid in the vicinity of $500,000 per episode.

The cast of Friends

In another example of TV actors successfully renegotiating their contracts, the main cast of Friends successfully convinced NBC to pay them a then-unheard of $1 million per episode. Mirroring everyone’s disbelief, co-creator Marta Kaufmann at the time said, “A million dollars an episode is kinda ridiculous. Let’s be honest, that’s a lot of money.”

But they had two crucial points going in their favour: Friends was one of the highest watched shows in the history of TV and ever since the third season, they’d been negotiating their deals collectively. These days only one sitcom can afford to pay its cast a million dollars per episode and that’s The Big Bang Theory.

Mark Wahlberg

Obviously, not all backroom contract negotiations are reported in the press. Johnny Depp continues to strike lucrative deals at Disney to keep doing the Pirate of the Caribbean movies – although, a point can be made that considering the recent disintegration of his career and his reputation, he needs them more than they need him.

But when Mark Wahlberg asked for $1.5 million to film nine days of reshoots for Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, he’d never have expected his fine business acumen to blow up in his face. Weeks later, just ahead of the Oscars, it was reported that his co-star Michelle Williams made only $80 a day for doing exactly the same work. And the cultural climate couldn’t have been worse: The Me Too movement was at its peak and stars such as Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence had been campaigning vocally for equal pay. To his credit, Wahlberg donated the entire $1.5 million to the Time’s Up campaign in Williams’ name.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: Sep 15, 2018 11:51 IST