There is a misconception that most celebrities are money hungry and have a serious disconnect with the rest of the world. While this may be the case with some celebrities that have let the fame go to their heads, most big money-makers do understand that they are extremely fortunate and pass on the wealth. In other cases, celebrities remember their humble beginnings when they may have taken an opportunity that would only gain them exposure.
Whether it was for the exposure, charity, the pursuit of knowledge, or because it’s just the right thing to do, these celebrities at one time or another took achieving a goal over a big financial pay-off.
10. The Cast of The Blair Witch Project
The cast of the Blair Witch really had their work cut out for them.
Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael C. Williams answered an ad for improvisational actors by Blair Witch directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez advertised out of a magazine called Black Stage. The script for The Blair Witch Project was a simple 68-page outline where all dialogue was to be improvised. On top of improvisational acting, the three actors would also serve as the camera operators for the “found footage” film. Despite pulling double duties, the actors and actress were only paid $500 for their work.
The Blair Witch Project would originally advertise itself as “real” found footage, complete with a website to support the claim. Eventually the film was purchased by Artisan pictures for $1.1 million and would go on to gross over $140 million in the United States alone. Fortunately, the actors signed a small agreement to see some money from profits if the film proved to be a success.
9. Jon Heder
Jon Heder, who played the titular character in the film Napoleon Dynamite, may have been paid the least for his work on the project.
Heder had originally played the character (then named “Seth”) in a short film by director Jared Hess called Peluca. Hess decided to expand on the short and Napoleon Dynamite was born. Heder once again played the character as a favor to Hess, taking only $1,000 for 22 days of shooting. Like the cast of Blair Witch, Heder would also pull double duty: he helped make the boondoggle keychains that the character Deb (played by Tina Majorino) was selling to raise money for college.
The film would go on to gross over $44 million.
8. J.K. Rowling
Rowling is well known for her philanthropy and “sharing the wealth” so to speak. Rowling has donated so much of her own wealth to charitable organizations that she has even lost her billionaire status, mostly earned from the Harry Potter books she authored and related Potter media.
Known for her generosity, it should come as no surprise she penned three more books in the Harry Potter series in which all proceeds went to charities that included Comic Relief and Children’s Voice. The three books written were under pen names, as they were “books within books”, meaning they were books that the fictional characters of the Harry Potter series would have had on their shelves. They included Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Tales of Beedle the Bard.
7. The Cast of Paranormal Activity
Another “found footage” film makes its way on the list and another cast gets paid in peanuts. This isn’t too much of a surprise, as the “found footage” genre is an inexpensive way to get into film-making, and the films can yield a very nice payday and great exposure for an up and coming actor or actress.
The film would not be an easy gig since director Oren Peli would only write an outline for a script, the same tactic used in The Blair Witch Project. The actors, Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, had to improvise the dialogue on their own. The film was shot over 7 days and the two leads were paid only $500 each. The films would go on to gross $193 million worldwide.
Hey, at least they didn’t have to pull double duty as camera operators.
6. James Cameron
As a fictional version of James Cameron once said in an episode of South Park, “James Cameron doesn’t do what James Cameron does for James Cameron. James Cameron does what James Cameron does because James Cameron is James Cameron!” This line was in reference to the real-life deep sea exploration work done by Cameron himself.
The Marianas Trench is the deepest location known to man on earth. The resources and money it takes to explore this part of the world is beyond any amount a typical team of scientists would ever be able to get the funds to accomplish. So how did a submersible vehicle recently make the deepest exploratory dive in the history of the world?
James Cameron financed and piloted the submersible himself. Why? Because he’s fascinated by the ocean and he has the money to do it.
Cameron has also been known to use his own paychecks to finish his films that have gone over budget.
5. Charlton Heston
Caution: Spoilers from 1968!
After the original Planet of the Apes film was released in 1968, nobody involved ever thought it would be the kind of success that would spawn a sequel. Especially since the original film ends with the big reveal that the planet was just a post-war Earth all along. Where could you go from there, a film about two humans riding a horse?
The crew was able to come up with a plot for the sequel. They wanted Heston back but he wasn’t interested. Heston and the crew then came up with an idea: Heston would come back for the last few minutes of the film, say a couple lines, and blow the planet up. With the world gone, there wouldn’t have to be anymore sequels!
Since Heston only appeared in the film for a few short minutes, he took the $50,000 the studio was obligated to pay him since he’s a SAG union member, and donated it to a school.
Despite this plan, the Apes franchise would spawn six more films over the years, a live-action television series, and an animated series.
4. Keanu Reeves
Keanu Reeves is actually quite well known for his lack of concern regarding money and the lavish Hollywood lifestyle. Aside from generally living in modest flats, wearing clothes until they can’t be worn, and using public transportation, he has sacrificed his pay for films so the budget could make room for big talent like Al Pacino. He has also given large sums of money to several charities.
The most infamous example of Reeves giving up his pay was when he went out of his way to make a back-end deal on the Matrix sequels that would get him a percentage of the money the films made. At first this looked like Keanu trying to milk any money he could out of the franchise. Reeves took that money (to the tune of $75 million) and gave it all to the film’s special effects crew. With a film like The Matrix that relied heavily on effects, Reeves felt the effects crew members were the actual stars of the film.
3. Adam Levine
Adam Levine has had huge success with his band Maroon 5 and as a judge on the popular talent show series The Voice. Not wanting to be limited to music, Levine decided he wanted to branch out into acting. When Levine was able to land a role in the film Begin Again with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, he decided not to take any pay, as it was his first feature film and he really just wanted to get the acting experience.
Levine has said he is very thankful that he’s fortunate enough to afford working for experience.
2. George Clooney
When Clooney wanted to make his passion project, Good Night, and Good Luck., he faced a couple bumps along the way. To get funds to make the film, Clooney paid himself only $1 to write, direct, and act in the film.
Not only did Clooney essentially not cut himself a paycheck, but he also mortgaged his Los Angeles home to fund the film.
1. The Dave Matthews Band
The Dave Matthews Band is no stranger to playing concerts for free. In fact, they have not only been known to play for free, but they don’t charge for tickets in hopes that attendees will have their money saved so they can donate more to the charitable organizations they support. The organizations include their own BAMA organization, the Live8 concerts, Stand Up For a Cure, as well as playing for AIDS research, music education, and preserving parks.
DMB was also very generous with their performances and money towards the city of Chicago after one of their tour bus drivers emptied 800 lbs. of human waste through the Kinzie Bridge and on to the passengers of a tour boat in 2004. Fortunately, the band was not on the bus at the time, but they owned up to the responsibility as the bus belonged to them.