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Actors Who Fully Admitted They Only Took A Role For The Money

An actor with style and delivery can elevate the form—and the human spirit—with their performance, but at the end of the day, no matter how much the end result of all that work might mean to fans on an emotional level, they don't call it the movie business for nothing: it's also a profession. And although a role in a critically acclaimed indie drama might earn an actor a few pats on the back and an awards nomination or three, it's usually blockbusters that pay the bills. We've all done things in our professional lives that were motivated by the fact we were taking home a paycheck, and Hollywood's biggest stars are often no different. Between all the passion projects and awards bait, sometimes even the most talented thespian just wants to add a few more zeroes to their bank balance. These actors have been guilty of taking gigs strictly for the money—but to their credit, they were totally up front about it afterward.

Michael Caine in Jaws: The Revenge

Michael Caine is one of the most acclaimed actors in modern cinema. His six-decade filmography is laced with award-winning performances, including his roles in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters and The Cider House Rules, as well as several nominations for Alfie and The Quiet American. Naturally, not every performance can be a winner and not every film is destined to be met with critical acclaim—and like the rest of us, Mr. Caine still needs to eat. Hence the actor's participation in fare such as Jaws: The Revenge.

According to the Telegraph, Caine missed accepting his Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters in 1987 because he was filming the schlocky fourth entry in the colossal shark series. The knighted thespian is unapologetic for his presence in the movie—which scored an embarrassing 14% audience review on Rotten Tomatoes—and his famously candid quote sums things up perfectly. "I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible," he admitted when the subject came up. "However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific."

Alec Guinness in Star Wars

For the younger members of the cast, 1977's original Star Wars was a springboard to a film career. But for their veteran counterparts, the space opera was just another job. Take Alec Guinness, for example.

Already the Academy Award-winning star of renowned films like Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, Guinness—who plays Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original trilogy—was reportedly nonplussed with his newfound Star Wars stardom. His autobiography includes his recollection of a moment when he discouraged an over-zealous fan from watching the films again, and as his personal correspondence makes clear, he clearly saw the part as a paycheck.

"Can't say I'm enjoying the film," he wrote after taking the role. "New rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day on wadges of pink paper—and none of it makes my character clear or even bearable. I just think, thankfully, of the lovely bread, which will help me keep going until next April."

Orson Welles in Transformers: The Movie

Orson Welles made a significant footprint on the cinema world with films like Citizen Kane, as well as tautly woven noirs like The Stranger and his War of the Worlds radio play. Decades from the apex of his fame, Welles maintained some sort of presence, acting in and directing television and feature films on a limited basis, even slumming it for a commercial or two to make ends meet. His final paying gig wasn't exactly a memorable one, at least for the cinematic giant, in Transformers: The Movie.

In the final three years of his life, Welles' biographer Barbara Learning spent a great deal of time with the actor. By Transformers, he was in such poor health, according to Today, that his voice was synthetically enhanced to sound more "Wellesian." The actor spoke candidly about his animated role as planet-snacking Unicron; in one interview, he's quoted as saying, "You know what I did this morning? I played the voice of a toy. I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I'm destroyed. My plan to destroy Whoever-it-is is thwarted and I tear myself apart on the screen."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for theatrical flop that also doubled as a beloved childhood classic. Sadly, Welles succumbed to a heart attack five days after completing his "memorable" role. 

Jackie Chan in Rush Hour

Mirthful, endearing, and enduring: all these words properly describe Hong Kong martial artist Jackie Chan, the hardest working man in action cinema. For decades, he's thrilled audiences with high-flying feats of death-defying movie madness, mostly achieved without a stunt double. Even for a prolific star like Chan, though, some roles simply amounted to nothing more than a way to pull down a few extra clams.

Since his "official" Western audience debut in 1995's Rumble in the Bronx—Kung Fu-fanatics were already well aware of him—Chan has remained a consistent blip on the American cultural landscape, even enjoying a stint as an animated character in Jackie Chan Adventures. In the late '90s, though, seeking to further his global influence and crossover appeal, Chan teamed up with Chris Tucker for the Brett Ratner-directed action-comedy flick Rush Hour. It proved an undeniable box office darling, spinning off several sequels, but later, Chan admitted his own distaste for the goofball flick.

"I have reasons to do each film, I have something to say," said Chan. "Unlike Rush Hour—there was no reason [in making it], you just give me the money and I'm fine. I dislike Rush Hour the most, but ironically it sold really well in the U.S. and Europe."

Well, ain't that a kick in the chops.

​ Morgan Freeman in London Has Fallen

Morgan Freeman's groundbreaking career is bursting at the seams with powerful performances and critical accolades. From his unassuming cinematic debut in the Jack Klugman vehicle Who Says I Can't Ride a Rainbow! to later roles like Driving Miss Daisy and his Oscar-winning work in Million Dollar Baby, Freeman's talent and charisma have made him one of the biggest stars on the planet. He's also one of the top-grossing actors of all time, as features graced by his presence have earned nearly four and a half billion bucks at the box office.

With that in mind, it's understandable if the multifaceted thesp looks out for his bottom line from time to time, and he's made his share of movies for the money—like, for instance, 2013's Olympus Has Fallen. During the press junket for the sequel, London Has Fallen, Freeman spoke with Digital Spy about his presence in the franchise. His explanation started with a few sing-songy words from the O'Jays classic "For the Love of Money," followed by some context.

"These large production action films pay well," Freeman noted. "The rewards are many...you've got a film that everybody's going to respond to they're going to go and see it. It's going to make its money back...they'll be right back out there making another movie. And you never know when they're going to call you back."

In Freeman's defense, with decades of entertainment under his belt, he deserves a paycheck movie or three.

Glenn Close in Guardians of the Galaxy

She's a star now, but Glenn Close worked primarily on and off-Broadway throughout much of the '70s' she didn't actually transition into film until 1982's The World According to Garp. Since then, she's appeared in numerous acclaimed films, including roles in The Big Chill, Fatal Attraction, and Albert Nobbs.

Close's talent speaks for itself, but in today's film industry, the bulk of the films in development are would-be tentpoles, and prestige pictures are few and far between. It's left actors like Close, who appeared in Marvel's first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, to subsidize their art through sometimes surprising means.

"I just did two independent films this summer and I had an absolute ball with fantastic actors, but in August, I'm gonna go off and do the next generation of Marvel Comics/Disney and I get to be the chief police of the galaxy," Close told reporters prior to filming her part. "I'm doing that because it will then afford me to go do the other kind of movies that I really love."

Sadly, under the circumstances, her mercenary attitude makes sense. So moviegoers can certainly forgive Ms. Close for her fiscally based rationale.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Airplane

Whatever happened to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's movie career? Sure, he wasn't about to win any Oscars, but was pretty solid for a basketball star turned actor. His Airplane! role, as the copilot Roger Murdock ("Roger, Roger," "What's our vector, Victor..." you know the rest) marked the beginning of a spotty post-NBA acting and voicework career, mostly playing himself. Abdul-Jabbar's motives to branch out may not have been artistically pure, but he did have a natural charisma that, in addition to his colossal height, made him (ahem) stand out.

While talking Airplane! with the A.V. Club, co-directors David and Jerry Zucker said they offered Abdul-Jabbar a cool sum of $30,000 for the role—and the hoopster's manager got back to them with a very "creative" reason for a slight hike in rate.

"The agent asked for $35,000 because that's how much this rug cost that Kareem wanted to buy," said Zucker. "It was an oriental rug—an art piece, not one to walk on, I don't think—so our initial reaction was, 'That's got to be the best line we've ever heard from an agent'...a couple of weeks later, there's an article in Time with a picture of Kareem standing in front of the oriental rug."

At least Abdul-Jabbar was up-front about his reel requirements.

Halle Berry in Swordfish

After her breakout role in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, Halle Berry scored her first starring turn in 1991's Strictly Business. Throughout the '90s and into the 2000s, the talented actress continued to prove her prowess, landing a major role as witchy weather-controller Storm in the first X-Men movie. In 2001, she earned an Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in the dark drama Monster's Ball, but not every role in Berry's career has been blessed with critical prestige (here's looking at you, Catwoman). Her appearance as a DEA agent on the hunt for rogue government agent and/or terrorist John Travolta in Swordfish is a particularly poorly received entry in this unfortunate group. 

But if reviews weren't kind to Swordfish, for Berry, it at least marked a career zenith in terms of her paycheck. Not only was she paid a cool $2 million for her role, but she also reportedly received a bonus of $500,000 for taking off her top on camera, at least according to director Dominic Sena. Berry, for her part, was quick to discount the report. "I don't know where it came from," she insisted. "Nobody is owning up to it. But it has made for great publicity for the movie. Totally not true. I would sell these babies for way more money."

True or not, all those zeroes probably didn't hurt the sting of onscreen nudity in a stinker.

Laurence Olivier in Inchon

Laurence Olivier is the actors' actor. Film and stage critics alike lauded the consummate thespian for his naturalistic performances and overall work ethic. Throughout his extensive career, he appeared in classics like Rebecca and Spartacus and also wrote, directed, and produced several films, including a clutch of Shakespearean works such as Richard the III and Hamlet.

He also wound up in a few turkeys along the way. As his time in the industry wound down, Olivier simply sought to keep things going, as his role in Inchon proved. The infamous film, funded by cult leader Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church—also known as the "Moonies"—was riddled with problems, came in well over budget, and flopped hard. "People ask me why I'm playing in this picture. The answer is simple. Money, dear boy," he later quipped. "Nothing is beneath me if it pays well. I've earned the right to damn well grab whatever I can in the time I've got left."

While his comment seems grimly self-interested, the million-dollar payday bought a lot of peace of mind for the ailing family man.

Betsy Palmer in Friday the 13th

Whether the infamous, breathy "ki ki ki ma ma ma" fills you with dread, laughter, or confusion, Friday the 13th is a legend in its blood-spattered field. A clever retread of Halloween set in the woods, the first film created a lasting franchise even Michael Myers would be hard pressed not to begrudge—in his pale, non-responsive, Shatner-masked way. Director Sean Cunningham stretched a reported half-million dollar budget into nearly $40 million at the box office, and the franchise stretched on for the better part of two decades, even getting the reboot treatment in 2009.

One of the big gotcha moments in the horror classic is the (really old spoiler ahead) climactic reveal that Jason isn't the murderer—rather, it's his mother, Mrs. Voorhees. For the killer role, Cunningham recruited TV vet Betsy Palmer, whose credits include Studio One in Hollywood and Love American Style. Apparently, the opportunity came at the perfect time, as Palmer told MovieWeb.

"My agent called that Friday, and he said, 'How would you like to do a movie?'" she recalled. "I said, 'Wonderful, I just saw a car that I want to buy...' And he says, 'Well, there is a drawback...It's a horror film.' And I said, 'Ooooooh, no! No, no, no, no!...But then I started thinking about that ten thousand dollars. I said, "Send me the script...' And I said, 'What a piece of s—! Nobody is ever going to see this thing...It was only ten days work, so I thought, 'I'll do it so I can get my car.'"

Boy, that sure backfired on her—the movie's visibility, that is. Hopefully not the car.