It’s my favorite time of year: The Hollywood Reporter roundtable season! In the latest “roundtable,” which was more like a Zoom call among some of the most in-demand television actresses around, Cynthia Erivo and Gillian Anderson talked pay equity and the fact that often, the best sets are the ones with no men around.
Anderson was the first to be asked about pay, having spoken up previously that she was offered a “tenth” of what co-star David Duchovny was offered to reboot The X-Files. “That was the point where I was like, “Fuck this. I’m actually going to talk about this [publicly].” She adds that although it made headlines at the time, “since then, it hasn’t really come up. I mean, I haven’t worked with a lot of men, so that hasn’t been an issue.” The key to her successful re-negotiation, however, was that she was an established actress critical to the reboot’s success:
Look, they weren’t going to fire me on The X-Files. The stakes weren’t that high. I put my foot down, not because the stakes weren’t high, but if they were going to fire me, some people were going to have some things to say about that. It’s very different for a young woman going into a job situation with a boss who’s overbearing and asking for a pay raise.
Erivo then contrasted Anderson’s experience greatly.
I mean, the obvious is I’m a Black woman, and that has a lot to do with how you’re paid, how you’re hired, if you’re hired, the way you’re hired — it affects everything. I’m lucky enough to have a team behind me that is brave enough to ask the questions I’d like asked: What I’m being paid compared to the leading man in the show, or if I’m being paid a lot less, whether or not they are willing to come up so it becomes equal.
She then said that one of the most taxing requests to make on-set is if “we could please have this makeup artist with me because usually there are no Black makeup artists on a set and you’re the only one who needs one.” According to Erivo, “I’ve had to have that fight every single time I’ve gone onto a set.” As she sees it:
It isn’t about vanity, it’s about making sure that whoever I’m playing is represented in the right way because they understand how to work with my skin tone and my hair. But you keep sticking with it because it’s not just me having my way, it’s me being able to employ two other people. And then maybe I’m asking, “Can we have a DP who understands lighting that works on my skin tone?”
Erivo also discussed the way in which she and other Black actresses have to worry, “Am I going to be seen as difficult?” She said that “yes, there are times where I’ve had someone say they’ve heard I was difficult, but usually it’s because I’ve asked a question that will make for a better surrounding or a better show.”
The full roundtable with Anderson, Erivo, Anya Taylor-Joy, Elizabeth Olsen, Mj Rodriguez, and Sarah Paulson is below.