MaHB / TV: Et Tu, Brit?

Esquire Malaysia, February 2015


Et Tu, Brit?
Meet the highest-earning British stars on US television.

By Sophia Goh

Once upon a time, if you were an actor in America, television work was considered inferior to movie work. Television actors were deemed not as good as movie actors, and everyone harboured dreams and aspirations of making it onto the big screen. Most didn’t; but a few, the more notable among them being George Clooney (from ER) and Jennifer Aniston (from Friends), did.

Today, all that has changed. Not only is television an exceedingly respectable, even coveted, career path for actors, the industry is producing some of the highest-quality entertainment we’ve seen in years. We’re enjoying what is widely referred to as the “golden age of television”, and personally, I think television is flat-out kicking movie’s ass.

This is good news for American actors, but it’s even better news for actors from abroad who are trying to break into Hollywood. The newfound respectability of television work has translated to more good roles up for grabs, not to mention better pay and more recognition, so much so that many actors don’t even care about trying to become movie stars anymore.

In line with this issue’s theme, here are three British actors who found fame and big bucks in Hollywood through roles on the small screen:

Hugh Laurie
No stranger to television audiences, Laurie, as Dr Gregory House [pictured], was named the highest earning dramatic actor in US television in 2010, pocketing around USD400,000 for each episode of House MD.

Stephen Moyer
As the vampire Bill on True Blood, Moyer earned around USD275,000 per episode. Even though it’s nowhere near as much as what Laurie earned, he ended up marrying his leading lady Anna Paquin, so I’d say they’re even.

Charlie Hunnam
Although his exact salary for playing Jackson “Jax” Teller on Sons of Anarchy is unclear, Hunnam was a surprise No. 1 on People With Money’s list of highest paid actors for 2014, with an estimated USD58 million in combined earnings from upfront pay, profit participation, residuals, endorsements and advertising work.

There are perks to landing a major role on a television series, not least among them being it provides actors with a stable gig (unless they are on Game of Thrones). The hours are notoriously long for those working on drama serials, but unlike movie actors, at least it doesn’t mean spending weeks away from family while filming on location.

Sitcom stars are especially comfortable, with the majority of them working an easy five-day week, yet scoring some of the biggest paychecks in showbiz too. Just ask Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting from The Big Bang Theory, who this year reportedly signed new three-year contracts to the tune of USD1 million per episode. That puts them in the (rumoured) salary territory of the cast of Friends, though Charlie Sheen holds the record for all-time highest paid actor on US television at USD1.8 million per episode of Two and a Half Men – before he got fired. It’s a shame all that tiger blood got in the way*.

* Among Sheen’s memorable rants from his very public meltdown in 2011: “I’m different. I have a different constitution, I have a different brain, I have a different heart. I got tiger blood, man. Dying is for fools, dying is for amateurs.”

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