“Were Claire Foy and Matt Smith paid equally for their star turns on Netflix’s The Crown?” I thought it was a topical, yet relatively straightforward, question that would illicit some variation on the “We’d rather not talk about money, we’re British” answer.
However, it didn’t, and it turns out they weren’t. When I agreed to moderate a panel on The Crown, with exec producers Andy Harries and Suzanne Mackie and production designer Martin Childs, at the INTV conference in Jerusalem, I figured we’d have a pleasant chat about a show that’s been heavily dissected since its launch in November 2016 and potentially fish out a few hints about the next two seasons. I certainly didn’t expect to secure a royal scoop.
The session secured headlines around the world, kick-started Internet outrage, launched a petition for Smith to donate the difference to the Time’s Up legal fund, and led to an apology from Left Bank Pictures, which promised to start discussions with leading equality campaigners.
Mackie tacitly acknowledged that Smith was paid more than Foy for the first two seasons of The Crown, but she also pointed out that this gender disparity would be fixed for future seasons. Mackie, widely considered to have crafted Peter Morgan’s royal scripts into one of Netflix’s most successful dramas and its first true international breakout, wasn’t, however, responding to a “gotcha” question.
I had met her 48 hours earlier in a hotel bar where a handful of the international speakers and journalists attending the conference, organized by Homeland originators Keshet, were staying. We discussed the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns in the context of the British film and television industry and she impressed me with her considered take on how to achieve equality across the business. Mackie, who founded feature film firm Harbour Pictures before joining Sony-backed Left Bank in 2009, also reminded me that she was the driving force behind Calendar Girls, the Helen Mirren- and Julie Walters-fronted feature film that told the story of a group of women from Yorkshire who stripped naked for a Women’s Institute calendar in aid of leukemia research.
What has emerged from Mackie’s honest onstage answer is a series of complicated questions around gender pay, Hollywood’s quote system, anthology casting and how this all fits into the current climate.
Ultimately, Smith was paid more for the first 20 episodes of The Crown because of his profile coming off the back of Doctor Who, a show that has traveled to more than 200 territories. Smith’s agent Michael Duff, founder of UK agency Troika — which also represents Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya and X-Men’s Michael Fassbender — would have been daft not to capitalize on such a global breakout role for Smith’s next high-profile TV gig, whereas Foy was less well known, having previously starred in a handful of British period dramas including Wolf Hall, and NBC’s short-lived pirate drama Crossbones.
However, while Smith’s initial quote was higher, Foy did much of the heavy lifting in the first two seasons. One of the problem the producers faced was that as a new cast was always designed to be introduced for seasons three and four, Foy would not be able to negotiate a higher fee for subsequent seasons. The controversy has shined a light on the challenges producers such as Left Bank face when dealing with the traditional quote system, which has been in place in Hollywood and abroad for many years, particularly when making short-run anthology dramas or scripted series with revolving casts.
As Mackie noted, the producers intended to reverse the gender pay disparity with the hiring of Olivia Colman, who will play the Queen in the next 20 episodes. Given that the producers are still looking for an “established actor” to play Prince Philip, this poses another challenge. Paul Bettany was in talks for the role but the Avengers and Star Wars star withdrew earlier this year. All parties are keeping mum as to whether salary played a part in this.
Despite the very public pay issue, both Foy and Smith have been able to use The Crown to score even bigger roles on the silver screen. Foy stars in Steven Soderbergh’s horror thriller Unsane, which opens in the U.S. this weekend, and is set to play Lisbeth Salander in the remake of The Girl in the Spider’s Web, while Smith is playing Charles Manson in Mary Harron’s Charlie Says and is starring in Gavin Hood’s spy thriller Official Secrets.
While the revelations about Foy’s salary made the headlines at INTV, which was attended by a coterie of A-list U.S. cable chiefs including HBO’s Casey Bloys and Showtime’s David Nevins, Mackie was brave enough to admit things need to be done to even out the playing field.
She used a separate panel, titled “Women Wonder What’s Next for Them?”, alongside Lionsgate TV President Sandra Stern and my Deadline colleague Nancy Tartaglione, to discuss the issue of sexual harassment and how to ensure equality across the industry. Mackie, who also exec produced Ruth Wilson’s feature Dark River, highlighted that there was an increasing opportunity for women to rise up in the industry, particularly writers and directors.
Left Bank, which is one of the largest production companies in the UK with revenues of £148 million (U.S. $208 million) a year, has put its money where its mouth is, promising to work with and fund organizations such as the Time’s Up UK campaign and Equal Representation for Actresss (ERA) 50:50, to “ensure all women have a voice” behind the scenes of their future projects. The company, which is in the process of re-signing with Sony Pictures Television, is also backing the likes of rising writer Mika Watkins, who created the 10-part sci-fi drama Origins for YouTube Red.
Once the dust settles on The Crown headlines, let’s hope the company continues to speak out.
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