'Arrow' star Stephen Amell says he earned less than co-stars: 'I work way more than everybody else'

Raechal Leone Shewfelt
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
Stephen Amell at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. (Photo: Michael Bezjian/Getty Images for Hint)

There’s always a part in a celebrity biopic when the subject has a hit show or movie or song, and then comes a montage of this: making lots of money, buying their parents a house and themselves a new car, and signing autographs anytime they’re in public. They’ve made it big, the sequence says.

But actor Stephen Amell, star of the CW’s Arrow, offered the less glamorous, more realistic version of what can actually happen when you land what’s likely to be a career-defining role — such as that of the Green Arrow — on Tuesday’s episode of the podcast Inside of You with Michael Rosenbaum.

For starters, Amell, whose pre-Arrow roles included guest spots on shows such as 90210 and The Vampire Diaries, said that although he was the star of the show, he didn’t make as much as some of his co-stars in the show’s early days. The Arrow pilot aired Oct. 10, 2012.

“The only issue I had in the first couple of years was, I think, that up until the end of the second season I was the fourth or fifth highest-paid cast member, because I had no quote,” Amell, 37, told Rosenbaum, who played the villain on another CW superhero show, Smallville. “They gave me what they termed as a ‘gift’ after Season 2; it’s them raising my salary without asking for anything in return. My thing was very simple. I just said, ‘Quite frankly, I work way more than everybody else.’ Especially in Season 1 and Season 2 — it was way more disproportionate than it is now. I think somebody was making X. They’re like, ‘OK, your new salary is going to be X minus, like, $1,250 per episode.’ And I go, ‘What are you doing? That’s not the most amount of money.'”

“They said, ‘Yeah, no,'” Amell explained. “It’s the most amount of money over the course of 23 episodes, because the person above you is not all episodes produced.’ I was like, ‘OK, technically you’re right…’ That leaves a little bit of a s**tty taste in my mouth. Just a little.”

TV Guide estimated in 2012, based on a survey of network executives, agents, and others that Amell earned $30,000 per episode. Celebrity Net Worth and other similar websites place Amell’s value today at $2.5 million.

If Amell’s story sounds familiar, it may be because, in March, producers of the Netflix series The Crown acknowledged that that show’s star, Claire Foy, who played Queen Elizabeth II, earned a lower salary — an estimated $40,000 per episode — than her onscreen husband, Matt Smith, who portrayed Prince Phllip. He boarded the show following a star turn in Doctor Who. The show’s makers insisted that no one would be paid more than the show’s central character in the future, and they later issued a public apology to both Foy and Smith.

In Amell’s case, the disparity in his pay and that of less high-profile characters made later contract negotiations “weird” for him.

Members of the Arrow cast at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Front row, from left: Beth Schwartz, Juliana Harkavy, Echo Kellum, and Rick Gonzalez. Back row, from left: Colton Haynes, Stephen Amell, Emily Bett Rickards, David Ramsey. (Photo: Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

“We’re actors and we’re sensitive, and we take everything personally, and so it is difficult,” the actor said. “It’s also difficult to argue with Warner Bros. Television, because they are prolific, and they have been in business forever.”

Amell translated all this to mean, “The entity of Arrow is bigger than me. I am replaceable.”

Still, he fought for himself in an early on-set showdown, demanding sufficient time to rest, seemingly a quite reasonable request. It started when the cast and crew were reshooting scenes for the show’s fifth episode.

“We had been working six-day weeks for a couple of weeks, coming in Sundays and doing that. I’m in the Arrow costume, I’ve got the f**king eye makeup on, and it was 11:15 at night or whatever,” Amell said. “The second assistant director said to me, ‘Your call time tomorrow is 11:15.’ And I said, ‘I’m not done for the day. I can’t. Base camp is 20 minutes away and I’ve got to take my makeup off. It’s not my turnaround. I’m exhausted. I’m going to take my turnaround.’ And he said, ‘Contractually, your call time is 11:15, and I don’t have to give you any explanation.’ I said, ‘OK, I’m going to tell you this right now, and I’m going to do it in front of people so that everybody knows this: I’m going to get in the car tomorrow at the exact time that I get in the car tonight, and not a minute sooner. And if you had handled this with a little more tact, maybe we could have done something, but you didn’t. So, when everybody asks why we are starting later than everyone wants to, you need to tell them it’s your fault.'”

Amell reflected, “You do get pushed around, but I recognized my value, I think, pretty early on.”

That’s a good thing, because Amell is now playing Arrow for crossover events on shows such as The Flash and Supergirl. He sometimes has to juggle several scripts and directors at once, which he described as “very hard.”

Amell’s contract ends after the upcoming season of the show, which premieres Oct. 15. He’s somewhat cryptic about whether he’ll sign on for more episodes, if the show continues, because that’s not guaranteed either.

“I think there’s going to be some clarity on my future in the show soon,” Amell said. “It was a very interesting feeling once we were picked up for Season 7, because all of a sudden, I saw the finish line. Even if it’s many, many years from now, that will be up to me and not up to the studio, who has had me under contract — willingly. I signed it. I have no regrets that I signed it. But every year it’s like, ‘We’re going to pick up another season. You have to come back.’ Season 8 would not be that. We’re talking about it.”

The star explained that although he’s still passionate about his character, he has thought about what Arrow has left to do.

“The only thing that is left for him to do, and he doesn’t have to die to do this, is he needs to leave a legacy. Because we have all these other shows that exist,” Amell said. “So, whether Arrow continues on in the absence of Oliver Queen, or someone else took up the mantle of the Green Arrow… I think leaving a legacy is the one box that is left to tick for the character.”

While Amell said, “Arrow will always be the most important thing that’s ever happened to me professionally. Ever,” he noted that he wouldn’t accept the job if it were just beginning in 2018, partly because it’s shot away from his home in L.A.

“My life is different,” he said. “I understand why I’m still doing it, but if it ended and somebody came to me and said, ‘All right, we have a lead role for you on a television show,’ I would go, ‘Before you tell me anything, where does it shoot?’ If they said Vancouver, I’d go, ‘OK, but when and how many episodes?’ And if the number was north of 10, I would say, ‘No.'”

The previous season of Arrow stretched over 23 episodes.

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