For actors, it seems Oscars really are made of gold. Sure, Steven Spielberg once paid $607,500 for Clark Gable’s It Happened One Night statue (which he returned to the Academy)—but the prize can be worth considerably more in financial and creative rewards, especially for first-time recipients like Halle Berry, Jennifer Connelly, and Jim Broadbent. ”Winning an Oscar attracts the attention of directors and other actors and creates a boost in salary, particularly for someone like Halle Berry,” explains producer Marc Platt, ex-production prez at Universal. ”For an established star like Denzel Washington, the benefits are less tangible.”
By the time he saluted Sidney Poitier at the podium, Washington was already on the A list. A 1989 supporting actor winner for Glory, the 47-year-old joined the $20 million club weeks before Oscar night (for the upcoming thriller Out of Time)—thanks largely to headlining three straight films (Remember the Titans, Training Day, and John Q.) that grossed at least $20 million on opening weekend.
Berry’s groundbreaking win, however, is another story. Monster’s Ball saw a 32 percent box office bump in its post-Oscar weekend (the low-budget indie has grossed $23 million) and Berry, 33, may be headed for a similar pay raise. Sources say she snagged a career-high $4 million for the upcoming James Bond film Die Another Day. And one studio production head says she could command $6 million to $8 million for the right vehicle. That’s in line with the $7 million Angelina Jolie got for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
While Berry will follow Die with X-Men 2, for which her salary was set when negotiating the 2000 original, the actress plans to mix such big-budget fare with grittier films like Ball. ”The Oscar is not the end of the road or the beginning—it’s just part of her journey toward becoming an international movie star,” says her manager, Vincent Cirrincione, adding that she will have only so many cracks at the brass ring. ”A man can have a lot of failures and still be up there, but a woman — white or black — doesn’t have as many chances.”
Berry’s victory also turned up the heat on one of her pet projects, an adaptation of the 2000 Trisha R. Thomas novel Nappily Ever After, which follows a single black female professional coping with relationship and hair issues. ”The Monday after the Oscars, [Universal] called to see if we had hired a writer,” says Platt, who is producing with Berry.
Connelly, 31, who earned less than $1 million for A Beautiful Mind and will take home about $1.5 million for Ang Lee’s now-lensing The Hulk, can also bulk up her price tag. ”She could get as much as $4 million for the right film,” says one agent, who notes that studios often look for young beautiful female costars with acting pedigrees. ”That’s a bargain when the studio could cast Renee Zellweger for $4-6 million or Reese Witherspoon, who is asking $8 million.”
Like Berry, Connelly seems to be seeking a mix of indie and studio fare. She will reportedly star opposite Ben Kingsley in House of Sand and Fog, a $15 million art film based on a novel by Andre Dubus (In the Bedroom). ”Since Jennifer was less known than Halle, she will be provided more opportunities,” Platt says. Adds one studio exec: ”She’ll move up to the A list now, even though nobody liked her dress and she should have memorized her speech.”