Barkhad Abdi and the sad reality of the amateur actor


This is the news I read when I woke up to today, and it broke my heart. You hear about celebrities splurging until they’re out of money all the time. Stars go bankrupt, and many times it could have been prevented had it just been for careful financial planning. This case is a little different. Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips” Oscar nominee (and winner of the BAFTA award) for Best Supporting Actor, was paid only $65,000 two years ago for his first on-screen acting role in a movie that made over $217,000,000 worldwide. That’s just $5,000 more than the minimum $60,000/movie allowed by the Screen Actors Guild. It was reported a few years ago that Eddie Murphy was paid over $20 million in 2008 for “Meet Dave,” a movie that made just $11,000,000 domestically and earned Murphy a Razzie nomination for Worst Actor. Atrocious irony, right?

Abdi told the New Yorker that his Oscar clothes were rentals (Armani tuxedos can cost thousands, otherwise) and he was driven Faysal Ahmed, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Mahat Ali,around in a town car only for the film’s publicity. This is from a guy who drove limos and then worked at a mobile phone store in Minnesota before finding this amazing opportunity. The average limo driver in Minnesota makes just $36,000/year. The average retail sales associate (in, say, a mobile phone store) makes even less. When award season began last October, Abdi had to quit his mobile phone store job to hit the awards circuit. While this was likely a fantastic experience, Abdi wasn’t getting paid to travel to the Golden Globes, the BAFTA Awards, or the Oscars. While in L.A., Abdi hitched a free ride with a cabdriver friend in the area to save money. He didn’t splurge, he said – his only major purchase was a Saab. Why is it fair that an award-winning, critically acclaimed actor can make so little money? All said, the pre-production, filming, and awards circuit travelling takes about a year. I’d love to be paid $65,000/year, but acting isn’t a job everyone can do. This isn’t your average 9-5 job.

Now, according to a HuffPost article, Abdi is in the talks to play South African marathon runner Willie Mtolo in a new film titled “The Place That Hits the Sun.” Good news? Thankfully, he can’t make much less than he’s used to already.


4 thoughts on “Barkhad Abdi and the sad reality of the amateur actor

  1. That’s horrible, in my opinion he should have been paid more for starters but even extra for awards and ceremony’s! He gave a great performance, better than most which get paid a few extra 0’s more!

    1. That’s what I think, too. Unfortunately, it’s more about the money than the quality of the acting. Hopefully an Oscar nom will mean getting paid more on any upcoming movies.

  2. Unfortunately, even the good-hearted studio folks won’t write him another check, because they don’t want to set a precedent. And how many roles can he “fit” in the future. I think he is really limited.

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