Why More 'Star Wars' Actors Haven't Become Stars

Illustration by: Ben Lamb

Six movies in, the franchise has spawned just one megastar: Harrison Ford; even Natalie Portman admits she struggled after appearing in 'Episodes I-III': "Everyone thought I was a horrible actress. … No director wanted to work with me."

This story first appeared in the April 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Call it a double-edged lightsaber. Every actor in Hollywood chases Star Wars, hoping the gig will provide instant A-list entree. But the Star Wars track record is filled with underachievers and stalled careers. Six movies in, the franchise has spawned just one megastar: Harrison Ford. "The problem is, when you are in such a massive franchise — and there's no bigger franchise than Star Wars — a lot of moviegoers look at an actor and only can see the character they played in it," says Phil Contrino, analyst at Boxoffice.com.

Natalie Portman, who already had a hot career before Episodes I-III, admitted she struggled after the exposure. "Everyone thought I was a horrible actress," she said in December. "I was in the biggest-grossing movie of the decade, and no director wanted to work with me." Neither Ewan McGregor nor Liam Neeson was helped by the franchise (McGregor famously fell out as the lead in Danny Boyle's The Beach in favor of Leonardo DiCaprio around the same time as Episode I's 1999 release). The list of acting careers that never took off is even longer, from original stars Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher to Jake Lloyd (young Anakin Skywalker) and most notably Hayden Christensen, whose star was on the rise when he nabbed 2002's Attack of the Clones.

Manager/producer Mike Marcus, who booked director Irvin Kershner for The Empire Strikes Back and Richard Marquand for Return of the Jedi, says the career implosions are coincidence. "I don't think it ever hurt any actors," says the former CAA agent. "Maybe they weren't going to be a movie star anyway. This at least gave them a shot." The upcoming trilogy and interspersed spinoffs pose new challenges for stars Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and even Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o.

"When you sign up for this, you're signing your life away, and you're keeping yourself from any other franchises out there," says an agent whose client is one of the stars of Episode VII. "They will not let you be in another franchise. They're going to be cranking out a new movie every year. These actors never get to read the script before signing on. They don't even know which [subsequent] one they are in. And then they become known for that role, and it's hard to see them in a Fault in Our Stars kind of movie." Also, the pay is meager. Sources say the newcomers can only command $65,000 to $125,000 for Episode VII, with sequel options exponentially greater. Still, agents will keep pursuing. Paradigm's Sarah Fargo, whose client, Domhnall Gleeson, was cast in Episode VII, sees only upside: "It secures all involved a place in film history and guarantees a huge global audience, enhancing an actor's marketability."

Read more from The Hollywood Reporter's New A-List issue.

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