Hollywood fat cats are hurting movies, says British actress

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The wage bill for Hollywood's multimillion-dollar stars is out of control, the British actress Rachel Weisz said yesterday in a criticism calculated to warm the hearts of film accountants.

With actors such as Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves and Tom Hanks able to command fees of perhaps $20m (£12m) a movie, the films themselves can suffer, Ms Weisz said.

The 32-year-old actress, who is best known for her role as the heroine in the American blockbuster The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, said extortionate salaries were not good for the actors or their films, which required giant box office receipts simply to cover costs.

"I think it's a little out of control," she said in an interview with Harpers and Queen magazine published yesterday. "It's bad for actors; they feel they can't take less than their quote because they think it won't look good. And it puts pressure on the movie."

Of course, not all movie stars demand fortunes to appear on screen. Given the months of intensive filming, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman certainly did not work with Stanley Kubrick on Eyes Wide Shut for the cash. And many will take a tiny fee for something close to their heart. Ed Harris poured millions of his own money into getting his arthouse film about the artist Jackson Pollock off the ground. Rachel Weisz has certainly showed herself willing to take on less well-paid projects at the expense of cashing in on her own blockbuster fame.

She was reported to have turned down an offer approaching $3m to appear in a third instalment in the hugely successful Mummy series. Instead, she accepted a rumoured $140,000 to star alongside Jude Law in a biopic of the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe.

She claims the artistic work can sometimes suffer purely because of the size of the wage bill - and the public's perception of a film once it is public.

And she has always combined her film career with stage work at theatres such as the Almeida in north London, where even the biggest names earn only a few hundred pounds a week. One of her current film projects is The Shape of Things, from a play by Neil LaBute about an art student, which was originally premiered at the Almeida.

Money was not her prime objective, she said in the interview. "I was taught by my parents to be not too extravagant; they're bargain-hunters."

Her parents, George, a Hungarian-Jewish inventor, and his wife, Edith, a psychoanalyst from Vienna, who insisted that the teenage Weisz should get a degree before embarking on her ambition to be an actress. She studied English at Cambridge University.

But she has rarely been out of work since. She has appeared in small, independent movies such as I Want You, and The Land Girls, as well as bigger projects such as Stealing Beauty, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, and the Nick Hornby adaptation About a Boy, where she played Hugh Grant's love interest.

"Indie is more my heart, but I wouldn't ever diss The Mummy," she said.

"I don't want to be emotionally provoked all the time. If I had to do an intense black comedy every day, I would kill myself, my friends would abandon me, and no one would want to be near me."