At a roundtable discussion of female Hollywood luminaries this week, actress Emmy Rossum discussed the negotiations that ensued when she asked for a raise after being paid less than her co-star William H. Macy for seven seasons of the show “Shameless”. Famously, Rossum and her team eventually received an offer for equal pay to Macy, but the actress turned it down. She asked for a higher salary than Macy to make up for all of the seasons she had worked for lower pay.
But despite the intense exchange, which threatened to stall production on “Shameless”, Rossum and her male co-star could not be pitted against each other.
“I’ll tell you the person who supported me the most was William H. Macy,” Rossum told the group of actresses, including America Ferrera and Pamela Adlon. “To have a man counterpart on my show be like, ‘Yes, she does deserve this and more’ was so validating.”
In a discussion that involved playing unlikeable roles and wearing modesty patches in nude scenes that chafe, every actress was eager to hear about Rossum’s fair pay battle and discuss their own similar experiences.
Rossum said that she was always aware of having a low salary but she began to feel uncomfortable as she started directing episodes and becoming a leader on set. “Something that at one time felt OK [though] it was unbalanced started to feel not as good.”
In a statement that seemed to resonate with every actress sitting around the table, Rossum said, “It was difficult for me to say, ‘This is what I think I deserve.’ You want to be liked.”
Rossum will be loved by female successors to the search for pay parity. She says her desire for equal pay was initially born of a desire for her to feel “good about doing this job”, but that she came to realize her bold request for equality had greater ramifications.
“I was at a health food store in Canada,” she remembered, “And this little girl who worked there came up to me and was like, ‘What you did for gender equality really meant so much to me.’”
Asked about the dispute, Macy remarked, “It’s about f**king time, don’t you think?” He said of Rossum, “She deserves everything … the only thing I’ve got over Emmy Rossum is I’m better looking.”
Jenny Singer is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny.