James Earl Jones has been some of the most iconic characters in cinema history, and there is a shock to the amount of money he made for his best role.
May the 4th be with you! A play on the well-known movie quote of the intergalactic Disney-owned franchise, today we get to celebrate Star Wars Day. The highest of all holidays for Star Wars fans, today is the day we honor the legacy of Luke, Leia, and Han by binge-watching as much of the film series as possible, with a great deal of movie trivia as well. To commemorate the occasion, the Hollywood Reporter has examined some of the interviews that James Earl Jones, the actor who voiced Darth Vader throughout the franchise, gave about his experiences embodying the most hated villain in cinematic history.
The biggest revelation from James Earl Jones’s past interviews contains interesting details about budgets and salaries for the original Star Wars: A New Hope. For the 1977 film that started it all, set against a budget of $11 million, Jones was only paid $7,000 for the work he did voicing the most menacing outlaw the universe has ever seen. In an old conversation with the American Film Institute, the Field of Dreams actor detailed how fellow performer David Prowse was originally picked to be the physical representation of Darth Vader onscreen, but that his voice for the part was not what writer/director George Lucas envisioned. He goes on to say, “George wanted, pardon the expression, a dark voice. So he hires a guy born in Mississippi, raised in Michigan, who stutters. And that’s the voice. That’s me.”
At the time of the release of Star Wars: A New Hope, $7,000 was a lot of money for James Earl Jones in terms of his film career. After having served in the Korean War for the US Army, Jones decided to pursue an acting career and made his Broadway debut in 1957. He became known on the stage for many Shakespeare plays, but it was his Tony Award-winning performance in The Great White Hope that jump-started his career. A reprisal of this role in the 1970 film version earned him an Academy Award nomination, but Jones continued to struggle for larger roles in the film. He achieved global recognition for his voice acting, which really started with voicing Darth Vader.
Star Wars: A New Hope has gone on to become one of the most successful films of all time, grossing over $775 million globally to date, and spawned a multitude of sequels, prequels, TV series, video games, and fan fiction. Based on the success of the first film, James Earl Jones reprised his voice work as antagonist Darth Vader in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of the Jedi. More recently, Jones has lent his voice to other relevant pop culture roles as Mufasa in The Lion King and the 2019 remake of the same name. in 2014, The Washington Post said it best when they reported that Jones may have the most recognizable voice in film and television.
So, on this year’s Star Wars Day, we highly encourage everyone to go back and watch Star Wars: A New Hope. It is currently available on Disney+, so you can see just how far $7,000 can go when creating one of the greatest villains in cinema history. We hope James Earl Jones made more than that in the subsequent sequels.