It’s been less than a week since the first sexual assault accusation against Kevin Spacey came out, but the actor’s role in the Netflix series House of Cards is done for – and perhaps his career is, too. The cancellation of House of Cards alone could cost Spacey up to $6.5 million in future earnings. For Spacey, a regular on Forbes’ list of top-paid TV actors who earned $12 million last year, the seven-figure acting roles and endorsement gigs that he’s accustomed to landing are likely a thing of the past.
Actor Anthony Rapp alleged in a BuzzFeed News report that Spacey had made a sexual advance toward him when Rapp was only 14. Spacey came back with a widely criticized apology that included a coming out statement. Since then, others have come forward – including an allegation that led to Scotland Yard to launch an investigation into Spacey – leading Netflix and production company Media Rights Capital to announce on Tuesday that they were suspending work on season 6 of House of Cards so that they could “review the current situation and to address any concerns of our cast and crew.”
On Thursday, eight current and former House of Cards employees alleged to CNN that Spacey caused a “toxic” work environment through a pattern of sexual harassment and assault, including non-consensual touching and “crude” comments.
While Spacey has not commented about the new accusation (he is particularly hard to reach as his publicist and agent parted ways with him shortly after these accusations became public), Netflix at first responded by saying it “will continue to work with MRC during this hiatus time to evaluate our path forward as it relates to the production,” and MRC said it will “thoroughly investigate all current claims and any new claims.” Both MRC and Netflix also doubled down on commitments to making the set a safe environment for cast and crew, and acknowledged knowing about an incident that occurred and was resolved in 2012.
By Friday night, Spacey was officially fired from the show, although it is not yet clear if the series will continue for its sixth season without Spacey. Netflix had announced Monday that the sixth season would be the show’s last, a decision it said was unrelated to the allegations.
The loss of the role and his executive producing credit on the show could cost Spacey up to $6.5 million in future earnings – or $500,000 per episode of the season, which would likely be 13 episodes long. Because Spacey is both the star and executive producer on the series, he makes more than any other cast member, including costar Robin Wright.
The actual amount Spacey loses will depend on both what he has already been paid and the morals clause of his contract, which “prohibits employees from doing immoral things and some of the consequences could be a deduction in pay or eliminating pay altogether,” says Philip K. Bonoli, an attorney and partner at Brutzkus Gubner Rozansky Seror Weber LLP.
Because Spacey and House of Cards were so crucial to Netflix’s success in original content, it is likely that Spacey negotiated at least some pay for season 6 up front, and it is unlikely that Netflix or MRC will be able to recoup that money, even if Spacey turns out to be the cause of the show’s cancellation.
“It’s very difficult for an employer to reclaim wages that have already been paid,” explains Bonoli.
Besides losing his House of Cards role and any part in the future spin-offs Netflix has planned, Spacey was already down a couple of jobs. He will no longer be teaching an online acting course for MasterClass. While he already earned the reported upfront fee of about $100,000 from the e-learning company, he will lose out on the 30% of the revenue generated by his classes that he was previously getting. (Each student paid $90 to enroll; Masterclass has not disclosed how many students took his class.)
In addition, Netflix announced that it was cancelling the planned Gore Vidal biopic, which Spacey was set to star in as Vidal. The role likely would have meant a seven-figure paycheck for Spacey, and like his House of Cards deal, it is not known how much of that had already been paid upon the signing of the contract and how much he will lose.
The planned Oscar push for Spacey’s performance for All the Money in the World has also been cancelled, according to Variety, as has the International TV Academy’s plan to honor Spacey with its founders award. These lost honors may not impact his earnings, but they would have made him a more appealing candidate for future jobs.
The future millions he will lose due to his tarnished name are less measurable: With his career in Hollywood and theater likely over, it will never be known what high-paying projects the fallen star would have received. He can command about $2 million for mid-budget movies like his recent Baby Driver and up to $5 million for starring roles in high budget films, as well as up to $3 million for endorsement deals, Forbes estimates.
While the cancellation will surely be a blow to Spacey’s paycheck, it will be less of a big deal for Netflix. When House of Cards premiered, it broke the mold for the streaming service, as it was the platform’s first original series and almost instantly garnered a high level of popular and critical attention. Since then, Netflix has produced a number of originals, many of which are more popular when measured by social buzz and unofficial ratings, and are thus more likely the ones attracting subscribers.
Between October 25, 2016 and October 25, 2017, House of Cards received 6,917,707 search and social mentions according to analytics company ListenFirst. 13 Reasons Why, Stranger Things and Sense8 were mentioned significantly more times with 19,686,222, 8,113,588 and 7,488,505 mentions, respectively.
While Netflix doesn’t release viewer information, Symphony Advanced Media released viewership estimates for the 35 days following many of 2016’s Netflix premieres. House of Cards season four, which averaged 5.67 million adults ages 18 to 49 in its first 35 days, was behind eight other original series, including Stranger Things, Orange Is the New Black and Fuller House.
In terms of the money already spent on season 6, Netflix would indeed take a loss, but with a $6 billion content budget for 2017 and one approaching $8 billion for 2018, it can afford the hit, especially as it has taken more expensive ones with shows like The Get Down, which cost $120 million to produce and was quite unpopular.
So while the streamer and fans may be saying goodbye to Frank Underwood, it’s Spacey who’s gone under. – Written by ,