'House of Cards' Robin Wright summons Claire Underwood: equal pay, or else

The actress on the award-winning political drama is the latest high-profile woman to ask for equal pay for equal work. 

Jordan Strauss/AP
Robin Wright appears at a screening for season two of "House of Cards" in Los Angeles in February 2014. The actress demanded she be paid as much as co-star Kevin Spacey.

Another Hollywood A-lister has demanded equal pay for equal work.  

Robin Wright, who plays the cunning First Lady Claire Underwood on "House of Cards," demanded she be paid as much as co-star Kevin Spacey, or else.  

"I was like, 'You better pay me or I'm going to go public,'" Ms. Wright said Tuesday at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City. "And they did."  

"I was looking at the statistics and Claire Underwood's character was more popular than [Frank Underwood's] for a period of time. So I capitalized on it," she said, according to the Huffington Post.  

Social media was afire Wednesday with clever comparisons of Wright to the devious character she plays. All joking aside, however, Wright's remarks add to testimonies from actresses like Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep about the continuing gender pay gap in the film industry, which mirrors the gap in American industries in general.  

Their advocacy "helps us understand that the problem of unequal pay is very real for women up and down the income scale," Emily Martin, the National Women's Law Center's vice president for workplace justice, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview.  

"We're also not all Robin Wright," she adds. "We don't have the real bargaining power she did: 'You will treat me fairly, or I have the power to embarrass you.'"   

Wright's role on the award-winning show gave her the power to demand more, the actress told Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. 

"It was a perfect paradigm," she said during their conversation on stage. "There are very few films or TV shows where the male, the patriarch, and the matriarch are equal." But her and Spacey's salaries were not.  

Spacey received $500,000 per episode in 2014, though TV Guide estimated that could double as the show gained popularity, according to Business Insider. Wright, who won a Golden Globe for playing Claire Underwood, received $420,000 per episode in 2015, according to the Huffington Post.  

Claire's presence on the show only strengthened this season, as the fictional First Lady revealed her deviousness, especially in her efforts to pave her own path politically. 

Wright now joins a cast of women in Hollywood who have spoken out about the pay gap.  

The loudest voice of late was Jennifer Lawrence, the best-paid actress in 2015. In an essay written for Lena Dunham's "Lenny Letter" newsletter in October, Lawrence writes about learning she earned less than her male counterparts in the movie "American Hustle." Other actresses have also brought attention to the issue, including three-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep, who urged Congress in June to revive the debate around the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).  

In May 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) appealed federal and state civil rights agencies to investigate allegations of a practice in the television and film industries of not hiring women directors.

These claims are not without teeth.  

According to the White House, a woman earns 79 cents for every dollar a man earns, on average. A 2015 Pew Center study "has shown that as women become more prevalent in a field – even if they have equal levels of education, work experience, and skill – the pay in that field drops," as Schuyler Velasco wrote in a Monitor article about the pay gap in US Olympic soccer.  

Wright, though, acknowledged she might have earned less than Spacey for a different reason.  

"Because I wasn't working full time [when I raised my children], I wasn’t building my salary bracket. If you don’t build that ... with notoriety and presence, you’re not in the game anymore. You become a B-list actor," she said. "Now I’m kind of on a comeback at 50 years old."

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