“The Color Purple” is one of those iconic movies that created Hollywood A-listers and stars. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the 1985 flick was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and starred some relative unknowns at the time, including Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey (via IMDb).
In fact, when “The Color Purple” was in production, Winfrey’s national daytime talk show that catapulted her to fame had not even aired yet. Winfrey was still hosting a local talk show called “A.M. Chicago” during that time and had never acted in a film. “The Oprah Winfrey Show” wouldn’t even premiere nationally until 1986, the year after “The Color People” hit theaters (via Biography).
Her lack of experience and relative anonymity may be why Winfrey was paid a surprisingly small salary for playing Sofia, a role that won her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. We think of her as a media powerhouse today, but in the early 1980s she was paid just $35,000 to star in a major feature film, according to Insider.
Oprah Winfrey was sure she wasn't going to make it through filming
Oprah Winfrey was so green when she made “The Color Purple” that she was a nervous wreck while bringing Sofia to life.
“There was another movie — was it ‘Mask’? — where somebody had recently been fired, and it had never occurred to me that you could be fired from a movie. But I did know that if there was anybody who could be fired, it would be me, because I didn’t know what I was doing. Period,” Winfrey told the LA Times.
Although she hadn’t yet made it to the national stage, Winfrey was a seasoned journalist and talk show host, having honed her skills in both Baltimore and Chicago, according to Biography. This didn’t mean she knew what to do on a film set.
“My first day on set and I am in the first scene and I walk in and look directly into the camera and say my line. ‘Cut! Cut!’ Steven asked, ‘Why are looking into the camera?” I had been on TV since I was 19 and that’s what you do. You look at the camera. Anyway, I learned. But I’ve never stopped being intimidated.” (via LA Times).
Oprah Winfrey: From $35,000 film role to mega-mogul billionaire
Oprah Winfrey has come a long way since that banner year of 1986 when she premiered her legendary talk show and earned her Oscar nomination. As of 2020, she had a net worth of $2.7 billion, according to Insider. She built her fortune with various media and production companies, including OWN (The Oprah Winfrey Network), Oxygen Media, and O! Magazine. Winfrey started her production empire with Harpo Studios, which produced her long-running talk show.
According to Biography, she closed Harp in 2015 to merge it with OWN’s production studios. Winfrey has also struggled with her weight through the decades and added to her fortune via Weight Watchers. In 2015, she bought a 10% stake in the classic weight loss company and also became their spokesperson. Not bad for someone who started out with a $35,000 major Hollywood role thinking she’d lose the job as soon as it began.
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