These Celebs Got Totally Real About Money & The Literal Cost of Fame

By Elena Nicolau


We associate celebrities with red carpets, magazine covers, the movies, TV shows and music they make) and, of course, the enviably glamorous lives they document on Instagram. Vacations ripped straight from the pages of Departures. Living rooms the size of your apartment. Understated jewelry whose relentless sparkle is the only indication it costs more than your car. A life seemingly carried out with ease, thanks to first class accommodations, live-in help, and seemingly no financial worries at all.

But being a celebrity comes with hidden costs. If Margot Robbie had known about those costs, for example, she might’ve hesitated before accepting her role as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, which catapulted her into the official A List. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Robbie revealed the tremendous cost of the security detail necessary to protect her from the influx of death threats and dangers she now faces as a public figure. “I just wish someone had explained a lot of those things to me early on. I wouldn’t have resented the position I found myself in because I would’ve known what I was getting myself into,” Robbie said.

It’s the job of a celebrity money manager to walk celebrities through these hidden costs, and also keep high net-worth individuals from descending into spending sprees like Nicolas Cage. Cage notoriously blew his $150 million net worth on items including, but not limited to: two castles, the haunted LaLaurie Mansion in New Orleans (plus 14 more residences), a deserted island in the Bahamas, a nine-foot burial tomb, a dinosaur skull, the Lamborghini of the late Shah of Iran, and a pet octopus and a pair of albino cobras. Cage also donated much of his fortune to charity.

Obviously, Cage is one extreme case. But he and Robbie both speak to the intersection of money and celebrity. The influx of sudden wealth can be as destabilizing as it is pleasant. These celebrities all got real about the role of money in their lives — and the actual cost of keeping up with the Kardashians, so to speak.


Margot Robbie

After Robbie became Harley Quinn, she crossed over into a new realm of fame — and with it came a drastic change of lifestyle. Robbie had to protect herself from new dangers. 'There's just all this stuff you learn along the way, like, when you get those death threats, it's [smart] to have a security team do a background check on whoever sent them to see if there is any past history of violence because you'll need to know whether you need security to go to certain events. And every time you do a background check, it's going to cost $2,000,” Robbie told The Hollywood Reporter.
In order to keep up with this new normal, Robbie had to continue to take high-paying jobs, similar to Suicide Squad. “You need to always do a job that can financially support that lifestyle; you can't just do indie films for the rest of your life because that film back there changed everything, and now you have to be able to afford security.”


Cardi B

Cardi B is like the oracle of modern work and money advice – we would know. She’s been extremely candid about her upbringing and her path to fame. Just listen to the opening lines of “Bodak Yellow,” her breakout song: "I don’t dance now, I make money moves." Back when she was a normal kid from the Bronx, Cardi B became a stripper to escape from a bad relationship, but then found she enjoyed the gig. Then, Cardi used her platform on Love and Hip Hop to launch an explosively successful rap career.

Obviously, her life as a multi-millionaire living in an Edgewater, New Jersey, apartment is different than her childhood in the Bronx. She buys $20,000 Patek Philippe watches; she lives luxuriously. “I’m a rapper now,” she joked to the hosts of The Breakfast Club about her recent purchase. “I have to do it.”

Money buys enviable goods, but it comes with baggage — good and bad and existentially frustrating. “Well, one positive thing [about fame] is that, my family, whatever they want, they get,” Cardi told People. “One negative thing is that, even though I’m happy, I feel like I was a little bit happier two or three years ago when I had less money. I had less people who had opinions about my life. I felt like my life was mine. Now I feel like I don’t even own my life. I feel like the world owns me.”

Essentially, Cardi’s still adjusting to the gulf between her new reality and the reality she came from; the reality in which her family still lives in the Bronx. “I do feel kind of guilty sometimes ’cause, like, I could buy myself a $5,000 dress or a $3,000 dress, and I’m buying these things, but I’m knowing that my cousin need money for the rent,” she told Fader. “And then I gotta tell myself, 'Stop feeling guilty. You worked for this.' When I was a stripper, I used to strip like six nights a week. I used to bust my ass. And I didn’t stop [working]. I work just as hard as I did before.”


Jennifer Lopez

She used to have a little. Now she has a lot. Jennifer Lopez sings her own bildungsroman in the 2002 song “Jenny From the Block,” detailing her journey from Bronx kid to Fly Kids to, eventually, someone on her way to a $360 million net worth. Through it all, she insists she's still who she used to be — the girl from the block, just in significantly more glamorous circumstances.

All these years later, Lopez sticks by the mentality she laid out in that 2002 song. In a 2015 interview with Complex, Lopez said, “You can have all the money in the world and it doesn’t mean you’re a happy person. Money doesn’t solve problems. It makes some things easier, but it just gives you a different set of problems. Everything has a trade-off in this world. I’ve learned that from being broke as hell and having money.”


Tiffany Haddish

When Tiffany Haddish gets on a stage, you pay attention. Maybe on someone else less immediately striking and hilarious, we wouldn’t have noticed the fact that she wore the same dress multiple times. But it was unmistakable: Haddish wore the same white Alexander McQueen dress to the Girls Trip premiere in July 2017, her Saturday Night Live hosting gig in November 2017, the Oscars in March 2018, and the MTV Movie & TV Awards in June 2018.

Haddish purchased the dress at the suggestion of a stylist who said she’d have to invest in her appearance to “make it to the next level” in her career. She bought the dress, and then was blindsided by the price. “When I saw the receipt, I cried. The dress was $4,122! So I’m wearing it multiple fucking times. I don’t care what nobody says – that’s a down payment on a car, that’s a medical bill,” Haddish told The Source.

Even though everyone on her team urged her otherwise, she has continued to wear the dress. “'I don't give a dang about no taboo, I spent a lot of money on this dress,” Haddish said during her SNL monologue. With four public wearings (and counting), Haddish is making sure she’s getting her money’s worth.


Chrissy Teigen

The most riveting piece of entertainment on December 27, 2018, wasn't a TV show or a movie release or a true crime podcast. It was Chrissy Teigen's Twitter feed as she documented, in hilarious detail, a particularly arduous plane journey. Teigen and her husband, John Legend, boarded a plane from Los Angeles to Tokyo. Four hours into the flight, the plane inexplicably turned around and landed back in Los Angeles.

While reading of Teigen and Legend's travails, I, like many of her fans, wondered why a couple this privileged was flying commercial in the first place. Teigen helpfully contextualized just how expensive private trips are. "A lot of people have been asking [about private jets] and I would just like you all to know that a round trip international private flight is like...$300,000," she tweeted. It was a reminder that there are limits for (almost) everyone.


Mariska Hargitay

Detective Olivia Benson, Mariska Hargitay's steely yet compassionate character on Law & Order: SVU, has been investigating New York's unthinkably seedy underbelly since 1999. Still, despite Hargitay's obvious success, she doesn't feel completely secure professionally or financially. "I constantly worry about money. I make a lot now, but I don't feel that way, because I was poor and had no money for a lot longer than I've had it," Hargitay told More Magazine.

Hargitay says that some of her worries stem from the difficult nature of TV – if the show is cancelled, she's out of a job. But more come from the simple reality of being a middle-aged actress in a culture that prioritizes youth. "As an aging woman, then what? I'm saving money to live on, for the future. There are not many roles for women, and I've been blessed with one of the great ones."


Keira Knightley

Apparently, Keira Knightley has a lot in common with many money diarists. According to an interview in Glamour, Knightley allots herself a salary around $50,000. The rest, she saves. "I want or need something that goes over that, I get it, but, yes, around that," she said. Knightley justified her decision by saying a luxury lifestyle can isolate more than it connects. I think living an [expensive] lifestyle means you can't hang out with people who don't live that lifestyle. It alienates you. Some of my best, most hilarious times have been in the least luxurious places," she said.


Constance Wu

In the upcoming movie Crazy Rich Asians, Constance Wu plays Rachel Chu, a Chinese-American woman who is shocked to discover her boyfriend, Nick Young, comes from one of the richest families in Singapore. While visiting his family, she's plunged into a lavish world.

In some sense, Wu herself experienced the transition from normal to extreme wealth within the confines of her own career. As she explained to Vulture, her path to stardom was a bumpy one. First, she quit acting to pursue a career in the more "practical" field of psycholinguistics. Then, she returned to acting — though it wasn't easy."About a couple of years before I got Fresh Off the Boat, I was really broke. I was in tens of thousands of dollars in debt: credit card. Car. Personal. Student loans. I paid for my college all myself. I didn't have a boyfriend. I was really alone and lonely," Wu told Vulture.

While she's found success since then, the experience taught her not to equate success with money. "Part of the reason I don't worry about what other people think about me is because I know that even if I lose all my money and my job and my opportunities tomorrow, I’m very capable of creating meaning without all of the stuff around," she said.

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