The Actor-prenuer: Being an Actor is Different Now

It seems like nearly every actor nowadays is expanding their brand far beyond just appearing on screen. From Margot Robbie starting a production company to pump out films that wouldn’t have been made otherwise to Ryan Reynolds becoming incredibly wealthy by hawking- well, a little bit of everything- it seems stars are finding new ways to take control of their careers and financial futures. But given how constantly inundated we are with advertisements, many of these ventures can start to just feel like cynical cash grabs. So, let’s take a dive into the world of the “actor-preneur” and unpack what’s really driving this trend and why so many celebrities of all kinds are following suit.

Choosing Their Own Destiny

Acting can feel like a powerless business: actors audition for hundreds of parts, hoping to get cast in one show or movie that’ll be their big break. And even after actors are successful, they still might not be working consistently or might have to go for parts they find unsavory just to pay rent or keep their health insurance. One way actors have found to regain some control of their careers (and maybe even help out others in the process) is to start their own production companies. This allows them the opportunity to spearhead projects that might never see the light of day if they were forced to fight their way through the standard studio system. And this is particularly useful for actresses who want to play anything other than Sad Hot Girlfriend or Dead Wife, and especially for actresses of color who have to fight so hard to be on screen at all. Actresses like Salma Hayek, Kerry Washington, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie have all carved out their own places in Hollywood outside of their roles as leading actresses by taking the reins as producers. Robbie, for example, started her career starring in successful films like The Wolf of Wall Street, but all of her roles focused on her looks. She used this interest in her to boost her career but was well aware that looks don’t last forever and wanted to expand her career. She long expressed her interest in getting behind the camera and working to produce female-driven stories. She eventually got together with a few friends and founded LuckyChap Entertainment, which has produced Robbie’s star turns in I, Tonya, Birds of Prey, and Barbie, (as well as television shows and movies that Robbie doesn’t appear in, like Promising Young Woman.) Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine and Kerry Washington’s Simpson Street go even further, finding mostly female-led podcasts, books, and other media which they then turn into successful television shows and movies. These actors get the control the entertainment industry is notoriously so reluctant to give to stars and provides them with meaty roles that may not have come to fruition otherwise. And these companies can be bought and sold for huge profits, too. Hello Sunshine was sold for $900 million.

And some stars are expanding their platforms beyond film and TV altogether. Selena Gomez saw success outside of acting at first with her music but recently has started profiting from a whole new realm: makeup. Following in the steps of Rihanna (who herself has amplified her brand to include a number of different avenues) Gomez founded her makeup company Rare Beauty, which quickly skyrocketed to success. Ryan Reynolds has solidified his financial future not through comedy films but through his investments. He found that he could invest in a company and then use his own personal brand as an actor to elevate the company, reaping the financial rewards along the way.

This desire for control (and cash) now goes far beyond just actors looking to secure their careers – from pop stars to social media mavens, everyone is looking to build a brand that won’t fade away in 15 minutes. Many have gone into makeup and skincare, from Kylie Jenner to Addison Rae to Ariana Grande, or are even hawking some more random fare. But after years of an absolute onslaught of celebrity brands and companies and marketing, they’re finding that they have to go beyond just seeking money for themselves if they want to stay afloat.

Using Their Platform For Good

Celebrities must be aware of all of the fatigue we as consumers face when yet another famous person creates their own brand, whether it be beauty, alcohol, or clothes. So to combat this, celebs have had to get a little smarter about what their brand stands for, and making it clear why what they created is special to them. To that end, successful celebrity brands uplift their favorite yet lesser-known artists and causes to give them a platform. Lady Gaga’s makeup artist Sarah Tanno was not a household name before partnering with Gaga on Haus Labs, but she’s certainly more recognizable now that the brand is a success. Additionally, some proceeds from Haus Laboratories have gone to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, which addresses the youth mental health crisis. Similarly, Gomez’s Rare Beauty has become a favorite brand for Selena’s fans and for disability advocates at large, who praise the makeup’s distinctive and easy-to-use packaging. Selena Gomez has lupus, a disease that can affect her joints and movement, so it was important for her to create accessible packaging. Additionally, some proceeds from sales go to Gomez’s Rare Impact fund, which provides mental health services for young people around the world. It’s clear that when fans want to buy from a celebrity-driven brand, they appreciate any details that feel personal to the founder. But this kind of goodwill doesn’t extend to every celebrity. Beauty brands that were founded by social media celebrities, like Hyram Yarbro and Addison Rae, are actually exiting Sephora due to low sales, while brands like Rare Beauty, Haus Labs, and Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty continue to thrive.

It’s About The Money, Honey

While some of these reasons for celebrities owning brands appear to be altruistic, there’s a larger lever at hand: brands by famous people can drive serious cash, without much effort on the celebrities’ parts. Celebrities like Dwayne Johnson, Gabrielle Union, and Nick Jonas all own alcohol brands, and a Forbes article suggests that since your average consumer has no idea how a cheap or an expensive tequila should taste, they’ll just buy the product because a celebrity endorses it. Alcohol has a very high profit margin. And some alcohols, like tequila, take very little time to produce, so a celebrity can start a company and turn a profit quickly. In the beauty industry, celebrities can turn to incubators – companies that can talk to a celeb, get a whole team in place, and churn out a whole line of products. Now all the celeb has to do is film a video where they act like a beauty influencer, and ta-da, a brand is born! Like alcohol, the beauty industry also has high-profit margins, so if the brand is a success, it’s an easy way for the celebrity to make more dough. Owning your own brand is also a way to bring stability to a celebrity’s finances, even if they’re no longer in the entertainment industry. It’s hard to remember Jessica Simpson’s last song or movie role, and yet her namesake clothing brand has made over a billion dollars.

But making money isn’t always just about being greedy – like we mentioned, Hollywood can be very fickle, and a successful career can dry up overnight. Or celebs can just hit a rough patch where things aren’t going as well for a while, and need something to keep them afloat until their career recovers. Or there can even be outside forces that pause your career like having to go on strike for months to attempt to get fair pay and treatment from studio overlords. So having these other avenues for financial safety means that one hiccup, or even the wrapping up of one part of one’s career, doesn’t mean you have to worry about becoming financially insolvent. And, of course, there is the truth that money talks in Hollywood – so being able to bring in your own financial backing means opening up a whole new world of opportunities for your career and the kinds of films and shows you’ll be able to make.


It’s not surprising that anyone would desire to escape being pigeonholed in only one career track, especially when that career track is often so incredibly ephemeral. So actors, and all kinds of celebs, branching out and finding new ways to secure their brands isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And while the more suspicious cash grabs might be tiring at best (and actively harmful at worst), stars who are doing their best to build positive companies that uplift voices in the industry that might have otherwise been left out can be seen as a positive.


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