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The King Is Dead, Forever

After his character's death on Game of Thrones, Jack Gleeson is giving up acting. Could this be the beginning of a trend for not-quite-A-list stars?
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Game of Thrones. (Photo: HBO)

Game of Thrones. (Photo: HBO)

King Joffrey is dead, which means Jack Gleeson is done.

"I’ve been acting since age 8," the Game of Thrones star toldEntertainment Weekly after the show's producers killed off his character over the weekend. "I just stopped enjoying it as much as I used to. And now there’s the prospect of doing it for a living, whereas up until now it was always something I did for recreation with my friends, or in the summer for some fun. I enjoyed it. When you make a living from something, it changes your relationship with it. It’s not like I hate it, it’s just not what I want to do."

The death by poison came as a shock, at least to viewers who haven't read George R.R. Martin's lengthy tomes, but perhaps was not as surprising as the fact that Gleeson wanted out of showbiz entirely. Here we have a 21-year-old, who is clearly a wonderful actor, if the contempt and hatred that his character inspires is any indication, walking away from all future projects (and all future earnings) for ... something. Maybe academia. He's not quite sure, but definitely not acting.

Gleeson is well-off financially, especially for someone his age, but he’s not set-for-life wealthy. (He certainly made less than the $150,000 that Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey pull in per episode.) It's an unusual choice, one that is perfectly within his right to make, but it does make you think about why he's giving up a life so many people desperately want to have.

Just as the pressures of being famous increase, the wages of a non-A-lister actors are going down.

He's not the only one, either. In March, Variety quoted Chris Evans saying that he wanted to trade acting for directing. While Captain America tried to walk back from that statement, arguing that he was misquoted, the original article presents a pretty convincing case. "For all I know, in five years, I might say, 'Shit, I miss acting,'" he says. "Right now, I just want to get behind the camera and make movies."

While Evans, 32, is older than Gleeson, he has credits dating back to 2000, which is almost the same amount of time the GoT actor has been working. He sounds sick of the grind as well, ready to move on to directing smaller movies rather than being the face of the franchise. Mostly, it just sounds like he wants a break from being a star.

I have a feeling this will become something of a trend. Just as the pressures of being famous increase, the wages of a non-A-lister actors are going down. Robert Downey Jr. can pull in $50 million from playing Ironman, but someone like Evans, a man on the A-minus list, will make a fraction of that figure. According to one report, some of the Avengers cast members took home as little as $200,000 for a film that grossed more than $1.5 billion globally. Evans signed a lengthy contract to play Captain America in multiple movies, but it's not as lucrative as one might expect since Marvel had all the bargaining power compared to a then-young actor. Being Captain America leaves him with little time to do anything else. When the contract runs out, the tradeoff might no longer be worth it. Gleeson would probably never get the type of paydays that even Evans commanded, making his decision even simpler.

We see this in advertisements, too. The reason more famous faces are appearing on your television screens and in voiceovers for products is because the economics of Hollywood are collapsing, meaning actors are searching for additional revenue streams. As the A-listers move into that world, they take opportunities for easy paydays away from people lower down the star food chain.

It is a bit of a golden handcuffs problem to have—be rich, famous, hounded by paparazzi, and forced to do endless promotional tours or be less wealthy, formerly famous, and free to walk the streets without concern—but it is still a problem to consider. Don't feel bad for these actors: they got something thousands of struggling waiters and waitresses in Los Angeles would trade for in a second. But it is worth considering what a constant hassle being famous must be.

In some ways, the choice to drop out of show business feels akin to soccer players coming to Major League Soccer. Thierry Henry was one of the most famous faces in England, mobbed on the few occasions he ventured outside. Then, he moved to New York City. As Sam Borden wrote in The New York Times: "One weekend afternoon this spring, Henry left his SoHo apartment, headed west on his bicycle and rode uptown along the Hudson River. No one, besides his doorman, recognized him. No one ran up asking for an autograph. No one bothered him." Henry loved the anonymity of it all. That's not too far from Evans moving behind the camera.

Gleeson, though, just wants out of the whole Hollywood industrial complex. At the end of his talk with EW, the interviewer began to ask him a question about the decision: "Many who follow entertainment in Hollywood will have a tough time wrapping their head around you­­–.” He cut off the reporter, saying "deal with it." It was very King Joffrey: quick, frustrated, icy. Can you blame the actor for walking away from a profession that threatens to turn him into the evil boy-king?