Home Acting Hollywood Rejections: These Stars Walked Away From Million-Dollar Paydays

Hollywood Rejections: These Stars Walked Away From Million-Dollar Paydays

Darren January 3, 2024

Job security is rare in the acting world but some stars do manage to land dream roles. However, these stars eventually want to move on to greener pastures. Sometimes, they willingly abandon multimillion-dollar paydays to do it. All the money in the world won’t tempt them to keep playing the same character.

Some of them believed that they were ready to step up to bigger and better things in Hollywood. Others wanted a break after years of playing the same role that kept them away from their families. Moreover, there are also occasional creative differences that cause stars to walk away from guaranteed lucrative paychecks. Let’s look at the actors who quit high-paying jobs for a variety of reasons right here.

Steve Carell – The Office

Carell was making seven million dollars per year during The Office’s peak years. But finally, after seven seasons of comic glory, he walked away from the show. Carell said (via Screenrant): “It was time for other characters to step to the forefront and other storylines to be pursued. I think it was the right… the timing was right.”


Everyone knows that the part about other characters was garbage because the show fell apart soon after. Carell pursued big movie roles and million-dollar paydays with great success. He appeared in films like The Big Short and Battle of the Sexes as he became a true bonafide movie star.

Leonard Nimoy – Star Trek

Sometimes million-dollar paydays aren’t enough to motivate actors. Nimoy made Star Trek’s Spock one of the most iconic sci-fi characters ever but he found the role exhausting. Furthermore, he didn’t like the direction the character was taking and wanted a pay raise. Ultimately, he walked away from the franchise after multiple series and movies.

The New York Times

There’s no denying that playing the emotionless Vulcan made Nimoy very rich. He had an estimated net worth of $45 million but it wasn’t always this way. They started off paying him under $1500 per episode before the show exploded into popularity. It’s amazing how these iconic roles can blossom and subsequently fall apart (via The Digital Fix).

Dan Stevens – Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey became a global phenomenon and made stars of its cast. Stevens was one of the main beneficiaries as he played the charismatic Matthew Crawley. However, his shocking exit in season three’s finale left fans reeling. They couldn’t believe what they witnessed as Stevens permanently left the show.

Digital Spy

Stevens told The Guardian why he quit. He said: “There were definitely creative itches left unscratched, genres I hadn’t worked in. Three years were up, that’s what we’d initially signed up for, and the appetite to explore further was too great.” In the end, he went to Hollywood in pursuit of fresh challenges and million-dollar roles.

Patrick Dempsey – Grey’s Anatomy

Dempsey was one of Grey’s Anatomy’s most popular cast members. However, his character arc came to a shocking conclusion in 2015 after a fatal car accident. Nobody saw it coming because he was one of the show’s biggest stars. But Dempsey cited in his autobiography that the show burnt him out (via TODAY).


He wrote: “It’s ten months, fifteen hours a day. You never know your schedule, so your kid asks you, ‘What are you doing on Monday?’ And you go, ‘I don’t know,’ because I don’t know my schedule. Doing that for eleven years is challenging.” He turned down million-dollar paydays to continue because it was too much to handle.

Charlie Hunnam – Fifty Shades of Grey

Jamie Dornan famously played Christian Grey in one of the most notorious franchises of the past decade. However, Hunnam was the studio’s first choice for the role and signed a contract. In the end, he changed his mind at the last minute despite the promise of million-dollar paydays.


Hunnam bit off more than he could chew because he agreed to work with Guillermo Del Toro on Crimson Peak. Meanwhile, he was still playing the outlaw biker Jax in Sons of Anarchy. He said that he didn’t want to fail on a grand scale and believed that he made the right decision (via The Guardian).

Minka Kelly – Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights became one of America’s favorite shows and made stars of its young cast. However, there was a major shock in season four when the showrunners essentially replaced half their actors with new people. Kelly was one of the biggest names to leave the show, except for an occasional cameo.


She said she left because it was best for her character, Lyla Garrity. It made sense from a narrative perspective because she left her hometown for Vanderbilt. However, Kelly was one of the nation’s sweethearts and they would have kept her if she wanted to stay. Instead, she went searching elsewhere for million-dollar paydays (via Screenrant).

Jodie Foster – Hannibal

The Silence of the Lambs remains one of Foster’s most iconic film roles. She brilliantly played Detective Clarice Starling and was the perfect foil to Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter. However, she declined to return for the second movie, Hannibal, in 2001 because she didn’t think the writing was good.

Hollywood Reporter

Foster understood the cultural impact of the first film and didn’t want to tarnish its legacy. That’s why she walked away from the promise of million-dollar paydays. Julianne Moore stepped into her massive shoes and did a decent job. But the film simply isn’t as good as the original movie (via EW).

Pamela Anderson – Baywatch

Anderson became a global icon when she played CJ on Baywatch. She had already achieved fame as a Playboy bunny. But Baywatch catapulted her to new heights and she starred on the show for five seasons. Finally, she decided it was time to move on but some people criticized her for getting too big for her boots.

Life & Style

However, Anderson disputes this and says it was a crossroads moment for her. She explained: “I had two babies on Baywatch. It was just time to take a break from that and move on, but it wasn’t because I thought I was some big brand. I just, I always wanted to be a mom (via Page Six).”

Shemar Moore – Criminal Minds

Many TV stars find that the years run away before they know what’s happened. On the one hand, it’s great to have job security but it can be exhausting. Moore played heartthrob profiler Derek Morgan on Criminal Minds for 11 years before he walked away. He reportedly made tens of thousands per episode but left this behind him.

The New York Times

Moore explained: “I wanted to see what the next chapter of my acting career is and also have a little balance so I could pursue other avenues of my life. I want to get married, I want to have kids, I want to travel.” Since he returned to acting he found success on the CBS action drama S.W.A.T (via Country Living).

Sean Connery – James Bond

Connery was the star who made James Bond one of the coolest film characters ever. However, the Scottish star had contempt for Bond and eventually wanted to quit. He abandoned the franchise twice after starring in five movies. The fame and pressure were too much and didn’t make the million-dollar paydays worthwhile.


He once infamously said: “I have always hated that damned James Bond. I’d like to kill him.” Nonetheless, Connery remains one of the most popular Bonds and the closest to Ian Fleming’s original vision. The studio desperately wanted to keep him but he refused to play ball (via Far Out).

Terence Stamp – Star Wars

George Lucas pulled off a coup when he cast Stamp as Chancellor Valorum in The Phantom Menace. However, they didn’t like each other and Stamp refused to join later movies. Many actors want to join this universe to cement million-dollar paydays or because they’re genuine fans. However, Stamp didn’t enjoy his experience at all.

Roger Egbert

Stamp explained: “We didn’t get on at all, I didn’t rate him that much as a director, really. I didn’t feel like he was a director of actors; he was more interested in stuff and effects. He didn’t interest me and I wouldn’t think I interested him. I came all the way back from Australia to do it (via What Culture).”

James Purefoy – V For Vendetta

Hugo Weaving made the part of V his own in this cult classic. However, he wasn’t James McTeigue’s first choice to play the iconic character. Originally, Purefoy was the man behind the mask but in the end that was the reason why he quit. After six weeks of film, Purefoy abruptly called it quits.


Reportedly, he hated wearing the Guy Fawkes mask because he found it too challenging to breathe. There were also rumors of creative differences between Purefoy and the director. Million-dollar paydays aren’t always enough to reconcile people in this industry. Finally, Purefoy moved on to other projects (via Movie Web).

Jenna Ortega – Scream

Ortega played a big part in the Scream franchise’s recent revival. Unfortunately, in November 2023 she announced that scheduling conflicts prevented her from continuing. That’s because she was too busy with her Netflix hit Wednesday. It’s not a shock because the show made her a global superstar.


However, some people thought that she quit after the Scream executives fired Melissa Barrera for her political views. In the end, it became clear that it was an unrelated decision. Ortega is in a fortunate position because she has her pick of several million-dollar paydays (via IGN).

Christopher Meloni – Law & Order: SVU

Meloni played Detective Elliot Stabler for over a decade on Law & Order: SVU. However, he controversially walked away from the role that made him famous because NBC refused to pay him. Meloni said that he even tried to negotiate an 18-episode season instead of 22 but they refused.


He abandoned the role out of principle but is one of the few on this list to return to his most famous character. NBC created a new show; Law & Order: Organized Crime. The veteran actor says that his time away helped him to become a better person and to focus on other important things in his life (via Entertainment Times).

Simone Ashley – Sex Education

Sometimes actors make calculated decisions to enhance their future career potential. Ashley found herself at a crossroads because she had a supporting part in the Netflix hit Sex Education. The streaming network offered her a lead role in season two of Bridgerton. She agreed to the latter despite the risk of it being a flop.


This proved to be a brilliant decision because she had a chance to prove her acting chops to a wider audience. It was also a juicier role that proved she could be a main character. In the end, she made the right choice but she said that she was ‘very sad’ to leave Sex Education behind her (via Daily Express).

Idris Elba – Luther

Elba has enjoyed significant movie and TV success throughout his career. Luther was one of his biggest critical hits as he starred as the titular detective John Luther. He cut an iconic character as the crime-fighting lawman with dubious morals. In the end, Elba walked away from one of his most defining roles.

The Guardian

The British star described Luther as one of his legacy characters. However, it seemed that Elba outgrew him in pursuit of million-dollar paydays. Then Netflix surprised everybody by reviving him in an unexpected movie. They’re hoping there will be a franchise but that remains to be seen (via GQ).

David Tennant – Dr. Who

Dr. Who is an institution in the UK with hundreds of episodes since the 1960s. Tennant played the tenth incarnation of the Time Lord and helped the show regain massive popularity. He spent five years as the iconic character before he moved on to new challenges. Tennant worked in the Marvel universe on Jessica Jones as well as other TV projects.


The Good Omens star said that he didn’t want to overstay his welcome. He explained (via The Mirror): “It would be very easy to cling on to the TARDIS console forever and I fear that if I don’t take a deep breath and make the decision to move on now, then I simply never will.” Matt Smith was his immediate replacement in the TARDIS.

Michael Keaton – Batman

Keaton enjoyed million-dollar paydays and critical acclaim from the Tim Burton Batman movies. However, everything changed when Joel Schumacher replaced Burton as the franchise’s director. He wanted a more comic tone and that didn’t sit well with Keaton. Finally, he decided not to continue in the iconic role.


The actor explained (via Collider): “I remember one of the things that I walked away going, ‘Oh boy, I can’t do this’. He asked me, ‘I don’t understand why everything has to be so dark and everything so sad,’ and I went, ‘Wait a minute, do you know how this guy got to be Batman? Have you read… I mean, it’s pretty simple.'”

Emmy Rossum – Shameless

Rossum spent nine seasons on Shameless and was one of the show’s brightest lights. Finally, she decided it was time for her to move on with her life and try something else. She was earning 350,000 dollars per episode at the show’s peak but it burnt her out. However, she had nothing but positive things to say about her overall experience.

Teen Vogue

“I started on the show when I was 23 and now I’m not,” Rossum explained. “And it’s a wonderful, wonderful amount of time and I feel incredibly proud of everything we have created. I’m just filled with gratitude for everyone’s hard work.” The show ran for two more seasons but it wasn’t the same without her (via Entertainment Weekly).

Jerry Seinfeld – Seinfeld

Seinfeld is one of America’s greatest sitcoms and even had more critical acclaim than Friends at its peak. Creator Jerry Seinfeld decided to pull the plug after nine seasons even though he was making one million dollars per episode. He said: “I wanted to end the show on the same kind of peak we’ve been doing it on for years. I wanted the end to be from a point of strength.”

The Hollywood Reporter

Many people think that Seinfeld‘s final episode was one of the most disappointing show conclusions ever. But they don’t disagree with the decision to end the show because it was such a long-term project. Even million-dollar paydays aren’t always enough to get the creative juices flowing (via Huffington Post).

Rene-Jean Page – Bridgerton

Page became an overnight breakout superstar after he led the steamy Netflix hit Bridgerton. Studios instantly marked him as one of the most desirable up-and-coming actors on the planet. Bridgerton returned for a second season but Page was a notable absence. He joined the ranks of actors who turned down million-dollar paydays.


He explained: “I signed up to do a job and I did the job and then I did some other jobs. That’s it, that’s the story. I wish it was more glamorous than that.” However, many experts believe he quit because he didn’t want to become another typecast star. It’s not the worst idea because this easily happens (via E!).

Sandra Oh – Grey’s Anatomy

Oh became one of America’s favorite TV actors after her great performances in Grey’s Anatomy. She spent 10 seasons on the show before she finally moved on with her career. The Korean-American star said that she went to counseling because it was such a massive shift in her life.


“Creatively, I really feel like I gave it my all, and I feel ready to let her go,” Oh told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s such an interesting thing to play a character for so long and to actually get the sense that she wants to be let go as well.” She left the show on good terms but she wanted a new challenge.

Harrison Ford – Star Wars

Han Solo is one of the most iconic characters in movie history. Ford created one of the coolest on-screen personas ever but hated the Star Wars universe. He reportedly begged George Lucas to kill his character off. Ford left the character behind for decades before finally returning in 2015’s The Force Awakens.


This time he ensured that it was the end for Solo and future million-dollar paydays. Famously, Ford prefers Indiana Jones to Solo and enjoyed making those movies more. But it’s fair to say that he hasn’t struggled and it’s incredible he has two legendary creations on his CV (via Vanity Fair).

Sasha Alexander – NCIS

Alexander became a popular figure on NCIS as she played Special Agent Caitlin Todd. However, her character’s death at the end of season two shocked fans. They knew that she had a six-season contract and didn’t expect her to leave. But reportedly, Alexander wanted a lighter workload despite making hundreds of thousands per episode.


She told TV Guide: “People don’t realize that on a network show, you make 24 episodes a year – that’s 10 and a half months a year, 17 hours a day. It’s hardcore.” All of the million-dollar paydays in the world can’t replace valuable family time or a clean bill of mental health.

Daniel Craig – James Bond

Craig is the latest actor to walk away from the Bond universe. IGN offered him million-dollar paydays to reprise his role into perpetuity but he refused. He reportedly wanted to walk away before he made his final Bond movie, No Time To Die. However, he reluctantly agreed to accept one final massive check.

Vanity Fair

In 2015, Time Out asked him if he wanted to make another Bond film. Craig infamously replied: “I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists. No, not at the moment. Not at all. That’s fine. I’m over it at the moment. We’re done. All I want to do is move on.” It took him several years to get over this comment.