Top agents adapt H'wood skills to local biz

This article was corrected on Oct. 4, 2002.

Jenne Casarotto, the doyenne of British directors’ agents, says that whenever she speaks at a seminar in continental Europe, someone always asks, “What does an agent actually do?”

That question genuinely mystifies many people in Europe. Over the years, this has led various Hollywood agencies — notably ICM and William Morris — to conclude that the whole continent is ripe for the taking by their more evolved and aggressive brand of representation.

Yet all these efforts have run aground.

In fact, since Duncan Heath’s management buyout of ICM U.K., there is now no U.S. agency with a direct presence representing actors and directors on the ground in Europe, for the first time in a quarter century.

To anyone bred in the Hollywood culture, where agents lurk at the heart of every deal, Europe is surprisingly resistant to the idea that the guys who rep the talent should also be packagers and powerbrokers.

“Relationships with clients are far more long-standing in Europe, so that Hollywood paranoia of ‘don’t call my client’ doesn’t exist,’ says one American exec based in London. Any reporter covering the transatlantic talent scene will quickly stumble across the essential difference between American and Euro agents: While the Americans will always tell you how important they are, the Euros will try to persuade you of their insignificance. American agents want their names in the story, Euro agents beg to be left out.

“It’s a psychological difference,” says vet rep Pippa Markham. “Our job is to be heard and not seen.”

This is more than just a cultural difference between Old World diffidence and New World hucksterism. It reflects a profound economic gulf.

Quite simply, Europe does not have the fiercely competitive marketplace of megabuck buyers that gives Hollywood agents such clout to play one studio off against the other, and to reap vast financial rewards for doing so.

Instead, Euro tenpercenters behave more like managers than agents, cultivating close relationships with their clients, who typically stick with the same rep for their entire career.

At its best, this gives agents the security to look beyond the next deal, and focus on the client’s long-term interests. At its worst, it breeds a cozy parochialism, which prevents Euro talent from making the most of potential opportunties, particularly international ones, and mitigates against the evolution of a European star system.

The French, in particular, are known for their lack of interest in anything outside Paris. When Katrina Bayonas went looking for a French agent to represent Penelope Cruz (well after Cruz was an established Euro star with ICM repping her in Hollywood), there wasn’t a sniff of interest.

But there are a handful of agents around the continent — and they make up the bulk of Variety‘s A-List — who combine all the virtues of personal client care with a real willingness to collaborate with the methods of their L.A. counterparts.

Scandinavia and Germany appear to be particularly short of local agents — perhaps because their production industries are so financially puny. That’s reflected by the absence of these countries from the list.

But there’s still talent there. With the Hollywood agencies retreating from the front line, the opportunity to exploit it falls to the more ambitious Europeans.

Duncan Heath

Numero uno among Euro agents, the colorful and extroverted Heath is now master of his own destiny again, after buying back the agency he sold to ICM in the early 1980s. His high-powered team of agents includes Paul Lyonmaris and Harriet Robinson, and together they rep a significant proportion of the U.K.’s leading actors and directors. Heath’s own clients include Mike Newell, Sam Mendes, Guy Ritchieand Michael Caine.

Jenne Casarotto.

“More like a manager than an agent,” in her own assessment, Casarotto reps a peerless list of directors — from John Madden to Stephen Frears. Her writers aren’t too shabby either — she sells Nick Hornby’s novels to the bigscreen and reps the Ronald Dahl estate.

Anthony Jones

Patrician and laconic, Jones is the key figure at PFD (previously Peters Fraser & Dunlop), the 77-year-old agency which sold itself last year to the publicly quoted sports management group CSS Stellar. Jones still has an impressive list of directors, including Mike Leigh and James Ivory, scribes such as Richard Curtis and Alan Bennett.

Nick Marston

Marston was one of prime movers in the generational coup early this year at venerable lit agency Curtis Brown, when a group of younger agents bought the firm from their senior partners. Marston is managing director of the media division, repping Hossein Amini, Conor McPherson and Jez Butterworth.

Pippa Markham

Low-profile agent with a high-class actors list, including Tim Roth, Tim Spall, Naomi Watts and Damien Lewis. Has also established herself as the go-to agent for American actors seeking a rep in Europe — she handles Benicio Del Toro, David Schwimmer, Neve Campbell, Bridget Fonda and Patricia Arquette. Company is Markham & Froggatt — Froggatt passed on long ago, but she has kept the name “because it sounds Dickensian.”

Tor Belfrage

Despite having no prior experience as an agent, Tor (short for Victoria) Belfrage successfully took over the running of her late husband’s company Julian Belfrage Associates after his untimely death in 1995. She inherited (and, remarkably, kept) clients Judi Dench, Daniel Day Lewis and John Hurt, and has since added the likes of Jude Law.

Moira Mazzantini

Half-Italian, half-Irish, Mazzantini has built her Rome-based shingle TNA (short for The New Agency) into a home for Italy’s hottest rising talent, such as director Emanuele Criolese, and actors Sergio Castellito and Stefano Accorsi.

Her list also includes actress Ornella Muti and directors Carlo Carlei, Francesca Archibugi, plus Liliana Cavani, who has just returned after a 9-year absence with ‘Ripley’s Game.’ Mazzantini formerly repped ICM in Italy and is the only Italian agent with strong Hollywood relationships.

Carol Levi

The grande dame of Italian agents, her list of directors includes Bernardo Bertolucci and Marco Tullio Giordano.

Catrina Bayonas

Discovered Penelope Cruz 12 years ago in her annual talent search program and took her all the way to Hollywood stardom. That alone would be enough to win this Madrid-based, British-born agent her place on the A list. But there’s far more to Bayonas than one star client. Her management and production company Kuranda has an office in Los Angeles, repping actors from France, Scandinavia and even the U.S., alongside her list of hot Hispanic actors and directors.

Bertrand de Labbey

King among French talent agents, de Labbey has reigned over Artmedia, the biggest percentery in Paris, for many years, and reps Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu. Has a reputation for fiercely guarding his clients from Hollywood’s importuning.

Dominique Besnehard

His front-row seat at this year’s Cesar awards ceremony, alongside Pierre Lescure and Natalie Baye, confirmed just how well-connected a figure the ubiquitous Besnehard has become on the French film scene. Having failed to make it as a actor, Besnehard cut his teeth as a casting director before going on to rep Isabelle Adjani and Sophie Marceau.

Francois Samuelson

A stint as a literary agent in New York gave anglophile Samuelson a taste for doing business beyond France’s borders, which makes him almost unique in Paris. He also learnt the equally un-French habit of returning calls promptly. Clients such as Juliette Binoche have reaped the benefits in their international careers. As head of the powerful agency Intertalent, Samuelson also reps Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel.

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