Maguire caught in sticky web

As tentpoles proliferate and the tenpercenteries jockey to land Tobey Maguire as a client, it’s getting harder to tell the true worth of a star.

Memo to: Tobey Maguire

From: Peter Bart

Re: Percenteries and paydays

There was quite a feeding frenzy among talent agents last week, as all the tenpercenteries lined up to explain why they were best suited to represent your interests.

I hope you appreciated their zeal, Tobey, but I also hope you realize that you are an anomaly among actors. In Hollywood, you’re one step removed from being a man without a country; you’re a man without a price.

In this brave new world of tentpoles and franchises, there’s no way of calculating your worth to a project. Further, there’s no way of determining your worth to a talent agency.

None of this is your fault, Tobey. Bad back notwithstanding, I hear you’re a good kid, albeit one who’s been around long enough to figure out the system. At 28, you’ve been in everything from “Pleasantville” to “Seabiscuit.” You’ve had your share of successes and disappointments.

But then “Spider-Man” came along, catapulting you into economic outer space. It’s disorienting for an actor to wake up one morning and realize his latest movie has grossed $821.6 million worldwide, splashing dollars all over the landscape. Even your producer, Laura Ziskin, suddenly discovered that she’d picked up a cool $35 million thanks to her gross participation.

Historically, megahits mean billowing paydays for movie stars: Look at what “Top Gun” did for Tom Cruise, instantly mandating salaries of $30 million per picture against 25% of the gross.

Then things started to get weird, Tobey. Corporate Hollywood decided to hatch movie genres in which “the brand” was the star, not the actor. There were no stars to emerge from “Lord of the Rings” or “Harry Potter” or “Lara Croft.” Indeed, Warner Bros. couldn’t figure out which non-star would get the lead in “Superman,” hence stalling the movie in development hell.

Brands belong to a studio, Tobey, while guys like you like to think they’re autonomous. That’s a dangerous habit for a young actor.

Indeed, the era of the tentpoles is giving rise to an arcane dual-price system for actors.

Chris Tucker may be worth $30 million for “Rush Hour III,” but is he worth even $1 million in a non-branded character piece? Your price may have escalated to $17 million or beyond in “Spider-Man II,” Tobey, but what would you get for another “Wonder Boys”?

There used to be ways of mathematically calculating the worth of a star. You could chart how a Schwarzenegger movie performed in South Korea, tally up video revenues from Sardinia and Malta, then add in TV sales and other revenue streams, and you had a ballpark figure.

But here’s the rub: Does the success of the next “Spider-Man” hinge on who dons the spandex? When you started complaining of a bad back, Tobey, Columbia seemed ready to sign Jake Gyllenhaal for your role, proving yet again that tentpole producers aren’t compassionate about aches and pains.

Of course, the agents eager to sign you as a client aren’t going to talk much about this, Tobey. They want your name on their roster. And that, in turn, raises another set of questions.

Theoretically, when a Tobey Maguire signs with a major agency, he pays his 10% commission along with everyone else, but is that also an anachronism? It’s hardly a secret that when an agency signs a budding superstar, that in turn represents a lure to other talent. In the early days of CAA, that agency brilliantly showcased its list of stars to pull in topline directors.

There have always been rumors — hotly denied — that certain stars negotiated 5% commissions or less in years gone by, but are such arrangements relevant in the era of the tentpoles? If an actor’s salary veers from $20 million on an “event” movie to scale on a character film, should he still be expected to pay 10% to his agent across the board?

All this explains why, if I were an agent, I wouldn’t want to represent you, Tobey. It’s not your bad back that worries me, it’s the policies of corporate Hollywood. If they squeezed you out of “Spider-Man,” they might think you’d be cute as “Lara Croft.”

It’s weird out there, kid. Especially when you look good in spandex.

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