He has three assistants, amusingly referred to as “No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3,” as well as a script reader on his staff. The three assistants are all there at the ICM office, glued to their phones and computers while Limato is being interviewed, but instinctively polite, looking up and shaking hands in acknowledgement. Assistant No. 1, John, typically sits at a small desk in Limato’s office but moves outside when the agent has closed-door meetings.
“Many agents tend to look at talent as a commodity today, to help their own careers,” he laments, in a voice that is almost gravelly. “I still think of talent as something to be served. If you believe in a client, you stick with them through the ups and downs. With Richard Gere, for example, we grew up together. His career became my career. I didn’t steal him.”
Cordial, charming and even funny, Limato grew up in a working-class family in Mount Vernon, N.Y. He was once a driver for Franco Zeffirelli in Rome and a disc jockey in Panama City, Fla., before he landed in Los Angeles. It was in the late ’60s that he became a junior agent for the old International Famous Artists, which later emerged as ICM.
He left the agency for William Morris in 1978 and grew an impressive list of clients that included Mel Gibson and Nicolas Cage. He was lured back to ICM in 1988, in what was then viewed as a huge shake-up in the agency business that also led to the departure of a quartet of high-profile female agents — Toni Howard, Risa Shapiro, Boatey Boatwright and Elaine Goldsmith.
Limato not only brought the superstar clients, but has helped maintain their durability. All told, Gere, Gibson, Martin and Washington hit an impressive $1.3 billion at the box office in the past two years. Other clients, like Neeson and Oscar nom Laura Linney, he reps as part of a team.
He’s also had his share of clients like Sharon Stone, Winona Ryder and Robert Downey Jr., who have achieved career heights but, at the same time, have had their share of scrapes chronicled in the tabloids.
Through it all, Limato has been intensely loyal. “Ed doesn’t lose faith in anyone,” declares Steve Dontanville, a top film agent at William Morris who worked for more than a decade at ICM. “Even when Robert Downey Jr. and Winona Ryder were going through their personal ordeals, he never gave up on them. I always admired that about him, treating his clients as part of his family. God help you if you spoke ill of them — he’s like a mother lion.”
Says an agent who worked at ICM in the ’90s: “Ed treated his clients like Jackie Kennedy treated the guests on either side at a dinner party: They became to her the only ones in the room, no matter how many presidents or potentates were down the table. Ed could come across as smug and convinced of his own taste, but, to his credit, he never lost faith in a client even if they were ice-cold and off everyone’s list.”
Perhaps no other time has this style been more on public display than his defense of Gibson during the controversy around “The Passion of the Christ.” Shortly before the Oscars in 2002, New York Post columnist Richard Johnson published a rumor that some in the industry were going to skip Limato’s party as rumors were trickling out about Gibson’s plans for “Passion.” In a New York Times Magazine piece, Gibson’s father had been quoted as suggesting that the Holocaust never happened.
The boycott never materialized, and on Oscar night, Limato ran into Johnson at the Vanity Fair party, where he famously threw a drink at him. “I hope he enjoyed the olives!” Limato told the Washington Post the next day.