ICM’s Iconoclast

'A velvet hammer' is how one producer describes ICM's superagent Ed Limato, who's become something of a seer to the clients he calls his 'children'

Ed Limato pulls a laminated card from his suit pocket and starts to scan the list: Denzel Washington. Steve Martin. Liam Neeson. Sylvester Stallone …

Dressed impeccably and cutting a regal figure, he brandishes this series of names, a wallet-sized crib sheet of all the people he represents.

It’s not that he doesn’t remember his clients, he insists, but that he doesn’t want, in whatever circumstance, to leave anyone out.

“They refresh me,” he says, sitting in his corner ICM office against a movie poster that reads “Tant qu’il y aura des hommes” (“From Here to Eternity”), before going on to sing the praises of client Paul Walker in Media 8’s “Running Scared,” a movie he has just seen.

Silver-haired and 60-ish, Limato is what could easily be called a sage or guru, an agent so devoted to his profession that he calls his clients his “children” and will defend them to the end. He also possesses a certain panache, one that is annually on display when he hosts a must-attend pre-Oscar party at his Coldwater Canyon home. It is there that Limato, shoeless, holds court among not only his A-list clientele but among many of the industry’s most powerful players.

He is old school not in the way of Lew Wasserman, an industry powerbroker, but of Leland Hayward, a talent rep who was charming, stylized, self-composed and best friends with his clients. (Limato has called Hayward his role model.)

Yet even with this well-regarded persona, he is not immune to the hyper-competitive ways of the agency business, where every weakness of representation is exploited. For any agent, there is inevitably a degree of fragility beneath the surface, as all jobs are precarious and everyone is replaceable; talent agents are, more than most, at the mercy of their clients. Like Michelle Pfeiffer, who after 18 years with Limato, left in 2002. Jennifer Lopez has done likewise, although she recently returned to ICM.

And the business has become meaner and less forgiving; years in the business are not as advantageous as youth. Just last month, longtime agent Sam Haskell was edged out from William Morris. Even Limato, who is now 18 months into a five-year contract, has become the subject of rumors that he is about to retire or is ill. It’s a tactic by competitors to tilt the playing field.

“Actually, I’m amused,” he quips. “The fact is I’m much too young to think of retiring.”

On a wall in Limato’s office hangs a line drawing of himself, his eyebrows flared in a curve, his hand on his chin as if deep in thought, while a finger rests on a pill bottle. If you need proof that Limato is an icon, this is it. Legendary caricaturist Al Hirschfeld created the drawing shortly before his death in 2003. Even in cartoon form, Limato is instantly recognizable.

Officially, Limato is the co-president and vice chairman of ICM, but despite that title and extracurricular roles on the board of directors of the Motion Picture and Television Fund and Abercrombie & Fitch, his path hasn’t been to become a player a la ICM chairman Jeff Berg or William Morris topper Jim Wiatt.

Instead, he operates a sort of mini-boutique, or, in less polite terms, a fiefdom.

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