In a move that William Morris Agency CEO Jim Wiatt called “a transformative event for us,” Ed Limato is returning for a second tour of duty at WMA.
Limato, a dealmaker at the percentery for 10 years until he joined ICM in 1988, has made a three-year deal and will bring most of his clients with him.
Deal was announced Thursday, after several days of courtship from multiple agencies that began late Monday, when an arbitrator freed Limato from an ICM contract that ran through 2010. Limato resisted the agency’s desire that he shift to consultant and when he filed for arbitration, ICM stripped him of his co-president title.
“I feel like I’m coming home and that a new part of my career begins today,” Limato told Daily Variety, just after he signed his deal and walked the halls of WMA’s headquarters. “They’ve made some changes to the place, but I recognize some of the people. They’ve got a great bank of agents, and I look forward to a new life for myself and for my clients.”
Limato will bring along clients Denzel Washington, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Steve Martin, Michael Biehn, Thomas Jane, Derek Luke and Sam Neill, along with Limato’s sole director client, Adrian Lyne. It was still unclear whether Jim Caviezel, Billy Crystal, Liam Neeson and Doris Roberts would join him or remain at ICM.
Since Monday, Limato has been shopping a deal that tested the financial boundaries of agencies bracing for an inevitable commission slowdown next summer, when studios and labor unions square off over a new deal. Limato sought $5.5 million for a guaranteed three years, a $550,000 signing bonus, an expense account ceiling of $1.5 million a year plus three assistants.
Neither Limato nor Wiatt would comment on what Limato will be making.
The pair are trying to figure out whether Limato will continue hosting the star-studded party at his Beverly Hills home, long one of the required stops on the Friday night before Oscars, along with house parties held by Endeavor’s Ari Emanuel and CAA’s Bryan Lourd.
Since Limato appealed for arbitration, it was clear he would be exiting, and even then WMA was considered the prohibitive favorite to land him. Aside from his familiarity with WMA, he worked for more than a decade with Wiatt and agency president Dave Wirtschafter while they were at ICM. UTA was apparently also a player.
The dark horse was Paradigm, whose chief, Sam Gores, made a serious run at Limato because he felt the agent would have served as notice that Paradigm deserved consideration as one of the majors.
“In three years, we went from 50 to 104 agents, building on the old-fashioned principle of integrity and doing what’s right for your clients,” Gores said. “Ed fit so beautifully into that philosophy. The well-crafted careers of his clients are not accident, and there is a reason they are so loyal to him. … The effect he would have had on the rest of our agents and the community, that’s why I wanted him to be here. But I completely understand his decision. He’s got a 20-year relationship with Jim, and comfort and familiarity is important.”
Wiatt felt much the same way.
“Virtually never does an agent of Ed’s stature become available,” he said. “Whatever ICM did or didn’t do — which I’m still surprised about — when Ed became available, we wanted to be in business with him. … We feel it’s a total win for us, on every level.”
Limato said he won’t be a manager, as he was at ICM, but that doesn’t mean he’s resting on his laurels.
“I want to do more than I’d been doing at ICM, but I’m leaving the title behind and have no desire for a managerial capacity, which was something that Nancy Josephson and I were asked to do by Jeff (Berg) when Jim left,” Limato said. “I’m devoting myself to being the best agent I can be for the clients I have and for the new clients I hope to bring in. I’m not going to sit still. If I wanted to sit still, I’d have done what ICM wanted me to do.”