In the two decades since she moved to Los Angeles from her native Ireland, Hylda Queally — first with Triad Artists, then with William Morris and now at CAA — has become synonymous with some of the most talented, and brave, leading ladies in movies, including Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, Penelope Cruz and Marion Cotillard. That there’s an international streak in her red-hot client list is no coincidence.
“When I came here, I decided I would create a niche for myself — because the international market was very separate — and take the knowledge I had from Europe and make it my own,” she explains.
Even more notable, though, is Queally’s impeccable taste, whether it be sartorial (there she is decked out in Ralph Lauren accompanying Blanchett at the Oscars) or literary. So when it comes to weighing a project’s commercial prospects vs. its aesthetic merits, Queally doesn’t necessarily detect conflict. “I believe if a movie is good enough, then it will be successful,” she says. “At the end of the day, an actor at their core wants to do good work. … And a lot of people I work with are under the firm belief that if it’s not on the page, it’s not on the screen.”
Queally spends a lot of time reading — whether it be scripts, novels or magazines — in search of the elusive material that will resonate with her clients. She spied the script from Richard Yates’ novel “Revolutionary Road” when she first arrived at CAA in 2004 and immediately thought of Winslet, her client of 15 years, in the role of April Wheeler, one of the more enigmatic and complex characters in modern literature. She became obsessed with the adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” since producer Kathleen Kennedy sent it to her 19 years ago, and it will soon see the light of day with Blanchett playing opposite Brad Pitt.
On paper, Queally’s repertory looks to figure prominently in the upcoming Oscar race: Winslet in “Road” and “The Reader,” directed by Stephen Daldry (“The Hours”); Blanchett in “Button”; and Cruz in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” to name a few.
She also parlayed Cotillard’s awards season exposure from “La Vie en rose” (she signed her in May 2007) into roles opposite Johnny Depp in Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” and Daniel Day-Lewis in Rob Marshall’s upcoming musical, “Nine” (also with Cruz).
What’s more, French client Mathieu Amalric (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) landed the coveted villain part in the next Bond, “The Quantum of Solace” while Queally paved the way for creative breakthroughs involving such up-and-comers as Sam Riley, Tom Sturridge, Ben Wishaw and Rose Byrne.
As for risk vs. reward, such as Blanchett playing Bob Dylan in his early electric glory in “I’m Not There,” she says she would not allow her Tiffany client to not do the movie. “It’s a certain luxury when one’s acting ability is unparalleled, and it allows incredible freedom as an agent and an actress to say, ‘Let’s do something a little bit different,’ where the guarantee isn’t written in at the end but it explores muscles you could never use in the theater world. We were all happy with the result.”
Role model: “Every working mother.”
Three things in life I can’t do without: “Great high heels, champagne and dark chocolate!”
What I’m reading now: “‘Madame Bovary’ and Alice Munro — just for fun.”
Career mantra: “Trust your instinct.”