The popularity of foreign talent in Hollywood movies and TV series has sparked a shakeup at U.S. agencies, incentivizing them to team up with their counterparts across the globe. Most non-American stars now have two or three agents worldwide who work together on everything from reading scripts to negotiating contracts. And most important, they are willing to split commissions.
“The world of acting has gotten much smaller,” says UTA’s Theresa Peters. “When a film gets made, whatever the language, casting agents are able to cast the net wider” because of Skype and
digital auditions. From UTA’s Beverly Hills base, Peters reps foreign talent such as Sweden’s Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”), Denmark’s Pilou Asbaek (“Ben-Hur”), France’s Tahar Rahim (“A Prophet”) and Charlotte Le Bon (“The Hundred-Foot Journey”), a Canadian who now lives in France.
Michael Douglas recently noted that Brits and Australians are taking many of the best American roles, but new waves of French and Scandinavian thesps and directors are also getting more and more work in the U.S. — or on English-language pictures financed in Europe.
The trend is partly due to actors and directors wanting to work as much as possible in the United States, Europe and Asia. But the economics of Hollywood studios, which are more and more driven by expensive blockbusters, also factors into the equation, having opened the door for mid-budget English-language movies — made by European producers, with a mixed cast of U.S. and European actors.
The most recent Cannes Film Festival was packed with such films, including Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster,” Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth” and Joachim Trier’s “Louder Than Bombs.” And this year’s Venice Film Festival will open with Universal’s “Everest,” a big-budget epic directed by Icelandic helmer Baltasar Kormakur and starring Australian thesp Jason Clarke, as well as American actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Robin Wright.
Kormakur himself is an example of the way talent is able to come and go as it pleases within a global business, instead of, for instance, having to live in L.A. in order to work in Hollywood. The director, who also made Universal’s 2013 hit “2 Guns,” lives with his wife, kids and horses in a secluded Icelandic village.
Says Gregory Weill of the Paris-based agency Adequat: “We’re seeing a blurring of boundaries between nationalities, and within film, TV and even theater.”
The new generation of actors knows that speaking fluent English is mandatory. “We’ve encouraged our talent to improve their English, because we understand the growing importance of international co-productions,” Weill says.
The French agent notes that he’s never represented so many thesps who export themselves. “Lea Seydoux and now Charlotte Le Bon are examples of actresses in high demand,” he says. Seydoux will be seen in the next James Bond pic, “Spectre,” which also stars Italian Monica Bellucci, and is filming “It’s Only the End of the World” with Canadian helmer Xavier Dolan; while Le Bon just wrapped Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk,” James Watkins’ Swedish pic “Bastille Day” and Matteo Gil’s “Project Lazarus” (Spain), and will soon start shooting Brit director Sean Ellis’ U.S.-financed “Anthropoid,” with Irish actors Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy.
Weill holds French thesp Leila Bekhti up as an example of the new open-screen policy. “She didn’t speak English a few months ago, and is now the lead actress in the Nordic miniseries ‘Midnight Sun,’ ” an English-language project created by Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein, the team behind international hit “The Bridge.”
Producers are also looking to tap into a wider pool of actors who have worked with auteurs in their home countries, and have proven that they can bring range to their roles, says Christian Hodell at London-based Hamilton Hodell agency. Hodell has signed a flurry of French actors, including Melanie Thierry (“A Perfect Day”), Gregory Fitoussi (“World War Z”), Laurent Lafitte (“The Love Punch”) and Raphael Personnaz (“Anna Karenina”).
Moreover, as foreign talent agencies become more international-friendly, they’re luring American, Canadian and British actors and filmmakers.
“We’re being approached more and more by overseas agents who are looking to get their talent represented in France, because there is a strong interest in French and European cinema,” says Weill, who reps Dolan, Canadian thesps Anne Dorval (Dolan’s “Mommy”) and Marc-Andre Grondin (“Goon”), American Adrien Brody and French actress Eva Green, a standout on Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful.”
Another example of the global exchange program is CAA’s Natalie Portman, who signed with Laurent Gregoire at Adequat, and will next star in French director Rebecca Zlotowski’s upcoming film, “Planetarium.”
To be sure, the alliances come with a price: An actor’s fee from a project on which multinational agents work gets sliced twice, with each rep usually getting about 7% of the actor’s paycheck. That adds up to a bit more than the 10% agents get individually in the U.S. and France, but insiders say the teamwork generally pays off.
“Partnering with a U.S. agent brings more eyes on the talent, and more opportunities to do business,” says UTA’s Peters, who adds that the benefits go both ways. “Talent can come from different places, so the relationship with the home agents is important because their feet are on the ground; they know who’s emerging.”
Hodell has noticed a growing inclusiveness in the global talent business. “In the past, French agencies were very protective (of talent), but now companies like Adequat and Ubba in Paris work as partners; it’s not about who gets the call first,” he observes.
Weill, for one, says he encourages his clients to get British and American agents, and is proactive in helping them secure such representation.
Laura Munsterhjelm, who runs the Swedish/Finnish agency Actors in Scandinavia, and reps Vikander, and her fellow Swedes Rebecca Ferguson (“Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation”) and Alexander Karim (“Tyrant”), says she too has experienced the more collaborative climate.
“Twenty years ago, when I first started working with a foreign agent for my actor, I was left out of discussions, whereas today we build up teams and speak almost every day,” she says. “We share all the information. There is no competition, and most times actors don’t know” the rep responsible for delivering the script.
And Munsterhjelm says there’s another benefit to the European film biz in transatlantic collaborations.
“Our industry is enriched by all the knowledge the directors and actors get from working in the U.S.,” she says, “because sooner or later, they come back home to make local films and to take a breather from the ups and downs of Hollywood.”