Managers stealth players in kudos campaigns

No prescribed duties for this role at Oscar time

“Oh, why are you asking me?” a personal manager says when asked how managers fit into all the jockeying that takes place during an Oscar campaign. “Do I really have to?”

Most managers who were reached for this piece either didn’t want to talk on the record or politely refused to speak at all.

The reason for their reticence is simple. “They don’t want to usurp the star’s stardom,” says Rick Siegel, a personal manager in Hollywood. “If they say what they did for a campaign, it gets the star mad. It’s very important to stay behind the curtain.”

Beyond their desire to not overshadow their clients’ star power, there simply isn’t a prescribed role for personal managers come Oscar time.

“Look, we are nice middle men,” says industry veteran Bernie Brillstein. “Some managers make themselves up to be masterminds, but remember we are the guys between the artist and the studio. We can’t demand — unless you’re handling Tom Cruise — anything. The fight is to get the money for the campaign. And if you play your cards right with the studio, you can get it if they believe they really have a chance.”

Personal managers also must share time with an actor’s agent, lawyer and publicist, not to mention the studios. Some high-powered actors like Matt Damon and Jodi Foster don’t even have personal managers.

Courtney Kivowitz, whose client Maggie Gyllenhaal has three roles under consideration (“World Trade Center,” “Stranger Than Fiction,” “Sherrybaby”), says: “The part I did that was most crucial was I made sure she had a great publicist a long time ago (Amanda Silverman) and we’ve had a great relationship with her. I leave the jockeying to her; that’s her cup of tea.”

“I usually hire a firm to do the work,” says Brillstein. “That’s my truth. They manage the campaign. I graduated from NYU with an advertising background, but I’m certainly not prepared to run an Oscar campaign — doing just that and nothing else.”

Studios start handicapping the Oscar season at the end of the summer.

“Once there’s a sense that there’s a real opportunity here,” says personal manager Joan Hyler, whose clients include Diane Lane and Alfred Molina, “the manager at all times works alongside the personal publicist and the studio and the filmmakers in helping design the smartest course.”

“Ultimately, it’s my clients’ life,” Kivowitz says. “I’m trying to make sure all the people in her career are pushing in the same direction. Maggie’s got a brand new baby, and I’m respectful of her time as a new mom. This is a first-time thing for her. She’s completely blissed out. It’s an unbelievably fruitful period of time, both personally and professionally, but her head is in a very different place. I’m trying to protect her privacy while keeping an eye on what she needs to do businesswise. I’m mostly concerned with the next script.”

Hyler explains that some actors are old pros and know how to handle the crunch of awards shows, Q&As, meet-and-greets and other public appearances that go into creating an Oscar campaign.

“I call them ‘the stations of the cross,’ ” she says. “The manager works alongside the studio and publicist to assure that all of these appearances are smart, well-timed and are not grinding your actor to the ground with things that are irrelevant. You have to know when you are taking advantage of a real opportunity as opposed to being the town crier.”

The last thing anyone wants to happen is for a campaign to turn ripe.

“You can overwork it to the point where you have a faint aroma about you of desperation, and you don’t want that,” says one prominent manager. “A manager helps you balance that.”