I’ve been watching this French drama called Call My Agent! It’s about talent agents working in the glitzy entertainment world in Paris. There have been shows about this line of work before, most notably HBO’s Entourage, which portrayed agents as ruthless, superficial, bullshitting stereotypes. That’s how most people probably imagine them. But because this show is French it paints a more three-dimensional and thoughtful picture of the creed. The protagonists agonise over the conflict between art and money on a daily basis. They share love/hate relationships with each other and their clients. There is sex and sleaze, of course, but the showbiz universe is generally portrayed as a more human place than we’re used to seeing it.
But, from my experience, agents are very different depending on where they’re from. I have a couple of British agents myself – one for broadcast work and one for books. As Brits, working in the relatively dreary world of British entertainment, they lack the romantic notions of their French counterparts who see themselves as patrons of the arts; but they also lack the unpalatable dramatics of US agents.
In fact, some of the Brits are so restrained that they almost seem indifferent. A former agent of mine thought nothing of loudly yawning through meetings while I excitedly outlined career plans that she evidently regarded as utterly delusional.
My friend Phil was once at a showbiz event with his agent. Halfway through the evening, while they were talking about the ups and downs of the business, the agent turned to Phil and asked: “Who’s your agent anyway?”
“You are!” Phil replied.
“Am I?” said the embarrassed agent. “Sorry, I forgot.”
When I briefly edited a showbiz magazine in the late Noughties, I had many dealings with many sorts of agent. By far the most difficult to deal with were ones from the States. They liked to shout, scream, threaten and bully on behalf of their clients. It was very entertaining.
A former agent of mine thought nothing of loudly yawning through meetings while I excitedly outlined career plans
I would stay late in the office in order to call Hollywood and negotiate deals to interview B, C and sometimes D-list celebrities. The agents were combative and had ludicrous names like Shnooky Zakowski or Lorne Fandango. “How DARE you even call this office after the LIES you have printed about my client in your BULLSHIT magazine!” they would shout down the phone at me.
The best way to counter, I found, was to go a bit Hugh Grant – stutter and mutter and apologise and maybe, if things got really desperate, throw in the odd “Gosh!” or “Well I never!” Eventually, the agents would shamelessly relent by saying something like: “My client would ONLY contemplate appearing in your magazine if you could offer a CONSIDERABLE compensation to make up for all of the HURT and UPSET you have caused her in the past.”
We would eventually find a price that was much more than I wanted to pay and much less than they wanted to receive; and the recently-out-of-rehab reality star or soap actress would sell us her HONEST and SENSATIONAL personal story.
That’s the way it worked. Tawdry? A little. Debasing? Perhaps. Fun? Absolutely. Being an agent probably isn’t easy wherever you do it. But judging by what I’ve seen on Netflix it all seems considerably more classy in Paris than in Hollywood.
Call My Agent! is on Netflix now