October 25, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Yeah, you’ve got ferocious drive and towering talent. Now you want a career that’s built to last. Whether you’re a babe with bee-stung lips or a hack with ink-stained knuckles, it’s your Hollywood agent who makes those skills pay the bills — and who ensures that your creative quest (along with his own investment in your future) stretches beyond a skimpy 15 minutes. Here, EW gets down and dirty with a player from one of the top agencies in town:

Who whines the most: actors, writers, or directors?
Actors, male and female, are considered the most high-maintenance. When a director is off directing his film, unless he’s having budgetary problems, you’re not dealing with him. But an actor, if his trailer’s not right, or if her boyfriend can’t fly — they always want more. It’s always a bitch. They’re very needy.

How can an actor squander or screw up a breakthrough?
Taking scripts for money and doing a s—-y job — just basing it on money, therefore being in a bunch of bad movies.

That’s a weird thing for an agent to say, since you get a cut of every big payday.
Yeah, but do you want an actor who you’re making a lot of money on for two years, or do you want an actor who can make a lot of money for 20 years? A smarter agent invests.

Let’s take a guy like John Travolta. He puts out a bomb like Battlefield Earth.
That was so f—in’ bad. We walked out.

How does an agent react to that?
You don’t. I mean, for crying out loud, if you react you’ll probably get fired. It’s an embarrassment to him. He knows it. He’s a smart guy.

Let’s say an actor has been in five bombs in a row. What’s the agent feeling?
The agent’s probably feeling ”I’m going to lose my actor.” But he might want to.

Let’s say you’re working with a client like Johnny Depp: he’s terrifically talented, but he tends to focus on artsy projects. Your payday as an agent is lower.

Does that become a problem? Do you say, ”C’mon, Johnny, do a big-budget film?”
No, because if you have Johnny Depp as your client, you have credibility. It’s tantalizing to other actors. Up-and-coming actors idolize him. You go out, you’re able to say you’re Johnny Depp’s agent.

How do you respond to a good new script?
Don’t be overly enthusiastic. As an agent, the last thing you want to be known as is someone who can’t deliver. If you tell the screenwriter, ”This is the f—in’ mack, dude! If I can’t get seven figures, I’m a f—in’ dog!” then you’d better get seven figures.

What makes a script or a project an easy sell?
Basically, we’re mass marketers. Something that’s easy to sell is Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, because it appeals to such a broad range of people. You want to be able to take this to a studio or a production company, and the first thing they’re thinking is, Who does this appeal to? Obviously the best answer is everybody.

So what makes a project a sure loser?
A sure loser is a big-budgeted niche script. Something that appeals to a few people and costs a lot to make. You’re never going to make your money back. For example, a film noir thriller that’s got a big budget is a hard sell, because you’re looking at a more educated film crowd. L.A. Confidential — that was a phenomenal movie to watch, and yet it didn’t have a great audience because it’s more sophisticated.

If an unknown writer sends a script to your agency out of the blue, where does it go?
It goes in the garbage. If you send in a cold script to one of the five major agencies, it’s not going to get read — unless some f—ing miracle Good Will Hunting guy is in the mailroom and happens to read it and takes a shine to it and can champion it. It’s just not going to happen. You wouldn’t see a more miraculous movie than that script being made.

So if you’re a young writer, how do you get someone to read it?
By going to one of the smaller agencies that’s perhaps working with up-and-coming hot writers. Obviously, if you’re trying to do this from Iowa, it’s going to be very difficult.

Because I think you’ve got to be in New York or L.A. — L.A. primarily. If you’re smart and aggressive and meet the right person, whether at a bar or through a friend in the business, and if you have a good script, you can network it.

How should a creative person act around an agent?
Hungry. You act hungry. I mean, don’t act like a loser. There are agents who hang out with their clients; there are agents who don’t — they put up a wall. But that being said, in the talent representation business there is so much contact with the client that the agent really has to like the person. So if you’re a f—in’ creep, good luck.

So if the agent meets a creative person who’s a creep but clearly some sort of genius…
It still might hurt him if he’s a creep. It depends how badly the agent wants it. You’d better be really talented if you’re a total a–hole.

What’s the stupidest thing to say to an agent?
I meet with a lot of people who try to speak about things, and they don’t know what they’re talking about. They try to pretend they’re more ”in” than they are, when you know they’re just a struggling grip who came up with a f—in’ idea and your friend got him in your office and you’re giving him five minutes. Also, one of the mistakes is for someone who’s not established to come in with a pitch.

If you’re a writer, be a writer. Write a script.

If you come in with a pitch instead, it looks lazy?
It looks lazy. It looks like you don’t believe in what you did.

How often do actresses really sleep their way to the top?
Ummm, I don’t think it hurts.

Is it more of a myth than people think?
I don’t know if it’s that much of a myth. I think it happens. I think it happens in all businesses. But today’s society is much different than it was in the ’70s. Sexual harassment is a factor. Certainly, you’d be foolish to do it, particularly if you work for a big corporation. Seduce some girl, you know, you’ve got problems.

What should an actress do if she’s over the hill?
Write a book.

Which is worse: laziness or lack of talent?
Laziness. There are a lot of untalented f—s out there who slept their way to the top.

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