%285%right%Early December. Saturday afternoon. A bright 70-degree L.A. kind of day. Cars whiz by on Sunset Boulevard in front of the Cabo Cantino, a Mexican eatery where Brian McCabe ’89 does lunch while describing life in the fast (Hollywood talent agent) lane.
First impression: Brian McCabe fits no preconceived notion of a Hollywood agent. He’s not slick. He’s not shallow. And he’s not slim. That said, Brian does know how to use the phone. He does know what it takes to succeed on screen or on stage. And he does know the meaning of hard work. Most important, he loves what he does. And he’s good at it.
“Nothing prepared me for what I’m doing now,” McCabe said, although a quick background check suggests otherwise. Raised in Massachusetts, son of a Boston attorney. Majored in English and minored in performing arts at Colby. Served as VP of the Drama Club (“doing mostly stage manager types of things”). Spent a year in Boston as a stage manager for a “murder mystery-type show.” Came to Los Angeles in 1990 and answered an ad in the Hollywood Reporter run by the Henderson/Hogan agency, which was looking for an “assistant.” McCabe’s skill at answering phones and dealing with people soon got him promoted to talent agent. And in June 2000 he bought the company.
McCabe’s company, now called McCabe/Justice (www.atalentagency.com), represents roughly 75 actors. The agency’s job is to place clients in roles on television (the primary focus), film or stage. The actor who plays a patient or a cop on ER, say, might be a McCabe/Justice client. “I’ve had someone working on just about every television show,” he said with some pride.
Success in McCabe’s hypercompetitive business demands the ability both to spot and to sell good talent. “There’s no way to define what it is that makes me pick an actor to represent,” he said over lunch in West Hollywood. “But there must be a strong connection if I’m going to fight to the death to help someone succeed. In simplest terms, I can’t dread a client’s phone call.”
On the sales end, a major requisite is getting to know (and getting along with) casting directors, whom McCabe calls “the first line of defense.” They are the people he must convince in order to get through to producers and directors. “I’m not always liked,” he admitted with a smile, “but I’m usually respected. It’s all about comfort level; they have to know you’re on top of the business.”
McCabe/Justice receives a daily printout listing casting director calls for positions to be filled. McCabe must then decide which of his clients, if any, should be pitched for a particular role. “I’ll often call the casting director and ask, ‘What do you really want?’ so I can tailor my pitch,” he said. “I try to get the best deal I can, but I never accept or decline an offer without first running it by the client.”
What personal qualities does it take to succeed as a talent agent? Here’s the Gospel According to McCabe: “Be aggressive but not too aggressive; know the rules and regulations; be trustworthy; care about the whole client, the person as well as the career; always return phone calls; and always reward loyalty.” David Treadwell