Cash and Carrey
Few Hollywood talent agents have ever worked as long and loyally for an actor and his managers as United Talent’s Nick Stevens. For 15 years, he, with Jimmy Miller and Eric Gold of Gold/Miller, called themselves “Team Carrey.” They guided comic Jim Carrey’s career since he was an early-1990s breakout hit on Fox TV’s In Living Color. Known for strategic thinking and savvy deal making, they moved Carrey from TV into movies and jumped his salary from a paltry few hundred thou for Ace Ventura, Pet Detective to an Industry record of $20 mil for The Cable Guy just 18 months later. In turn, Carrey once rewarded them with spankin’ new Porsche 911 Carrera convertibles.
But on September 13, Carrey phoned Stevens and said, “I’ve never met with another agency. But I’m feeling like it’s time.” The two haven’t talked since. The next day, Stevens had that Porsche towed and sold.
“I could never sit in it again after that,” the agent was overheard to say.
The shocking and unexpected firing of the top agent by the top actor left Hollywood agog. Naturally, none of this “he said/they said” badmouthing behind the scenes has surfaced in the trades, because that’s how Hollywood works: The media rarely know about such disputes, much less report them. And the principals won’t talk to journalists publicly about any of this. But I’ve dug deep for details, first on DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com and now in L.A. Weekly, because they’re juicier than any episode of Entourage.
I found out Carrey’s managers claim that Stevens wasn’t cutting it as a rep anymore, had become distracted by a summer home in Martha’s Vineyard and golf rounds at L.A.’s Riviera Country Club, and was “rageful and resentful,” alienating not just them but the star. I also learned that Stevens accuses the managers of a cash-and-Carrey conflict of interest by “manipulating” the comic’s exit from UTA in order to further their own, now separate, producing careers at another agency they think will put their financial interests ahead of their star’s. No one will go public, of course.
Jeez, the parallels to HBO’s Entourage are startling, since Season 3 ended with Vince firing Ari. But real-life Hollywood is even more blood-and-guts than any of the agent and manager characters (and caricatures) on that show. Just consider this: Stevens, in a last-ditch bid to foil juggernaut CAA’s sure-thing bet to bag the star, phoned up one of his archrivals, Endeavor Agency’s Ari Emanuel (the role model for Jeremy Piven) and gave him pointers on how to sign the star. It had no effect: Carrey, as expected, went to CAA.
Until the start of 2000, Stevens stayed in sync with Gold/Miller, who, like most managers, control an agent’s direct access to clients. But Nick and Jim were tight personally as well as professionally. They even lived a chip shot apart from each other. The trouble began around five years ago, when Stevens received a firm offer to help run DreamWorks. Even the whisper that an agent might jump to a studio is scary for clients who will be left behind once the rep turns mogul. So CAA’s Richard Lovett called up Gold/Miller with the info. Stevens stayed at UTA but had to grovel to Carrey’s managers to win back their trust. “But that relationship was never right since then,” an insider told me.
By 2005, UTA had become the king of comedy among agencies, boasting, in addition to Carrey, the likes of Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Tom Shadyac, David Dobkin, Judd Apatow and others. Suddenly, CAA, which had been picking off agents and talent here and there in previous years, declared all-out war on its boutique rival, and started luring UTA agents and their clients. It just so happened that Gold/Miller managed a lot of the talent that CAA was pillaging from UTA.
Managers have agents by the balls during these battles: With very few exceptions, the clients stay or go based on the managers’ say-so. Gold/Miller started to sell their clients on CAA, which they praised as “a very well-run agency.” But the managers also swore up and down to UTA that they “still had Nick’s back” — literally. “Jimmy and Eric tried to take care of him,” a source told me. “When Nick had a back problem, a team was assembled around him at UTA so it was all not just on his shoulders. It was working. But Nick killed it.”
On the other hand, UTA was under increasing pressure from Gold/Miller to “even the scorecard” and throw clients their way — an arrangement that’s typical of managers and agents. But the more producing Gold and Miller did, the more they were seen as competing with talent, who also received producer credit on their films — a long-standing managerial conflict of interest that Hollywood tolerates.
At the same time, Miller and Gold’s working relationship was increasingly dysfunctional. They both repped Carrey, even though all their other business was handled apart. Stevens complained about being caught in the middle. Gold/Miller kvetched that Nick was becoming less and less engaged. Suddenly, every moment Stevens spent on the Vineyard or a golf course became an issue. (But, according to records kept by the Southern California Golf Association, Stevens in the past year has played only once a month.)
All this may not have mattered if Carrey’s up-and-down career had not frozen. Worse, in May, the media hyped Fox pulling the plug on Used Guys — a Ben Stiller/Jim Carrey movie in the works — because it wasabout to become one of the most costly original comedies ever made. But it was also symptomatic of the way that Hollywood’s stumbling studios were starting to reverse direction on the soaring salaries and percentage of box office revenues that big talent had long commanded. Also made into a big deal was Paramount’s postponement of Carrey’s big-budget Ripley’s Believe It or Not when, in reality, the star sent the film back into development because its script wasn’t “unbelievable” enough.
Then, in early July, Miller and Gold dissolved their 13-year-old management and production company and separated all their business except for Carrey. Eric Gold signed with CAA to represent every movie he produces. More of Miller’s clients jumped to the big agency.
“The fix is in for CAA,” Stevens told his UTA partners after Miller arranged for the agent’s longtime client Judd Apatow to take a meeting at CAA, whose agents boasted to the writer “there’s $400 million out there for you to make movies.” A furious Stevens confronted Miller and Gold: If he were doing such a crappy agenting job for Carrey, then how come his client, Ben Stiller, has never been hotter? The managers responded they felt Stevens favored Stiller over Carrey. The agent told them that was nonsense and contended that the only difference between the two stars was that one had managers and the other didn’t. The acrimony was out in the open: Stevens started ranting on the phone and in e-mails that Miller and Gold were poisoning his relationship with clients.
Maybe the endgame wouldn’t have happened so abruptly last week if Carrey hadn’t been slow to return Stevens’ calls, heightening the agent’s paranoia. It reached a climax when New Line scheduled the first test screening of Carrey’s new thriller, The Number 23. All of Team Carrey was to attend. But then the studio sent word that no agents or managers were invited, sending everyone into a tailspin. Gold, with Carrey in his car, was going anyway. Miller was out of town. So Stevens, stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the freeway en route to the screening, was told by Gold to make a U-turn. Three-way cell-phone conversations ensued as Gold and Carrey in one car and Stevens in another figured out what to do. Gold became angry when he found out that Stevens made a bunch of calls to the studio to lift the ban. That made Carrey agitated as well. Gold felt Stevens was acting manic. But the agent had a reason: His sixth sense was telling him he was about to be fired.
Carrey placed that fatal phone call to Stevens on Wednesday morning. The managers told the town they didn’t know about it until after the fact. Gold, at the Beverly Hills Hotel for a lunch meeting, paced around the grounds clutching his cell phone as he talked on a conference call to Carrey and Miller about what had just gone down. Defending the firing, the managers told Hollywood that, after his phoner with Carrey, Stevens should have tried to save the client by gathering together all of the resources of UTA for one final Hail Mary pitch. In fact, Season 3’s final episode of Entourage showed Ari doing that PowerPoint-and-pleading presentation for Vince and his manager, “E.” It didn’t work for Ari, and Stevens knew it wouldn’t work for him either. In an e-mail sent to Miller and Gold, the agent tore into the managers for sabotaging Carrey’s relationship with him and maneuvering the actor out of UTA. Later, to his colleagues, Stevens explained that a final meeting would have been pointless.
Then he sent a note to the remains of Team Carrey, urging everyone to “live and let live.” Something like that is bound to turn up in Entourage’s Season 4.
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