Hollywood Talent Agent, Louise Ward, Tells Us How She Makes Stars

Interview with UTA Talent Agent, Louise Ward.

Please tell us where you’re from and what made you pursue the entertainment business?
I was born in Boston, MA. I got into the entertainment business by falling in love with a guitar player in an 80’s rock band that was very big in Japan, but, unfortunately, nowhere else. I eventually moved to New York to be with him, but then that relationship ended, shockingly [laughs]. To get over the break-up, I came out to LA to visit my old college roommate, and got into the business because it was the one factory in town. I didn’t move to LA to do this [work as an agent]; I do this because I moved to LA.

What college did you attend and what was your major?
I went to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where I was a Liberal Arts [English] major. Of course, I read all of the classics, but I also had a healthy love for cinema. I would recommend to anybody interested in getting into the film business that they have a really strong background in the classics of literature, as well as what’s culturally relevant today. I think many of the most successful contemporary movies come from both the classics, as well as more modern sources, like video games, graphic novels, and current events.

What was your first professional job in the entertainment business, and how did you get the job?
[laughs] Stuffing posters into tubes for a radio station. Does that count? I think my title was Vice President of Prizes, although I would have preferred “CEO in Charge of Morale,” or something [laughs]. But yeah, I was just stuffing posters into tubes, and answering the request lines when no one else would. I got my first big break when I was working as the Producer, which is a fancy word for ‘assistant,” to the morning drive time DJ; he would arrive at 5am, so I had to be there at 4am. But one night, he was delayed by a snow storm, and in order for the station to comply with FCC regulations, every 20 minutes or so they’d have to do something “in the public interest,” like, say the time or read a Public Service Announcement. So I was just supposed to give a weather update, but it was the middle of the night and there was nobody there to stop me [laughs], so I found myself back-announcing Judas Priest records into the wee hours, and found that I really liked it. I had a voice that worked for that particular station, so I was able to do that for a little while.

At one point in your career you were a personal manager at Bymel O’Neill Artists Management (now known as Management 360), what were some of the challenges you faced as a manager and what prompted your switch to become a talent agent?
At that time, management was a relatively new arena of representation, brought on, in part, by a feeling that agents were too “big business” to be personal advocates for clients whose careers were growing. Many actors were in need of someone to handle all the various aspects of the business for them, like their travel, headshots, demos, appearances, and so initially, managers were perceived as being “glorified hand holders,” but what it really was is what I like to call a dedicated agent. Someone who not only had a micro-view of whether the client wanted a window or aisle ticket on a flight, but also if their press should have more glamorous photos as part of a actor’s campaign to be considered for more leading parts . The manager is kind of the hub of the wheel in a client’s career, making sure that all the different spokes (agent, publicist, acting coach, lawyer, etc) was turning into the same direction. So, it was during my time as a manager that I learned the ethics of a more strategic representational model. It was less about the dry, “soliciting and negotiating offers” type of support, and more of a bigger picture of how to maintain a career; one that’s long and full of opportunities. Ideally, you want a rep who combines aggressive and savvy agenting with the thoughtful strategies and advocacy of management I didn’t come out to LA until I was close to 30, so I didn’t have much time to cut my teeth in a mailroom; I needed to skip a few steps and opting to be a manager was quicker than the agent trainee route. Then I married Will Ward, who at the time was an agent at a major agency, but soon started his own management company — so we basically switched jobs when I became an agent in 2001.

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Because you represent such star talent as Channing Tatum and Julian McMahon; when should an actor who’s seeking an agent approach you about representation?
I discovered Channing at a smaller agency that I was [working] at almost 10 years ago. In addition to their theatrical division, this agency had a commercial division for models who wanted to cross over into the acting world, but perhaps needed in-house ‘management’ to nurture them before they could officially go on the theatrical roster.

There was something about him when he came into my office; his charisma shined through. Of course, it helped that he’s dead attractive, warm and charming, but Chan’s also incredibly intuitive and focused, in addition to being naturally gifted. Julian McMahon had been doing fine and had been known for his regular roles on Profiler and Charmed. But I think perhaps he wasn’t getting the attention he deserved in order to focus on the role that was really going to platform him, specifically. So, as soon as I started working with him, we decided to get him off of Charmed, then ‘Nip Tuck’ came along and it was a gift from heaven [laughs]. At that time, it became one of the most important and well-watched shows on the new FX channel. For Julian, it provided an incredible leap into the features that he’s now able to do, like the Fantastic 4 series, and Premonition opposite Sandra Bullock. He’s also about to do a feature with Bruce Willis called Red.