PREVIOUS: R.I.P. Ed Limato
UPDATE: Ed Limato’s office has set funeral service plans. This Wednesday, an open viewing will be held from 3:30-8:30 PM at Forest Lawn Memorial Park. A memorial service is being planned.
Tributes to the late WME agent Ed Limato refer to his passing as the end of a dealmaking era. After writing about Ed for two decades, I’ve got my own theory on what made him different. Top talent agents who nowadays put movies together in a challenging marketplace are compelled to take a team approach. That places the interests of one actor among many considerations. With Ed, protecting the interests of an actor client was the beginning and the end of the conversation. I observed this up close when Ed made what would be his last film deal for Denzel Washington, to star in the 20th Century Fox drama Unstoppable. The back and forth between Ed and the studio was so rough that he ended negotiations. He confirmed my inquiry that it was over, and let me know that Washington would look for another movie to fill that slot. Rarely are agents so candid, but Ed was worked up. Fox and everyone associated with Unstoppable were angry about my article. They felt I imperiled a good film, and that I allowed myself to be manipulated to sway a negotiation. After all, Limato’s savvy new WME colleagues would certainly smooth things over. I liked the story because it illuminated what was happening all over town: studios responding to a flattening DVD market by trying to get stars and their reps to swallow pay cuts and downgrade gross dollar to break-even backends. Limato was having none of it — not when Fox asked Washington to take a $6 million pay cut to keep the Unstoppable budget under $100 million.
This was serious business to Limato and Washington, who watched other actors scale pass him by appearing in unabashedly commercial tentpoles. When Washington finally earned his way into the $20 million club by merit of a long resume of great performances in edgy dramas that rarely lost money, it was a proud milestone for agent and actor (even if the milestone was reached on the MGM drama Out of Time). Ed wasn’t giving back that hard-won ground without a fight.
I’m told that the vitriol between Limato and Fox creative and business affairs executives was brass-knuckle all the way, and I’ll bet Ed loved it. Finally, when it appeared that Unstoppable would derail, director Tony Scott (who’d also taken a big pay cut) appealed personally to Washington and they started to find common ground. I’ve heard Washington’s payday fell between his quote and Fox’s original offer, but you rarely hear about agents going that hard at studios these days.
The other thing that struck me about Ed was how much his actor clients heeded his advice, even when the opinion could backfire. Both Washington (for Philadelphia) and Richard Gere (for Chicago) had real shots at winning Oscars, if they allowed themselves to be submitted in the Supporting Actor category. Limato was steadfast: Washington and Gere were movie stars, not supporting actors, and that was that. Neither got nominated. Would either have won? Maybe, but I admired Limato for placing star stature above a statuette and for saying what he thought, and not what he thought a client wanted to hear.