Menage A Trois: Reese, Endeavor, & CAA

I’m told it was “a bolt out of the blue” when Endeavor first received word Sunday that Reese Witherspoon, in my opinion the most bankable actress working today, was jumping to CAA after just a year. “It’s a loss. She’s a big movie star who sells tickets. There’s no spin on that,” a source told me. But you may be surprised by the history behind this, which I’ve been following for some time. Reese’s longtime agent had been Steve Dontanville (and she’d left him briefly at ICM to go to CAA and come back). Then she followed him from ICM to William Morris when he made that move. When Dontanville retired in April 2005, she was parked for awhile at her management company, Management 360, which eventually arranged for meetings between the actress and Hollywood’s top agencies. There was a feeding frenzy for her: she was probably that year’s biggest free agent since she was a $15 mil-$20 mil player. Eventually, it came down to Endeavor and CAA. At CAA, Bryan Lourd led his agents’ presentation which emphasized how dominant the agency was on the Hollywood landscape. Endeavor talked with her about an overall business plan that took her beyond just being an actress for hire. At the time, I’m told, Endeavor addressed her concerns that Legally Blonde was being turned into a Broadway musical (“Going Blonde” which opens April 29th) based on her character Elle Woods; they told her what she could do in the future to “own” her characters or at least make money on them across different platforms of production. Based on that, she decided that Endeavor’s meeting was better than CAA’s, so she chose Endeavor in January 2006. Immediately after her decision, I’m told that Lourd leaned on Management 360’s co-founder Evelyn O’Neill, giving her one of those Ovitz-ian “this is really going to affect our relationship on a long-term basis” speeches known for their unpleasantness. “There’s no doubt it was a veiled threat,” an insider told me. So what happened in a scant year? As Variety reported today, Endeavor booked her into Rendition, the Gavin Hood-directed New Line drama that also stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Meryl Streep. And Endeavor also brokered her deal to produce and star in Bunny Lake Is Missing, a Sony/Spyglass pic that will be directed by Joe Carnahan. But I’m told one explanation for her leaving is her recent split from husband Ryan Philippe. “Going through a divorce causes people to do a re-examination,” a source posited. But, also, I understand that Dontanville is coming back into the biz — probably as a manager. (Supposedly, he’s hiring back his former WMA assistant.) “According to what I heard this morning,” a source told me, “Management 360 may have panicked about losing Reese and wanted some CAA muscle.”

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