Theresa Peters is Head of Talent and a partner at United Talent in the US, having joined the agency in 2008 after 13 years at William Morris. In her early years as an agent, she was assigned the task of “covering” the UK market, keeping track of productions emanating from that territory, and establishing relationships with casting directors and producers. Consequently, her personal client list includes many British actors – notably James McAvoy, Ewan McGregor and Aaron Taylor-Johnson – and now an increasing number of Scandinavians. Theresa represents two of this year’s Shooting Stars – the UK’s George MacKay and Norway’s Jakob Oftebro – and she is coming to the Berlinale to join them for the Shooting Stars activities. On the way, she stops off in London to see George Mackay perform on stage in a new production of The Cement Garden .
Here are her words of wisdom about the increasing international scope of the film business, and new opportunities for European actors seeking to work in the US.
The new connectivity
“Ten years ago when actors were trying to break out over here, to put yourself on tape, you had to get your audition put on VHS [in the correct US format], spend $25 to get it on FedEx. It was a costly and cumbersome process. They would also once in a while come over here for a couple of weeks, and that was a big investment. The internet has allowed everyone to access anyone at any time. The director can Skype with the actor, just as if they are having a meeting down the street. It doesn’t matter where you live any more.”
The new financing
“When some of these movies are being made, it’s no longer so much the traditional studio financing, they are getting financing from all over. Sometimes they require an actor out of the UK, or with an EU passport. That’s an opportunity for an actor who isn’t based in the States or isn’t American to get a break in an American film. And the value of these films, the box-office is two thirds international and one third domestic. Casting directors are casting their net wide. Everyone’s looking at who’s coming out of RADA, who’s coming out of NIDA in Australia. Everyone’s open to just the best actor for the role. It doesn’t matter if you’re from the UK, Missouri or Denmark.”
Don’t jump on a plane!
“Any actor who stays in their community and gets access to the best stuff there, usually gets the best pop in the US. James McAvoy in The Last King Of Scotland, Michael Fassbender in Hunger, Tom Hardy in Bronson: these are the movies that gave them the pedigree and the clout over here, even though the films didn’t necessarily make any money. George MacKay, Tom Hughes, I have a handful of British actors that I think there’s no rush for them to come over here, live here for two months, do the whole rigmarole. Because I can get them access to material that’s going on here. It’s really important for these actors to establish their craft, and be respected in their communities first and foremost. Because it will translate ten times more than just coming over here and [maybe] getting lucky.”
What it takes
“To me, [a prospective new foreign client] has to be someone who is ambitious, and who’s in it for the right reasons, which is the art of it. The bigger picture is to grow, and work with some of the best people in the business. Then the rest follows. Similarly, if I sign people for the right reasons, I always have more success than just saying,, ‘Oh, I’m signing someone who’s cute and they have a shot at a pilot.’”
Agenting is a partnership
“Some US agents take on [foreign] clients, and they don’t really respect the home agent.. For me, the home agent is everything. They know their territory, they know the business in their land just as I know the business in the US. Some people would have no patience with someone who wants to grow slowly, they just want to put them in a big movie and make a lot of money. I know the right things will come at the right time. It’s important the choices that an actor makes because it lives with them forever and it definitely sets the tone.”