‘It’s a lawless place’: working in the real life Ten Percent

Ten Percent, the English language remake of French smash hit Call My Agent!, premiered on Prime Video this week after months of anticipation.

Taking its cue from the original, it’s full of storylines about agents dealing with needy, fragile and often narcissistic clients, as well as cameos from the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, Dominic West, Himesh Patel and David Harewood. Though much of the plot remains the same, the quirky French mannerisms are replaced with a stuffy British way of doing things. “If Ten Percent seems, on occasion, too deferential to the showbiz world, this is its luvviest concession,” a Guardian review said.

But the show stays true to what made Call My Agent so successful – the depiction of that unique relationship between agent and client. We see the agents treading the fine line with the stars, sometimes having to lie or massage their egos to persuade them into deals – and sometimes out of them. Whether it’s talking them through a facelift or giving relationship advice, they’re invariably drawn into their clients’ personal lives.

Related: ‘We’re not as cool as the French – it’s more bumbling’: Lydia Leonard on remaking Call My Agent!

On top of that, they have to compete with each other for the most lucrative contracts and the most sought-after clients, turning the office into a sink-or-swim environment full of backstabbing, corporate incompetence and misjudged love affairs.

So is it really true to life? We asked a former agent’s assistant and talent manager at a British talent agency what it’s really like to be an agent to the stars.

Everyone in my office who I spoke to and agents that I admired and got on with who watched the show found it very funny and related to it a lot.

The themes of it are very on point. The show captured the sense of what those relationships between agent and client are like and how toxic they can become because of the lack of regulation, the power dynamics and the strange egos that coexist within our strange world of celebrity.

High-profile clients exist in an ecosystem where no one ever tells them they’re wrong. When an actor, director or writer is at the early stages of their career they need the agent. But as soon as they get to earning-money level, whether that’s Hollywood or just British TV, you often don’t have contracts with them. You essentially just have an unwritten agreement that you’re working together. So at any time they can leave.

Some of the clients we were working with would be worth £400,000 a year in commission to the company, maybe more. If they walk out, that’s a catastrophic loss to your business. There’s a huge culture of just going: ‘Oh yeah, absolutely, you are just amazing’ at all times. It becomes a juggling act. Rather than telling people what they need to hear, agents are just afraid of them leaving.

On the team I was on, a third of our clients – around 10 to 20 – were offer only. That means they would never audition, they would only get offers. It’s Hollywood level. Not only does that client’s team and everyone around them constantly protect them and fight their side no matter what, but everyone on set treats them like a god. And then every time they go into the street as a recognisable face, people run up to them as if they’re a god too. So they have this kind of distorted reality. They’re removed from what it means to exist in our society.

A lot of them could be very charming, but then you’d see how they interact with a waiter or a secretary, and you realise they don’t know how to talk to normal people because of their inflated sense of self.

One of the things that that’s quite interesting is the degree of anxiety, that expectations versus happiness thing. A lot of the stars aren’t actually that happy. They’re constantly comparing themselves to each other. Why did they get that big role? Why is he better than me? It’s a real seesaw of emotion with some of them, particularly the ones that aren’t very prudent with money, which actually is quite a few of them. They need that reassurance and support and can often be quite childlike or childish in how they’ll respond to any form of rejection.

There’s no regulation in the industry. My agency was big enough that they were close to having formalised processes and HR, but even then it was a lawless place with regards to how people spoke to each other. It would probably be considered illegal. Some messages from clients made you shake your head.

In America, it’s ramped up even more. Every time a film comes in, it was ‘the most amazing script I’ve ever read’, ‘the most amazing actor who’s ever lived’. That was the narrative the American agents peddled to all the clients, which was quite insufferable.

Competition between agents at my agency wasn’t that bad, but it can definitely be the case. Two agents can end up meeting the same client. You can agree to meet them together, but I imagine at the biggest agencies, where they don’t all know each other, there’s more of that.