“You know those overnight-success stories you’ve heard about? ... Dig deeper and you’ll usually find people who have busted their asses for years to get into a position where things could take off.”
– Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, 2010
There’s a certain lore when it comes to the idea of celebrity in Hollywood. The concept of the overnight success, generally an unknown, fresh-faced young talent that seems to come out of nowhere to land a coveted blockbuster role is one with which audiences have long been enamored. But what the public sees from the outside is actually the result of years of work by the well-oiled machine that makes a star shine in Hollywood. From stylists to handlers, a star’s outward persona and career are managed on a scale that one actor or actress simply couldn’t handle by themselves. That, of course, is where talent management comes in.
Joanne Horowitz is a walking firecracker who practically defined the 70s for celebrity royalty due to her promotional work for the iconic Studio 54 in New York City. Horowitz went from being a secretary at Universal to one of the most well-known talent managers in the business. She is so well-known and respected, with such an expansive body of work, that she recently recieved the Pat McQueeney award for her excellent, decades-long career in the industry.
With clients from veteran actor Kevin Spacey, who has been with Horowitz for years, to blossoming talent like The Longest Ride’s Scott Eastwood, it’s been a long and storied career that started off with a small spark.
I started off working at Studio 54 in publicity. I did all of their parties, and I met Kevin at that time. And then one day, I just decided that — I would see Paul Newman, or big acting careers like that, and it was all about the manager. And I thought, that would be more fun, to take someone from scratch and really mold them and make them a star — and you know, the sky’s the limit. So Kevin was my first client.
Naturally, I had to pick her brain to get some real insight, and learn about just how long the reality of “overnight success” can be for everyone involved. "You’ve just booked the big role for your client - what’s the first thing you do?" I asked her. "When he books it, or before he books it?" asks Horowitz. "It’s really about what happened before all that."
The path to a career-defining role will obviously vary, but it is that time when making the right moves matters most. In the case of Scott Eastwood (whose famous father could have potentially overshadowed him thanks to the iconic status the elder Eastwood holds), Horowitz opted out of easy familial promotion and "Top Celebrity Kids" columns in favor of thoughtful campaigns and a defined breakaway from Eastwood’s family tree. "It’s like the kiss of death," she explains. "You’re forcing him on people, and no one's ever seen anything from him."
Instead, Eastwood took over as the face of Hugo Boss in 2014, with Horowitz pacing his career out for almost eight years beforehand: "You need to pick that right, too. Scott’s not going to be showing up at night clubs for $25,000 dollars on my watch." This, of course, led to Eastwood’s casting in Nicholas Sparks’ The Longest Ride -- and Horowitz has him set for major blockbuster roles over the next five years. His star only continues to rise.
Detailed and constantly moving with the game, Horowitz believes in quantity over quality when it comes to clients, reflecting the practices of the legendary Pat McQueeney, namesake of the Pat McQueeney Award. "I'm a believer in not too many clients. Pat McQueeney — when I started out in this business — I idolized her. I actually tried to make my career emulate hers... She started off at a company, and at that point she had Harrison Ford, Candy Clark, in that American Graffitti age — then she went off on her own, and the only client she had was Harrison Ford," explained Horowitz. "That meant she had time to read every script for him, answer every question. So did I. For example, there’s not an e-mail that comes in to this office that’s not addressed."
Where we, as an audience, see newcomers as "unknowns", their professional relationships behind the scenes can go back for nearly a decade. Outside of the promotion and careful career planning, talent needs to be red carpet ready. Answering the media with ease, maintaining one's brand, and being able to pose for a hundred flashing cameras jockeying to get that perfect shot is an area of one's career as important to master as the acting itself. No one naturally starts out prepared to answer difficult, personal questions, deal with swarms of paparazzi, or navigate the pitfalls of social media. But these are the social skills that actors must learn in order to grow and exist in a time where almost everything they do is available to the public, and easily screen capped.
"You can’t control somebody 24/7," says Horowitz, who recently took on a few very young actors as clientele. "I do think, the trick with social media anyway, is that it should sound like it's coming from them, and they should have fun with it." Still, Horowitz warns against online flubs and oversharing. "It is a fine line, because back in the day before social media, actors were more mysterious. That's what made you want to go see them in movies."
It is this sharply focused attention to detail and patient tenacity that has helped Horowitz mold up-and-comers into on-screen legends. She hasn’t done this alone, however: along with her assistant, it is Joanne’s clientele that must learn from their manager’s guidance and take the initiative to improve themselves. The manager-talent relationship is a two-way street, and smart managers only keep working with clients that continually work to hone their craft and create opportunities. While the headlines absolutely love to detail actors who made it without ever taking an acting class, in reality, it's very rare.
Horowitz’s top client and long-time friend Kevin Spacey was no exception to this. Dedicated to the art from the beginning of high school, Spacey enrolled at Julliard at the suggestion of his former classmate, Val Kilmer. Eager to get into the action, Spacey quit two years in and joined the New York Shakespeare Festival, where his first onstage role was that of a messenger in their 1981 production of Henry VI. It would be another fourteen years of stage acting, training, and several small, yet memorable film roles before Spacey won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his breakout turn in The Usual Suspects, the role that rightly catapulted him into stardom and made him the name he is today. Fourteen years of hard work, of listening to others, of honing his craft, and every second of it paid off when Spacey took hold of his Oscar for the first time.
Horowitz still maintains only a handful of clients, sticking to her proven method of quality over quantity. If her reputation precedes her, they either were or are all long-term projects that will result in career success, just as her very first one was.
"The business has changed a bit, you know, there are a lot of things that make a movie star, but when I do pluck somebody to manage, I believe that they’re going to go the distance."