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Zooey Deschanel hasn’t exactly impressed a judge with reasons why she failed to achieve certain career goals at the zenith of her popularity due to the success of Fox comedy The New Girl.
The actress is being sued by Seven Summits Pictures & Management over a failure to pay full commissions on New Girl as well as a claimed cut for the $30 million sale of entertainment website Hello Giggles.
In reaction, Deschanel filed a counterclaim against her ex-manager. It’s not often that a top star in entertainment sues a representative for breach of fiduciary duty. This one covers allegations that Seven Summits’ Sarah Jackson did Deschanel wrong by advising her to leave CAA for UTA, for barging into Deschanel’s dressing room with two strangers, for seeking producer credits for projects including a Loretta Lynn documentary, and finally, for allegedly manipulating her relationship with talent agents in an attempt to attract other star clients.
The case is scheduled to go to trial on March 27, but whether Deschanel will be able to assert the fiduciary duty counterclaim appears doubtful. That’s because Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Raphael doesn’t buy the argument she was really harmed by Jackson’s actions.
On Friday, Raphael held a court hearing on a motion for summary adjudication related to the counterclaim. In advance, the judge distributed a tentative ruling, which hasn’t yet been adopted.
Deschanel’s move from CAA to UTA in 2013 gets the most attention in the tentative ruling. To begin, the judge notes that both CAA and UTA are “A level” agencies.
Notwithstanding this, the actress alleged that after she was pushed to switch agencies, UTA failed to secure her suitable acting opportunities.
The judge points to correspondence that indicated Deschanel was in fact offered several acting roles during the 2013 hiatus of New Girl.
Deschanel, though, wanted something in particular. She wrote Jackson, “This hiatus — I really just want to play a very interesting small character role in a movie. That’s my only goal acting wise. [C]an we make this happen? I am worried that it will close in and I won’t have this one thing I want to do and considering the fact that a she & him tour is shaping up now, I am more concerned than ever that I don’t have something interesting to do.”
She & Him refers to the popular indie rock duo comprising her and fellow musician M. Ward.
“The import of this email is multifaceted,” writes Raphael. “First, it establishes that Deschanel’s criteria for ‘suitable’ roles were extremely narrow. Second, it establishes that Deschanel herself was then setting dates for or at least involved in scheduling the tour. Third, it establishes that Deschanel herself recognized that her own availability was limited by a music tour that was then ‘shaping up’ and that the tour would conflict with acting opportunities.”
Raphael then moves to consideration of whether she actually could have obtained employment. The judge nods to how one UTA agent called her tour schedule a “hiatus killer” as evidence of why an acting job was merely speculative.
Nevertheless, director and producer Ted Melfi in early 2013 wrote in an email that he was a “huge fan” of Deschanel’s and thought about her for a role. Melfi directed the comedy St. Vincent around that time. He would later direct the Oscar-nominated drama Hidden Figures.
“I have to run her up the Harvey flagpole… see what he thinks,” wrote Melfi in one message, referring to Harvey Weinstein.
In another email, Melfi stated that Deschanel “said that this was the first script she’s received from UTA since she left the ‘alien spaceship place,'” a reference to Deschanel’s time at CAA, whose Century City headquarters is jocularly referred to as the “Death Star.” “She’s very excited after she read the St. Vin [script] to know she made the right choice.”
But Deschanel wasn’t cast. St. Vincent, a Weinstein Co. picture, would star Naomi Watts in a supporting role alongside Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy.
The judge further discusses Deschanel’s concerns about her busy schedule before addressing that need to secure Harvey Weinstein’s blessing, a potentially explosive topic given allegations elsewhere of sexual misconduct against the movie mogul. The judge writes, “It also shows that factors outside of her, UTA, and cross-defendants’ control played a role, particularly, the unexplained absence of Weinstein’s approval.”
It’s also noted by the judge that after Deschanel returned to CAA, she then again moved to UTA in 2015 to follow her agent who himself defected as part of an infamous “midnight raid.”
“The combination of Deschanel’s returning to UTA … plus her complimentary statements about UTA [see “alien spaceship” above] support the notion that there was no defect in UTA’s representation,” writes the judge.
And how about the barging-in of Jackson and supposedly drunk strangers to Deschanel’s dressing room?
The judge waves it off by writing, “Deschanel does not claim resulting financial loss or lost entertainment job opportunities. Instead, in opposition, she asserts that the incident caused a violation of her privacy rights, embarrassment, and humiliation. But Deschanel affirmatively disclaims emotional distress damages. A cause of action for invasion of privacy is distinct from breach of fiduciary duty; these are two different rights, and Deschanel does not assert the former. Additionally, Deschanel does not state that she was in a state of undress or that Jackson refused to leave. Here, the undisputed record establishes that the incident was so minimal as not to be actionable.”
Raphael also didn’t buy how Jackson receiving compensation for the Loretta Lynn project or allegedly manipulating relationships with agents caused Deschanel injury. But during the hearing, the judge did express the need to address Deschanel’s point that the fiduciary duty claim was also directed at explaining why the manager should be disgorged of commissions. A final decision should be coming soon with Deschanel’s attorney Marty Singer and Seven Summits’ Kenneth Freundlich now preparing to fight a manager’s lawsuit against Deschanel before a jury next month.
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