Agents and managers are only as powerful as their clients — and the women listed here pack A-list rosters that draw billions in revenue.
This year the first African-American agent to lead a talent department at a major agency steered Regina King to her first Emmy win (for ABC's American Crime) and to her acclaimed turn in the second season of HBO's The Leftovers. (She also helped the burgeoning director land episodic gigs on Scandal and new Shondaland series The Catch.) Other recent highlights include continuing Michael Keaton's hot streak with Spotlight, placing Rodrigo Santoro in five movies (including Jane Got a Gun and Paramount's Ben-Hur remake) and a TV series (HBO's Westworld) and signing breakout Shameik Moore, star of Sundance darling Dope and next up in Netflix's Baz Luhrmann drama The Get Down. Other key clients: Zoe Saldana, Empire's Trai Byers, Scott Foley, Linda Cardellini and Alexandra Shipp (Straight Outta Compton, X-Men: Apocalypse).
WHAT I WISH I KNEW WHEN I FIRST STARTED IN HOLLYWOOD "Don't sweat the small stuff."
MOST HOLLYWOOD THING ABOUT MY LIFE "My BMW M6."
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "I love punk rock music."
GO-TO LUNCH SPOT "Peninsula rooftop."
HOW I SAVE TIME "Who knows how to save time? Please introduce me to them."
THE ACTOR I'D CAST TO PLAY ME IN MY BIOPIC "Oprah."
I'M STILL STARSTRUCK BY "The Obamas."
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD "Being invisible, of course."
MY QUIRKIEST HABIT "My obsessive-compulsive relationship with gum."
THE HOLLYWOOD CAREER I COVET Shonda Rhimes
FAVORITE TV SHOW (THAT I'M NOT INVOLVED WITH) Love and Hip Hop in Hollywood
INDUSTRY PET PEEVE "Vagueness."
AS A WOMAN IN THIS BUSINESS, I'M STILL SURPRISED WHEN … "We don't support each other."
Bohan again has several clients in the awards conversation, including Rooney Mara (Carol), Robert Redford (Truth) and Steve Carell, whose reinvention continues with The Big Short and two upcoming films: a Woody Allen project and Fox Searchlight's Battle of the Sexes, in which he'll star as Bobby Riggs opposite Emma Stone's Billie Jean King. Longtime client Tina Fey earned a handful of Emmy nominations this year alone (for Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the Golden Globes and Saturday Night Live's 40th anniversary special), while Maggie Gyllenhaal received her first TV accolades (for the Sundance TV limited series The Honorable Woman).
MY FIRST JOB IN HOLLYWOOD "Assistant to John Kimble at Triad Artists."
GO-TO LUNCH SPOT "My desk."
HOW I SAVE TIME "Starting my day early after dropping off my kids, and working through lunch."
FAVORITE TV SHOW (THAT I'M NOT INVOLVED WITH) 60 Minutes
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "I taught the hustle to the neighborhood kids in middle school."
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD "Getting my three children to listen to me!"
MY QUIRKIEST HABIT "Exactly eight shakes of vanilla powder in my Starbucks drip coffee."
THE HOLLYWOOD CAREER I COVET "I'm living it now."
INDUSTRY PET PEEVE "People who assume that emailing you has the same level of importance as picking up the phone and calling. Now that we all send and receive hundreds of emails a day, taking the time to make a phone call is more important and more powerful than ever."
AS A WOMAN IN THIS BUSINESS, I'M STILL SURPRISED WHEN … "Men ask me, 'How do you do it?' given that many men juggle work and family but are never asked the same question. As any woman in this industry can tell you, we've come a long way and we have a long way to go."
In addition to giving birth to her first child in November, Dakhil's 2015 highlights include adding Ava DuVernay to her roster, steering Denis Villeneuve from Sicario to Story of Your Life (with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner) to the Blade Runner sequel and negotiating multiple deals for Reese Witherspoon's Pacific Standard banner. She helped Natalie Portman make her passion project and feature directorial debut, A Tale of Love and Darkness, and kept up with Tom Cruise, who is shooting Doug Liman's Mena in between duties on the Mission: Impossible franchise. Dakhil is bringing Steve McQueen to TV via his upcoming HBO drama (he's also co-writing the feature Widows with Gillian Flynn) and landed director Juan Antonio Bayona the high-profile World War Z sequel.
MY FIRST JOB IN HOLLYWOOD "Internship at Cannes Film Festival's American Pavilion."
HOW I SAVE TIME "I change clothes at traffic lights."
I'M STILL STARSTRUCK BY Judge Judy
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD "Time travel."
MY QUIRKIEST HABIT "Eight cups of green tea before lunch."
INDUSTRY PET PEEVE "Leaving word."
AS A WOMAN IN THIS BUSINESS, I'M STILL SURPRISED WHEN … "I see women underrepresented in all areas of our business."
Darmody took client Chris Pratt from goofball supporting roles on TV (Andy on NBC's Parks and Recreation) to A-list film star, with back-to-back blockbusters Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. In September, she made a head-turning leap of her own when she and colleague Christie Smith broke from their longtime home, Mosaic, to launch Rise. Clients like Will Forte, Andy Samberg's Lonely Island trio, Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher, Adam Scott and Pratt followed.
MOST HOLLYWOOD THING ABOUT MY LIFE "That I'm married to an agent."
WHAT I WISH I KNEW WHEN I FIRST STARTED IN HOLLYWOOD "To hold on to my Thomas Guide … that it would become a relic someday and I'd look back on it favorably."
She vacations with Judge Judy; she's a top-class poker player; she cracks ribald jokes about what might happen if she ever got together with 6-foot-9 Magic Johnson (she's 4-foot-10). Oh, and she has one of the best client rosters in town, including Michael Keaton, Spike Lee, James Spader, Laura Linney and Edie Falco. "She's the most determined person you've met in your life," says Michael Caine. Adds Samuel L. Jackson: "A lot of her friends have become my friends; she knows everyone." Here's what else Howard knows, in her own words:
I'm 71, and I embrace my age. Years ago, everything was, "Oh, they're young and hot." But they can be young and cold, too. I know so much more now than I did 20 years ago.
I grew up in the slums of Beverly Hills. My parents weren't in the business, but their friends were. My mother had a lot of drive. In her 60s, she opened a store in Beverly Hills and she had all of the designers coming to her and all the Reagan kitchen-cabinet wives. But in those days, women weren't obsessed with working. They wanted to get married. I wanted to get married, too, but no one was marrying me that fast — I didn't meet my husband [producer David Yarnell] till I was in my 40s — so I ended up falling into a career.
My first real job in the business was for my sister's then-father-in-law, [producer] Harold Mirisch. I was the second secretary. It was a great job, and I was a fantastic secretary, though I used to say things like, "I'll be back in five seconds," then I'd go on Billy Wilder's set for two hours. This is a terrible story, but I was in the elevator the day Kennedy was assassinated. I was with some agents, and they said, "The president has been shot." I said, "Oh, is that a good script?"
The person I learned the most from was [agent] Freddie Fields when I worked as a secretary at CMA from 1968 to '74. He represented Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. Every day I would show him the list of clients he'd talked to, and he would say, "Oh, I haven't talked to Faye Dunaway in four days." I learned to talk to clients even if you have nothing important to say to them.
I spent seven years as a casting director, and one day David Geffen and Stan Kamen of the William Morris Agency called and said, "You should be an agent." I was working for Lynn Stalmaster, who was the premier casting director, and so I said to Lynn, "I'm going to leave unless you make me a better offer." He said, "My business manager is going to make you an offer you'll be happy with." So the business manager calls and says, "We're now going to reimburse you for gas." I said, "That is not a great counter," and I left.
I was 40 years old when I went to William Morris, and in February, it will be 25 years since I came to ICM. When I was a casting director, all I thought agents did was give incorrect client availabilities — but in the last 31 years, I've realized how creative agents can be. You talk to the casting director, you talk to the director, the head of marketing, the DVD guy. I'll say, "Why not change the part from being a man to being a woman?"
To be a great agent, you have to have a passion for your clients. I'm not thinking of retiring. I'm just starting my third act.
Her roster reads like a comedy hot list: Amy Poehler, Jack Black, Will Arnett, Fred Armisen and Jonah Hill, to name a few. But it's really the year of Aziz Ansari, who jumped from Parks and Recreation to Netflix's Master of None, which debuted to critical raves. Also credit Jackson with putting Ellie Kemper back on the map with her starring role in Tina Fey-created comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and helping supermodel Cara Delevingne transition from the runway to the screen with Paper Towns and the highly anticipated Suicide Squad.
HOW I SAVE TIME "Postmates, Uber, Instacart, Waze, TheRealReal, TaskRabbit."
ACTOR I'D CAST TO PLAY ME IN MY BIOPIC "Amy Schumer, but I would strongly urge her to pass on the role."
AS A WOMAN IN THIS BUSINESS, I'M STILL SURPRISED WHEN … "I recently went on a set visit where they assumed my male assistant was my boss."
I'M STILL STARSTRUCK BY Hillary Clinton.
INDUSTRY PET PEEVE "Shocking revelation: I really, really hate when people pass on a project or person that I love."
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "My go-to place to celebrate both good and bad news is Long John Silver’s."
Straight Outta Compton still is paying dividends as Jacobs lines up client Ice Cube's next projects, including starring roles in Ride Along 2 and a UTA-packaged Ebenezer Scrooge tale set up at Universal. She closed deals for Johnny Depp (getting Oscar buzz for Black Mass) to return for Pirates of the Caribbean and Alice in Wonderland sequels. And she helped turn Depp's daughter Lily Rose into a rising star (Planetarium with Natalie Portman), Black Mass co-star Benedict Cumberbatch into a Marvel superhero (Doctor Strange) and Kristen Wiig into a Ghostbuster.
MY FIRST JOB IN HOLLYWOOD "I was a children's agent."
GO-TO LUNCH SPOT Clementine
HOW I SAVE TIME "I'm to-the-point."
INDUSTRY PET PEEVE "Phoniness."
HOLLYWOOD HAS BECOME … "Harder but more interesting."
AS A WOMAN IN THIS BUSINESS, I'M STILL SURPRISED WHEN … "This question gets asked."
Her clients Portia de Rossi (Scandal) and first-time Emmy nominee Niecy Nash saw their stars rise. Josephson negotiated overall deals for writer-producers Greg Malins (How I Met Your Mother) and Elwood Reid (The Bridge), both at 20th TV, and David Hudgins (NBC's upcoming Game of Silence) at Sony. And Waiting to Exhale author Terry McMillan and Limitless' Hill Harper joined her roster.
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "I was offered a job as a DJ at a progressive rock radio station right out of college. I went to law school instead."
MY FIRST JOB IN HOLLYWOOD "I started in business affairs at ICM."
MOST HOLLYWOOD THING ABOUT MY LIFE "I seem to spend a lot of time at hair salons …"
GO-TO LUNCH SPOT "The Grill or WME's restaurant, Jack & Ben's."
ACTOR I'D CAST TO PLAY ME IN MY BIOPIC "There is actually an actress named Andrea Rosen who is playing a character named Eileen Jaffee in the Showtime show Episodes created by my clients, Jeffrey Klarik and David Crane, who more closely resembles me that I would like to admit."
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD "Elasticity and multitasking speed like Elastigirl in The Incredibles."
FAVORITE TV SHOW (THAT I'M NOT INVOLVED WITH) Bloodline
Pett, a mother of two and owner of six rescue dogs, continues to shepherd Brad Pitt's career, helping him and Plan B set up his next starring vehicle, War Machine, at Netflix. She works with Kyle Chandler (Bloodline) and helped Charlie Hunnam transition from TV's Sons of Anarchy to Guy Ritchie's Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur. Keshishian, also a mother of two, has seen Paul Rudd become Ant-Man (a sequel currently is in the works) and Mark Ruffalo star in Spotlight.
MY FIRST JOB IN HOLLYWOOD
Keshishian: "Casting assistant to Juliet Taylor on Husbands and Wives."
Pett: "Receptionist at PMK. I fell in love with the energy of the business, the people and the creativity."
WHAT I WISH I KNEW WHEN I FIRST STARTED IN HOLLYWOOD Pett: "Don't sweat the small stuff and don't let people intimidate you."
ACTOR I'D CAST TO PLAY ME IN MY BIOPIC Keshishian: Marisa Tomei
AS A WOMAN IN THIS BUSINESS, I'M STILL SURPRISED WHEN … Pett: "People think succeeding as a mom in Hollywood is difficult."
THE HOLLYWOOD CAREER I COVET Keshishian: Ron Meyer
Klein helped package the Ashton Kutcher Netflix series The Ranch for client Don Reo. Her department set up 12 series at 11 networks and streaming services in 2015, including Stephen King's 11/22/63 (produced by J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot) at Hulu and Michelle and Robert King's BrainDead at CBS. Other clients include Marc Cherry (Devious Maids) and Shane Brennan (NCIS: L.A.). With Klein, a native Angeleno and mother of two adult children, at the helm, Paradigm has received more than 50 pilot script commitments this season.
MY FIRST JOB IN HOLLYWOOD "Part-time receptionist at Tandem Productions in the '80s, which was run Alan Horn, Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin."
WHAT I WISH I KNEW WHEN I FIRST STARTED IN HOLLYWOOD "That I could have gone to law school. I thought I couldn't pull it off [as an agent and young mother], but I wish I would have known I could have accomplished it."
THE MOST HOLLYWOOD THING ABOUT MY LIFE "The assortment of assistants who help me with gift-buying, party planning, menu ordering."
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "I'm mad about sports, especially football and basketball. I would have loved to have been a sports agent. Favorite teams are the Bears, the Clippers and the Patriots. I would have loved to have been a sports agent. I will travel to games."
GO-TO LUNCH SPOT "The Grill in the Alley."
HOW I SAVE TIME "Doing four or five things at once."
I'M STILL STARSTRUCK BY Hillary Clinton and Sherry Lansing
MY QUIRKIEST HABIT "I write down things at 2 and 3 in the morning on little yellow Post-its that are all over my bathroom and my desk."
THE HOLLYWOOD CAREER I COVET "They're retired, but Nina Tassler and Sherry Lansing. They operated with a level of elegance that you don't often see."
FAVORITE TV SHOW (THAT I'M NOT INVOLVED WITH) The Voice
INDUSTRY PET PEEVE "Not returning phone calls in a timely fashion."
HOLLYWOOD HAS BECOME … "Crowded."
AS A WOMAN IN THIS BUSINESS, I'M STILL SURPRISED WHEN … "There are considerably more male agents than female agents inside agencies."
Longtime client Seth Rogen landed the part of Steve Wozniak in the Aaron Sorkin-penned Steve Jobs, secured a sequel to his 2014 box-office hit Neighbors ($270.6 million worldwide), whipped out Christmas buddy comedy The Night Before and, with Evan Goldberg, sold TV pilots Preacher and Future Man to AMC and Hulu, respectively. Client Paul Rudd made his superhero debut in Ant-Man, which has grossed more than $500 million worldwide. On the TV side, Kohan orchestrated Transparent creator Jill Soloway's overall deal with Amazon.
WHAT I WISH I KNEW WHEN I FIRST STARTED IN HOLLYWOOD "You don't have to wear high heels."
INDUSTRY PET PEEVE "Lunch."
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "I can shoot a .30-06."
GO-TO LUNCH SPOT "Porta Via."
HOW I SAVE TIME "By getting six hours of sleep."
FAVORITE TV SHOW (THAT I'M NOT INVOLVED WITH) Nathan For You.
MY QUIRKIEST HABIT "I'm addicted to doing laundry."
THE HOLLYWOOD CAREER I COVET North West.
Queally's roster of A-list actresses includes Cate Blanchett (Carol and Truth), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs), Jessica Chastain (The Martian), Marion Cotillard (Macbeth, Assassin's Creed) and Lupita Nyong'o (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Disney's The Jungle Book). Queally this year landed Daisy Ridley, Star Wars' previously unknown lead. She also arranged Andy Serkis' directorial debut (Warner Bros.' Jungle Book: Origins) and negotiated roles in The Danish Girl for both Ben Whishaw and Matthias Schoenaerts.
FIRST JOB IN HOLLYWOOD "Assistant to Nicole David, who was then a partner at Triad Artists."
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "I love MasterChef and The Voice."
GO-TO LUNCH SPOT "Peninsula rooftop."
I'M STILL STARSTRUCK BY Joan Jett
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD "Time travel."
FAVORITE TV SHOW (THAT I'M NOT INVOLVED WITH) MasterChef
INDUSTRY PET PEEVE "Rudeness."
AS A WOMAN IN THIS BUSINESS, I'M STILL SURPRISED WHEN … "People ask what men are better at!"
Indie-film doyenne Ronson worked with Noah Baumbach on Mistress America, sold to Fox Searchlight ahead of its Sundance debut; she brought in the financing for Marielle Heller's The Diary of a Teenage Girl and then sold it to Sony Pictures Classics; and she helped package Don Cheadle's Miles Ahead, which also went to SPC after Toronto. She helped put together a unique financing deal for Emma Donoghue for her best-selling novel Room, allowing her to adapt her own screenplay.
WHAT I WISH I KNEW WHEN I FIRST STARTED IN HOLLYWOOD "It doesn't matter if they like you."
MOST HOLLYWOOD THING ABOUT MY LIFE "Taking my daughter to premieres."
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "I was a singer-songwriter in NYC."
THE HOLLYWOOD CAREER I COVET "Sherry Lansing's path."
Arguably no TV agent had as big a win in 2015 as Rosenfeld with the juggernaut Empire, which she helped put together (she introduced creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong to eventual executive producer Brian Grazer). "As an agent, your job is to advocate for your artists' vision, and in this show, their vision really came through," she says. CAA's highest-ranking female TV agent, whose other key clients include Graham Yost (Justified, The Americans) and Dave Erickson (Fear the Walking Dead), adds that she is thrilled by the renewed conversation in Hollywood about women's issues. "My biggest area of responsibility is in mentoring young women," says Rosenfeld, who lives in the Pacific Palisades with husband Michael Rosenfeld, a fellow CAA TV agent, and their two sons. "It's important that I foster an environment where they can look around and go, 'Oh, I could be that one day.'"
MY FIRST JOB IN HOLLYWOOD TV lit assistant at CAA
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "As a military brat, I spent a year of my childhood in Korea."
GO-TO LUNCH SPOT Bouchon, or Fred's at Barneys
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD "Invisibility."
MY QUIRKIEST HABIT "Saying 'groovy.'"
THE HOLLYWOOD CAREER I COVET "Ruth Bader Ginsburg — not really a Hollywood person, but they're making a movie about her."
FAVORITE TV SHOW (THAT I'M NOT INVOLVED WITH) Friday Night Lights
HOLLYWOOD HAS BECOME … "Even more diverse and interesting than when I started."
Few agents were named more frequently than Siebert during the 2015 Emmys, where both Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent) and Allison Janney (Mom) thanked her from the podium. The Gersh lifer also put Kyle Chandler on Netflix's Bloodline, which earned him another Emmy nom, Catherine Keener on HBO's Show Me a Hero and David Schwimmer on FX's American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.
ACTOR I'D CAST TO PLAY ME IN MY BIOPIC Madonna
Swofford reps the town's most in-demand directors: Some helm billionaire dollar franchises: J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: Episode VII), Sam Mendes (Spectre), Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2) and David Yates (Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Tarzan). Others dominate awards season: Alejandro G. Inarritu (Birdman, The Revenant), Richard Linklater (Boyhood) and Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave). She also counts among her clients stars including Sandra Bullock (whose Our Brand Is Crisis was a rare miss).
MY QUIRKIEST HABIT "Never unpacking completely. I save time by keeping some things perpetually in my suitcases between trips."
WHAT I WISH I KNEW WHEN I FIRST STARTED IN HOLLYWOOD "That I did not need to try to be like everyone else."
MOST HOLLYWOOD THING ABOUT MY LIFE "The hundreds of daily emails."
WHAT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW ABOUT ME "That I can do a pretty good Stevie Nicks or Norah Jones imitation, depending on the song."
GO-TO LUNCH SPOT ABC Kitchen
ACTOR I'D CAST TO PLAY ME IN MY BIOPIC "If I could go back in time, Barbara Stanwyck or Vivien Leigh (a girl can dream)."
SUPERPOWER I WISH I HAD "Human teleportation."
INDUSTRY PET PEEVE "People who spend more time pitching me a story than it would take me to read the whole script myself."
AS A WOMAN IN THIS BUSINESS, I'M STILL SURPRISED WHEN … "People say things like, 'I thought you would be so much older,' or, "You're so much more fun in person.'"