Cannes: Why Fortitude's Nadine de Barros Isn't Daunted by Much, Even Being Courted by the C.I.A.

Nadine de Barros

The feisty, widely respected foreign sales vet's company is also getting involved in production, including 'Barton & Charlie,' starring Emily Blunt, and 'Eleven Missing Days,' the story of when Agatha Christie disappeared in her mid-30s.

Talk about Plucky. Nadine de Barros was studying political science at The American University of Paris (she was raised in the U.S. but her father was French, so she has dual citizenship) when she was recruited to work for the CIA. She went through an accelerated interview process but ended up back in Paris working for Haim Saban’s television and film company after graduating. An identical twin, de Barros next joined Paris-based Opening Distribution, officially embarking on a career as a foreign sales agent. She moved to Los Angeles and spent seven years working side by side with Nicolas Chartier at Voltage Pictures, home of The Hurt Locker, before running sales at Aldamisa. In January 2014, she launched Fortitude International with producers Daniel Wagner and Robert Ogden Barnum.

On the eve of Cannes, the 40-year-old foreign sales veteran spoke with THR about Fortitude’s Cannes slate (expect at least two new high-profile projects) and foray into production, revealing plans for a film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and a drama about Agatha Christie’s brief disappearance in 1926 that Christine Jeffs (Sunshine Cleaning) is circling to direct. De Barros, who is now handling QED’s slate to boot, also has a message for foreign buyers: Stop being so obsessed with A-list talent and go for story.

How many films are you involved with?
The first year was really about acquisitions. We picked up international rights to James Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour, which premiered at Sundance in February, Daughter of God, starring Keanu Reeves, and The Urge with Pierce Brosnan. We have several strategic partners. Cassian Elwes is one; we did Daughter of God with him. We’re handling The Tribes of Palos Verdes for R2, Relativity’s new specialty division that is headed by Robbie Brenner, with the idea to do a bigger deal with them. This fall, we start shooting our own film, Barton & Charlie, directed by Homeland’s Rupert Friend and starring Emily Blunt.

What other in-house projects can you talk about?
We don’t want to be just a sales company and are getting involved at the script stage. We have Eleven Missing Days, the story of when Agatha Christie disappeared in her mid-30s. Unfortunately, Paramount just announced a similar movie, but we are way ahead of them and are out to cast. We’re doing a Barry Sonnenfeld film that’s a throwback to Get Shorty. He’s a fantastic guy and we love him. We also have a movie Scott Free is producing and financing, but we can’t talk about it yet.

Increasingly, foreign sales agents are having a hard time bringing bigger projects to the markets because they can’t close talent deals. Is this killing the business?
No. I recently had lunch with a buyer and he asked me if such-and-such project would be ready for Cannes. I told him, “You know what, f— you.” It doesn’t work like that anymore. If a movie is ready to go in the middle of summer, the buyers better be ready to pick up the phone and make a deal. The other thing we are doing is not casting so much according to what buyers want. I just made an offer to Jean Dujardin. He might not mean a thing to some buyers, but I don’t care. He’s the right creative choice.

Some of your colleagues are accused of saying stars are attached when they really aren’t. Last year, you sold a Nicholas Cage film, The Runner, at Cannes, where there were at least three other Cage projects being floated. Were some bogus?  
It’s my understanding that his manager sent cease and desist letters to some companies. That’s all I’ll say.

How closely involved were you with Hurt Locker?
I sold it, but it was Nic [Chartier’s] baby, being the French cinephile that he is. I went into his office and said, “While you’re off making The Hurt Locker, I want to make a Steven Seagal movie.” Two days later, he gave me a Steven Seagal movie. We made eight movies with him and two television series. Nic has made money off two things: Hurt Locker and Steven Seagal. (Laughs.)

What is the most inappropriate thing a male colleague has ever said to you?
A group of buyers asked me to be a judge in a kissing competition at dinner. When I realized they were trying to sucker me into kissing each one of them, I said, “Um, no.” But generally speaking, I don’t find much to complain about. Everyone is friends with everyone, no matter where you are from. I always wanted to work in something international because of that. I was thinking something along the lines of the U.N. during college, but then spent my whole last year being recruited by the CIA. I actually went to Langley for three weeks.

What happened?
I arrive at Langley and am wearing a very chic matching miniskirt and a jacket with faux fur. I’m smoking out front with my tall black boots and there are all these women walking out in polyester skirts from Ross Dress for Less, and I thought, “I’m not sure I’m going to fit in here.” I was fresh off the boat from Paris and it didn’t feel right. And no, I’m not a CIA agent, but I was drug-free my entire last year of university because of the interview process.