“[Varel and Grant] deal with the stars’ agents in quite a smooth way,” adds Katie Grand. “You are allowed to just do your job. There’s no drama.”
Once Varel and Grant cast the then little-known Adrien Brody in Ermenegildo Zegna’s campaign—again, with Lipman—they knew they were on the map. They booked and shot Brody two months before he won the 2002 best actor Oscar for his role in The Pianist. Not only did Zegna negotiate Brody at a lower cost than he would have drawn post-Oscar, but the overnight star’s face was soon plastered on billboards everywhere, and he wore Zegna on the red carpet and at other press events, to boot.
“Starworks recognized in advance that this was how the market was going to go. They were a couple of steps ahead,” says Devlin.
But despite the edge that comes with being the first to book a celebrity, Varel and Grant admit to one problem: Most of their clients are after the same few A-listers, including Jolie, Johansson, Thurman, Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz and Nicole Kidman.
“The hope is that we continue to produce more celebrities in order to fulfill the need in the marketplace,” says Grant.
“There are some actresses I haven’t heard of, and Starworks advises me,” says Lhuillier.
Such was the case when the company first cast Camilla Belle for an editorial shoot, a deal that was quickly followed by hiring her for Miu Miu’s 2006 spring campaign and the current Vera Wang Princess fragrance ads. “She is still emerging in the movie world, but she is really interesting to fashion brands,” explains Varel.
Still, Varel admits that most advertisers want that top tier of actresses, including the holy grail of casting, Natalie Portman. “She has turned down everything,” Varel says. “We tried to put deals together with her—and we are talking tens of millions of dollars—and it still has not worked.”
Portman aside, those fees lure many actors to sell ad space on their bodies. “Celebrities becoming part of the brand will continue,” notes Grant. “You’ll probably see a celebrity having a luxury partner, a beauty partner, a lifestyle partner and becoming a part of that business.”
Many, however, are still happy to go where the money is. Or as Varel puts it, “If stars do one deal, they don’t have to do a s---ty blockbuster.”