It’s dusk in Big Timber, Montana. Talent manager Diane Kamp, queen of the arcane market of dialect coaches for movies and television, is walking through boot-high prairie grass and explaining how, exactly, it came to be that she works for Hollywood but lives on a 1,700-acre cattle ranch with her taciturn fifth-generation-cowboy husband.
It all started in 1991, Kamp recalls, when she was stationed in Los Angeles as an agent at Triad Artists (later bought by William Morris), representing Emma Thompson, Alan Arkin and Stanley Tucci, not to mention the industry’s “grand pooh-bah” of dialect coaches, Tim Monich. That summer Kamp and a colleague went to Montana to visit Monich on the set of Far and Away as well as Carla Meyer, another Triad dialect coach, on the nearby set of A River Runs Through It.
“We stayed at a little dude ranch,” says Kamp, 60, a former actress and theater director whose early stage training enabled her to scrub the nasal Midwestern accent (“like Hillary Clinton’s”) from her voice but never smoothed the urban edge from her fast, almost relentless speech. “They didn’t have a liquor license, and we asked the lady who ran it if there was anywhere to get a beer. She said the Road Kill Café was the place.”
There, at a bar beneath a mounted elk head, Kamp met Mike Clayton, who is now ambling alongside her on their ranch—the very property where he was raised—his windburned face aglow with the flamboyant sunset over the Crazy Mountains to the north. (“Named after a woman,” he notes with humor as dry as seasoned firewood.) They got to know each other over a game of pool. She moved in nine months later.
Ever since, Kamp has conducted her business from a 100-year-old ranch house in a county (population 3,800) 600 square miles larger than Rhode Island, but she’s nevertheless at the dead center of the film industry’s vital—if largely invisible—world of below-the-line technical talent. When Australian Nicole Kidman needed to sound like a Charlestonian aristocrat in Cold Mountain and an all-American weathergirl in To Die For, when Josh Brolin wanted to adopt George W. Bush’s Texas patois in Oliver Stone’s W., and when Paul Giamatti sought the right voice for a Colonial patriot with ancestral roots in Anglia for HBO’s Emmy-sweeping miniseries John Adams, Kamp’s phone at Big Timber Management rang. Her 18 clients may not get thanked at the Oscars, but they have been behind the trophy-winning performances of Frances McDormand (in Fargo, the masterpiece of dialect films), Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men), Russell Crowe (Gladiator) and Charlize Theron (Monster).
“She has a total monopoly,” says industry veteran John Lyons, president of production for Focus Features. “Before her, the dialect coach hadn’t become a star accessory; it was very unusual for an actor to say, ‘And I need a dialect coach.’ Diane was the first to identify a niche and make it into a business. Over the years she’s accumulated more and more coaches, and now she’s the one-stop shopping.”