What It’s Really Like to Be a Celebrity Manager

In our 9–5 series, we ask boss babes what a day in their work lives entails. This week, celebrity manager Kalee Harris, who represents Jacob Tremblay, the wildly talented Canadian tyke from Room, gives us a glimpse into her daily grind

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Kalee Harris, celebrity manager at Play Management in Vancouver

Age: 30

Education: Bachelor of science in psychology, with a minor in law, from Dalhousie University

Length of time at current gig: 7 years

What do you do? A variety of things, one of which is landing jobs for my clients—whether that’s through casting directors, producers or directors—as well as negotiating the best deal possible for them. I also take care of client’s day-to-day, so we do a lot of booking travel and coordinating dates with production and publicity to make sure everything fits. This job is a lot of being on the phone.

How did you end up in this field? I was going to go to law school, but I was thinking, do I really want three more years of school? A family friend, who is in the business, talked to me and convinced me to give this a shot. So I did, and I never looked back because it’s so much fun.

What did you like about being a manager? It’s such a relationship-built business. So many of my clients, since I talk to them each day about everything, really do become like family and friends. I also grew up as an athlete, and I do get competitive when it comes to negotiations and fighting for my clients to get the role that I really believe they’re perfect for.

Does your job include any unusual tasks? We have an office policy of opening all fan mail on behalf of our clients prior to passing it on to the respective client since we often get some crazy stuff. One time, we got five huge oil paintings sent from somewhere overseas that took up our entire boardroom table. They smelled horrible and depicted our client’s face mixed in with mystical creatures and random objects like keys. Another time, we got a large package from a fan with cat photos hoping that our client would autograph them since he heard she liked cats. The photos also included 15 of his own cats in a bathtub.

What are your work hours like? My office hours are about 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but I’m connected to my phone all the time, and I’m often reading scripts in the off hours.

Do you do anything in the morning to get in the zone? I just started meditating, and I also have a big German Shepherd-Retriever that I go for walks with in the forest every morning. That gives me about an hour every day of just my own thoughts and organizing what I have to do.

What’s the first thing you do when you get to work? Get started on my 150 emails.

How do you find your clients? When I first started out, I went to a lot of kids’ acting classes and showcases. People also submit self-taped auditions or demos to our office, and I go through and find the people I think have real talent.

How can you tell if someone has talent? If an audition tape can keep my attention the whole time, it will usually lead to a meeting. In the meeting, I look to see how much charisma a person has. If I fall in love with them and time flies when we sit down together, I tend to take that as a good sign for “star quality.” Another huge factor is personality: will they shine in interviews and when on set with everyone? If the answer is yes, I definitely want to sign them.

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Harris with Jacob Tremblay and Brian Nossokoff, Tremblay’s agent, at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards this past January

Who are you representing right now? Right now, I manage about 30 clients, including Jacob Tremblay from Room and his two sisters Emma and Erica and Cindy Busby from Heartland. Some people in the industry have up to 75 clients, so my roster is small in comparison.

How did you help Jacob book Room? We had targeted Room for a long time. Originally, the filmmakers wanted twins because kids can only work a limited number of hours per day, and at Jake’s age he could work about six hours, so it can really shorten the workday for everybody. If they had twins, they could pretty much do a 12-hour day. But Jake sent an audition tape, and the director loved him.

Room is not exactly a kid-friendly story. How did you explain that role to Jacob? The Tremblays and I had a conversation about putting Jacob in this role and there were a lot of conversations with the director about how to portray these storylines to a kid. Everything got explained with a “kid-like” tone. There are still certain parts that he might not be able to wrap his head around, but he understands a lot of it because he’s such a smart, great kid.

At what point did you feel you had made it as a manager? At my first red carpet, which was for one of the Twilight movies, I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is what everybody strives for.” With Jacob doing an Oscar campaign, there were times I got caught up in the moment. I tried to step back and appreciate it because this is what so many people dream about.

What’s the best part of your day? It doesn’t happen every day, but maybe once a week or month, I get to tell someone they’ve landed a life-changing job. It brings me to tears almost every time.

What’s the worst part of your day? Having to tell a client who was so close to getting a role that they didn’t book it because of some circumstantial thing, like their eyes are blue and they needed them to be brown.

There’s a lot of talk about the lack of diversity in Hollywood. Do you encounter issues with that in casting? We once had a producer ask if a 10-year-old Caucasian boy would get the darkest spray tan possible so that they could cast him as Hispanic, and they were serious! But in general, there’s a really big push for diversity in the industry right now, so if you represent a non-Caucasian actor, they’re booked solid for months on end. I’ve also seen actors of varying ethnicities go from more supporting roles to leads, which is great. We submit everyone of every ethnicity to roles unless the script specifically says “caucasian,” but typecasting is definitely a problem. If a client is used to playing a nerdy role, then trying to make them more like the “boy next door” can be a challenge—changing someone’s opinion of what types of characters that person can play can be tough.

If someone wanted to get into this field, what attributes do they need? They definitely have to be a good multitasker because at any given time you have, like, 50 different things going on at once.

At the end of a long day, how do you unwind? My day’s not necessarily over at the end of the day because I’ll go to bed reading a script, but I think taking off my bra and getting into my PJs is the best. Any female who doesn’t love that is a liar.

Related:

The Full 9-5 Series
Briony’s Teeny-Tiny Talk Show: Episode 6—Canadian TV Shows
#FLARE60Under30: Meet 60 Canadian Women Who Are Changing the World!

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