Mon Dieu! My favourite French farce is a hit… in English! Call My Agent was the TV smash that saw us fall in love with sassy Parisian wit and style and it is tres magnifique the UK remake is here, writes superfan JAN MOIR
On paper, it doesn’t look too promising. A French-speaking drama set in a Paris talent agency, where agents scramble to keep their clients happy and their business afloat? Yet millions of British viewers adored Call My Agent! (Dix Pour Cent), the hit Netflix comedy drama about showbiz agents and their roster of celebrity actors and actresses.
Why is it so alluring? Everything that happens at the ASK agency in central Paris is a delight; the cast, the macaroon-weight plots, the guest appearances by French stars of stage and screen playing themselves — and sending themselves up like crazy.
In one episode Monica Bellucci, once known as the most beautiful woman in the world, complains because ordinary men are afraid of her and she can never get a date. So she invites her terrified agent Gabriel (Gregory Montel) to her apartment for a mushroom risotto. ‘Poison mushrooms,’ she purrs.
In another, that great French actor Jean Reno, whose triumphs include the role of Leon in the eponymous film, is so depressed at having to play Santa Claus in a budget movie that he starts drinking pastis in bars at 10am.
In all scenarios their respective agents swoop in to soothe ruffled feathers, clinch deals and make things better — sometimes even succeeding.
Millions of British viewers adored Call My Agent! (Dix Pour Cent), the hit Netflix comedy drama about showbiz agents and their roster of celebrity actors and actresses
After four series, it remains smart and funny, with a fizzing comic pitch. And it has been so successful that a much anticipated British version called Ten Percent — so named after the percentage agents traditionally take from their stars’ fees — launches this Thursday on Amazon Prime Video. It stars Jack Davenport as Jonathan Nightingale, one of the head agents at Nightingale Hart.
His senior partner is Stella Hart, played by Maggie Steed, the veteran actress whose long resumé includes EastEnders and Paddington 2.
What can I tell you? Both are terrific in their roles, while the show has been created by John Morton, who devised the much-loved spoof BBC comedy W1A.
Here, he has triumphed again, with a drama set in a London that Londoners will actually recognise, and imbued with a spirit that it is witty and quirkily British.
Fans of the original show will know that the breakout star was Camille Cottin, who played my favourite character, Andrea — the gay, tough and ruthless agent who looks after some of France’s biggest movie stars.
Call My Agent has been so successful that a much anticipated British version called Ten Percent launches this Thursday on Amazon Prime Video
Via Andrea, we got a delicious glimpse of Parisian life. She bullied everyone while looking chic in sharp blazers, skinny trousers and always, always a fantastic pair of boots. But she was about so much more than her clothes.
‘Can I call you any day, any time? Will you do anything for anyone?’ she demanded of her new assistant. Andrea may be pitiless, but you’d want her on your team.
In the British version, her character is called Rebecca and is played by Lydia Leonard. Equally tough, equally gay, equally ruthless — but she swears more than Andrea and doesn’t dress quite so well. All of which seems true to type, given that she is a Londoner, not a Parisienne. You know it’s true!
Some of the structure, the characters and the plots remain similar, if not identical to the original.
The main difference is that the guest actors playing themselves are British stars who, if anything, enter the comic fray with even more gusto than their French counterparts.
Plotlines in early episodes include agent Dan (Prasanna Puwanarajah) trying to shield Kelly Macdonald from the news that she has been turned down for a role because she looks ‘too old’.
Helena Bonham Carter and Olivia Williams are appalled when they discover that agent bumbling means they have both been offered the same role, while Dominic West turns up in episode three, playing himself as a pretentious, needy thesp.
He has returned to the theatre, darling, in a modishly updated version of Hamlet, complete with selfies and mobile phones and improved dialogue, because who is that guy Shakespeare anyway, right? ‘Poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio,’ says West’s Hamlet, shortly before storming off the modernist set.
When Stella sails in to provide ego balm and support, he is not impressed. ‘Ah my favourite client,’ she trills. ‘What happened? Did Jude Law die?’ he snaps back.
It is so delicious. In the eight-part first series, Tim McInnerny, who has been in everything from Blackadder to The Serpent, plays a recurring role as washed-up actor Simon Gould that is both heartbreaking and hilarious.
I hate to sound like a luvvie myself, but he brings such a major emotional charge to such a minor role that I almost cried — in a comedy! Indeed, the quality of the acting across the board here is first-class.
Fans of the original show will know that the breakout star was Camille Cottin (left), who played Andrea. In the British version, her character is called Rebecca and is played by Lydia Leonard (right)
To be honest, at first I was resistant to the charms of Ten Percent. I missed the dash of Paris and the vivid characters who had established themselves over four series, and worried that the British versions were pale imitations. But give it a chance and, like a pop-up book springing into glorious 3D, it grows into itself and takes on a life of its own. It helps that there is not a dud in the cast — even the dog is good!
Typically, agents are not a cherished or admired group of people. If they get called sharks instead of vultures, that is a good day, and they rarely emerge from behind the scenes.
Yet both French and British versions of the show have a strong undercurrent of sincerity, for despite their casual venalities when it comes to contracts and deals, the agents actually do care about art and about making good films.
It makes Ten Percent different from Ricky Gervais’s Extras because it is a comedy with a heart and a conscience — and there is nothing else quite like it.
At the launch in London this week, Maggie Steed told journalists that until she had played an agent herself it hadn’t crossed her mind that this person she phoned up regularly for career advice and emotional support had to do exactly the same thing for dozens of others. Davenport agreed.
Perhaps the art of being a great agent is making every self-obsessed client not only feel special, but also that they are the only one that matters. Ever.
‘I think you might have forgotten how good you are,’ says Dan to Himesh Patel, who is having a bad day on set with Emma Corrin in one episode. ‘Don’t forget that what you are doing is really difficult,’ says a soothing Rebecca to a fraught Corrin.
‘Yeah. I know,’ says Corrin.
We shouldn’t really care about a bunch of dogged agents buttering up their spoilt clients but, somehow, we do.
The philandering boss, the ruthless diva — and celeb cameos galore
By Alison Boshoff
So who’s who in Ten Percent — and how do they measure up with their counterparts across the Channel?
The starting point of both shows is the same: the sudden death of the founder of the agency.
During the first episode of Call My Agent!, the founder of ASK agency dies — while holidaying in Rio after swallowing a wasp — and much of the early drama is about the attempts of those left behind to keep going.
The agents have to fight to hang on to their star clients, and fend off attempts from other agencies to buy them up or poach agents.
There are lots of inappropriate workplace relationships — carried off with an enticing Parisian elan — and the series is littered with cameo appearances from big stars.
During the first episode of Call My Agent!, the founder of ASK agency dies — while holidaying in Rio after swallowing a wasp — and much of the early drama is about the attempts of those left behind to keep going
The British version shares a pacy, deadpan sensibility with Call My Agent! but is very much a London show.
The exquisite embarrassments of difficult social interactions — and efforts at being polite — are entirely British.
In the British version, the founder of Nightingale Hart — played by veteran actor Jim Broadbent — is also the father of the lead agent, Jonathan Nightingale, played by Jack Davenport.
In Call My Agent! the most senior agent is Mathias Barneville (played by Thibault de Montalembert), whose private life is more than a little tangled.
It emerges in the first episode that he has a love child, Camille, who goes on to work for the agency and is eventually acknowledged by him.
His UK counterpart is Nightingale. As with Mathias, he has a love child who starts to work for the agency.
And, as in the French version, he is married but has a mistress in the office — played here by Rebecca Humphries.
John Morton, Kelly Macdonald, Hiftu Quasem, Jack Holden, Rebecca Humphries, Harry Trevaldwyn, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Lydia Leonard, Jack Davenport, Maggie Steed and Tim McInnerny attend the Ten Percent press launch at Picturehouse Central on April 13, 2022 in London
She may look familiar. Her romance with boyfriend Seann Walsh rather infamously fell victim to the ‘Strictly Curse’ after he was pictured smooching his dance partner, Katya Jones. Davenport is probably best known for his role as Miles in the 1990s series This Life.
He said that being in the show made him consider how much fibbing his agent does to him.
‘I actually said to my agent at one point, ‘So, about . . . lying?’ and he said, ‘You can’t do it because if you get caught, you’re dead.’ But then he talked about information management. If ever there was a profession that dealt in shades of grey, it would be theatrical agents.’
The Queen bee of the French agency is Arlette Azemar, played by 89-year-old Liliane Rovere. She prefers to be called an impresario rather than an agent and cuts a terrifying, if magnificently dignified, figure.
In the British version, the veteran agent Stella Hart is played by Maggie Steed, 75.
She recently played Elizabeth in the TV adaptation of the novel Elizabeth Is Missing opposite Glenda Jackson.
She is a familiar face after a distinguished career which includes Shine On Harvey Moon, Jam & Jerusalem, Minder and Midsomer Murders.
Andrea Martel, played by French actress Camille Cottin, is a ruthless figure who lies, cheats and manipulates anyone in the service of her celebrity clientele. She is also promiscuous, and blunt about her sexuality.
She tells one colleague who suggests a liaison: ‘When I moved on from guys to girls, it was like graduating from the sandpit to the football pitch.’
In an interview earlier this year, Cottin said: ‘She is so direct and doesn’t care what people think — and that’s what makes her sexy.’
Jean Reno and Camille Cottin appearing together on the Netflix hit show Call My Agent! which has inspired a British version
Since Call My Agent! began, she has filmed Mouche, a reworking of Fleabag in which she plays the Phoebe Waller-Bridge character. Viewers may also recognise her as assassin Helene in series three of Killing Eve.
Her British counterpart in Ten Percent is Rebecca Fox, played by Lydia Leonard, 40, who also stars as Suranne Jones’s ex in Gentleman Jack, and will play Cherie Blair in season five of The Crown.
Like Cottin, her character is lesbian and sexually frank, although less combative.
SPOT THE STARS
Part of the appeal of Call My Agent! is the cameos from stars playing sent up versions of themselves, including Juliette Binoche, Monica Bellucci and Sigourney Weaver. And Ten Percent doesn’t disappoint in that regard.
They include Helena Bonham Carter and Olivia Williams, who are both cast in the same film.
Davenport said: ‘I’ve known Olivia since 1991. We started to do these scenes and I said, ‘This is very weird because you’re you, but I’m not me’. There was a slight telescope the wrong way round kind of thing.’
Williams said: ‘I was very nervous about that because I wasn’t sure ‘Is this Olivia on a bicycle in a pair of ill-fitting trousers or is it red-carpet Olivia?’ But actually it’s really relaxing to do because it’s not about you, it’s the agents who have all the lines. We just make monosyllabic interjections and it’s such fun.’
Other cameos include Kelly Macdonald, Dominic West, David Oyelowo and Bridgerton star Phoebe Dynevor.
- TEN PERCENT launches on Thursday on Amazon Prime Video.
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