The Industry, Israel and Idealism with Danny Sussman

I managed to crash (with advance approval) an exclusive event for Birthright Israel alumni at a sushi restaurant in Westwood this week. For Jews who live on another planet, Birthright Israel is program that gives Jews ages 18-26 a free educational trip to Israel. It’s not my fault I wasn’t eligible for the program. I participated on my own a mega-Israel trip when I moved there about eight years ago.

The guest speaker was Danny Sussman, a big,well-connected Hollywood talent manager, representing the likes of Noah Wyle, Jimmy Smits, Chloe Sevigny and John Stamos. He is the Vice Chairman of the Entertainment Division and the
Missions Chairman for City and Valley Delegations of the Jewish Federation;  Israel and Jewish causes are dear to his heart.

The room was filled with aspiring writers, directors, producers, actors -— the event was a way to keep Birthright Israel alumni connected to each other and Israel. I didn’t have any headshots to bring, but some actors in the room did. I wonder how many of us came with the hopes of getting discovered through this nice dose of protexia, the Israeli term used to describe using “connections” to get ahead.

We got advice about the industry -— but more so—inspiring words about staying connected to Israel, learning more about Israel, and using our generally narcissism-driven careers to help pro-Israel or other bigger-than-yourself causes.

Ironically, I’m moving to LA to become an actress in part to get away from Israel idealism (see You Don’t Mess with the Orit). So many people discourage me by saying LA is so “plastic”. Great! Bring on the plastic. It’ll be a way to heal eight years of blood, guts, and gore. But it was nice to hear how Sussman has merged his passion for the industry and Zionism -— and that it’s possible, even encouraged -— in a town people regard as shallow.

“To be a good talent representative that’s part of the entertainment community and a productive citizen, you need to feel part of something larger than yourself,” he said. He speaks in whips, charging the room like a bulldozer, imparting us with his wisdom, interspersing the F-word here and there for dramatic effect.

He left his job as a journalist covering the weapons industry to become a talent agent/manager, starting in the William Morris mailroom—degrading, he accedes—but necessary. What pushed him to succeed was his love for Israel and desire to represent it. “I have my own fucking country,” he declared proudly.

He’ll never forget the moment when, as a kid, the members of his synagogue in New York rallied themselves to help Israel during the almost disastrous Yom Kippur War by mobilizing Jewish support and eventually American military support for Israel. “The American Jewish community picked itself up by the bootstraps.”

It’s very refreshing to meet a Hollywood bigwig not shy about his Zionist dedication and even his suspicions of Obama, which he touched upon for several minutes towards the end. I admit, I couldn’t help but wonder if Zionists help Zionists in this biz (disillusioned Zionists included). It’s better than the casting couch!

I don’t know if I necessarily needed his rally cry to support Israel -— I used to be the one who cried—but I appreciate the advice he gave about making it in this town. He described the industry as a “cool, amazing great place filled with landmines an disappointments -— financially, professionally, artistically. Each is an opportunity to do better the next time,” he offered.

As long as actors go into auditions giving their all, making interesting choices, the casting directors will remember them for next time. You also have to be enrolled in an acting class and work on skill. But, beware, “a lot of things in this business are designed to make you quit.”

There’s a lot of dirty work beginners have to swallow. “Be the guy who’s willing to take out the garbage.” Make yourself indispensible. I guess that means that when I get to an extra casting call at 6 am, I still have to “walk and talk” (through pantomime) in the background with a lots of energy even if all I want to do is doze off in “holding.”

As for my personal protexia from this event, he didn’t take me on as a client but he gave me the name of a Jewish commercial agent to whom I can submit headshots once I get them.

I’m not into Jewish tribalism lately -— one reason why I’m leaving Israel—but hey, I’ll take what I can get. I have a cause that’s bigger than myself — or do I?

Yeah.  I do.

‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’—from 1950 film production of “Annie Get Your Gun.”