Up until Rahm Emanuel was offered the Chief of Staff position in Barack Obama’s cabinet, his younger brother Ari, the cantankerous Hollywood talent agent, was considerably better known. Most famously — or perhaps infamously — Ari Emanuel is said to be the inspiration for the abrasive, determined Ari Gold character on HBO’s Entourage, played by Jeremy Piven.
“With Ari, it’s all about the bottom line,” said writer Aaron Sorkin, creator of the television drama “The West Wing,” whom Ari Emanuel represents.
“In a business deal, he’s going to try to kill for you, and its just going to be about putting as much money in your pocket as he can, until you tell him that there’s something else that’s important to you.”
The fictional Ari Gold’s renegade style is, at least, based on fact: In March 1995, Emanuel and three other International Creative Management agents were caught plotting to start their own agency. When an assistant was discovered removing company files, ICM Chairman Jeff Berg promptly fired Emanuel. In what could have ruined any promising career, Emanuel went on to create his own boutique agency, Endeavor, now considered of the most powerful in Hollywood, with an estimated $100 million in revenue each year.
But those close to the real-life agent say he is not just a TV stereotype.
“While Ari does speak fast and is in no way cowardly when he’s talking to you, he’s not a cardboard cut out — he’s massively smart and genuinely a good guy,” said Sorkin. “That’s why clients don’t leave him. You’re not going to find anybody who used to be a client of Ari’s.”
And, like his brother Rahm, Ari Emanuel sees his position as an opportunity to influence public discourse.
“I represent people that are doing things and saying things that can affect change in the way people see things and the way people talk about things,” he told Charlie Rose in June 2008.
Representing the likes of Michael Moore and Martin Scorsese, Emanuel is among the best-connected in the business, and is known for leveraging his influence for public advocacy. After Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic tirade in July 2006, Emanuel publicly castigated the actor/director and called upon Hollywood to blacklist him. Politically, Ari Emanuel and Endeavor frequently host Democratic fundraisers, which have included a $2,300-a-plate dinner for Barack Obama, at Emanuel’s home. With the appointment of his brother to White House chief of staff, Hollywood and Washington just got a lot closer.
“Rahm has been a very powerful guy in government for a long time, and Ari has been a guy that cares about things for a long time and is connected to people who can help with money,” Sorkin said. “There have been any number of fundraisers Ari has thrown on behalf of Rahm or the DCC, or for any cause that Ari feels passionate about.”
The strength in the brothers’ relationship (they speak several times a day) is the product of a tight-knit family upbringing. The three Emanuel brothers credit their parents with fostering fraternal closeness nurtured at the family dinner table, where the brothers were schooled in the art of argumentation. Keeping abreast of politics, culture and history was expected, and verbal aggression was not seen as harmful, or as Rahm told Rose, “Normally a swear word is associated with epithets — in our house, it’s a term of affection.”
Ari remembered his mother admonishing the boys not to fight: “She would always say, ‘Don’t fight. The world can’t get along if the kids can’t get along.'”