“West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin on his agent Ari Emanuel
Last week, when Rahm Emanuel was appointed Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff, interest in his brother, Hollywood ‘superagent’ Ari Emanuel, surged. I spoke with Aaron Sorkin, one of Emanuel’s most loyal clients and creator of “The West Wing” from his nest at the Four Seasons in New York.
How long have you known Ari?
He’s been my agent for nine years.
How important has he been to your career?
On a scale of one to ten: fourteen. He’s a phenomenal agent and a great friend. He’s got a brilliant mind and a great heart; he’s really everything you could hope for.
Why do think he’s been so successful as a talent agent?
If I knew more about the agent business, I could give a more sophisticated answer. I can tell you that when it comes to television and feature films, he’s incredibly smart, loves writers and directors, is very well respected within the industry. And there’s a quality about him I can only describe by saying that, with Ari, it’s all about the bottom line—until it’s not anymore. In other words, in a business deal, he’s going to try to kill for you and it’s 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 instead of money.
Ari has a reputation for being abrasive, cantankerous, and brash. Why do you think he’s perceived this way?
Part of the reason is Jeremy Piven. Most people know Ari from Entourage [the HBO series] and they think that that’s Ari. While Ari does speak fast, and is in no way cowardly when he’s talking to you, he’s not a cardboard cut-out. Not a stereotypical central casting agent. He’s massively smart and genuinely a good guy. That’s why clients don’t leave him. You’re not going to find anybody who used to be a client of Ari’s.
You probably know better than anyone else that Hollywood and Washington have always had informal ties; given the relationship between the Emanuel brothers, what kind of an impact do you think that will have?
A good one, I think. Rahm has been very powerful in government for a long time; Ari has been a guy that cares about things for a long time and is connected to people who can help with money. There have been any number of fundraisers Ari has thrown on behalf of Rahm or the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), or for any cause that Ari feels passionate about.
Ari gained a lot of attention when he publicly castigated Mel Gibson for his anti-Semitic tirade. How much do you think Ari’s Jewishness informs his values?
It’s not for me to comment on his religious values. But a good example is that Ari did publicly castigate Mel Gibson. Also, one of his clients is Michael Moore, and when the film Fahrenheit 9/11 came out, Disney, who had decided not to release it because it was at a time when to say something bad about the Bush Administration was to fear for your life, well, they chickened out of releasing it, and Ari called Michael Eisner out on it. For an agent to do that—he’s got to deal with Disney everyday, making deals everyday—but this was more important than that. I can’t think of any other instance when a high profile agent has publicly done that with someone as powerful as Michael Eisner. He did the same thing with Mel Gibson. In both cases I agreed with him, but even if I didn’t, I’d be proud of him for speaking up when he feels that way.