May 21, 2019

Danny Sussman: Show Business Pro and Pro Israel

Veteran Hollywood talent manager Danny Sussman has spent the last 20 years at Brillstein Entertainment Partners where his clients include Jimmy Smits, Chloe Sevigny, John Stamos and Robert Sean Leonard.

He previously spent 10 years at William Morris where he helped cast and finance several independent features, including Steve Buscemi’s “Trees Lounges” and Stanley Tucci’s films “Big Night” and “The Impostors.”

An outspoken supporter of Israel, Sussman’s passion for the Jewish state took root as a teenager. He has continued his commitment through his work with a variety of local organizations and currently serves as vice chair of the entertainment division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles (JFGLA).

He is also the chair for all missions to Israel and Israel activity for JFGLA and its Valley Alliance. He organizes JFGLA’s Tel Aviv partnership’s master class at the Tel Aviv University Film School and travels there each June to teach.

Howard Rosenman: You are a vociferous defender of Israel and Zionism. Where did that passion come from?

Danny Sussman: I am the grandson of Jews that ran away from Germany. My grandfather’s brother — Ernst Weischel — left Frankfurt in 1935 and became an ardent Zionist. He changed his name to Yitzchak Yanai and joined the Haganah (the forerunner to the Israel Defense Forces). My mother had the opportunity to grow up with many Sabra (Israeli)-born first cousins. In April 1975 I visited Israel for the first time and was instantaneously bitten with the sense of kesher (connection) I made with my Israeli cousins. During the summer of 1977, I lived on Moshav Moledet in the Galilee and immediately learned how to plant, irrigate, fish, march, scout, etc. Upon my return home to Long Island, I decided that I, too, was a Zionist first and last. Since that summer I have been to Israel 45 times.

HR: Has your passionate defense of Israel helped or hindered you in your professional and personal life? 

DS: Defending the honor of the State of Israel and its core values, as well as the ideal of Zionism, is central to my success in show business and in life. The overall theme of the Zionist idea is “belonging to something larger than yourself.” In my work, my home and amongst my friends, this is the central tenet that drives me. 

“Success in show business is very similar to the accomplishments of the State of Israel. The correlation comes from the idea that both Israel and Hollywood are very diverse with people immigrating from all over the world.

Success in show business is very similar to the accomplishments of the State of Israel. The correlation comes from the idea that both Israel and Hollywood are very diverse with people immigrating from all over the world. The State of Israel is like a large cauldron of soup, and its citizens contribute to the ingredients through traditions, food, music and spice of life they brought with them from the countries of their origin. All are represented within the soup of the State of Israel and that of show business. Not one ingredient is stronger than the other and the soup tastes amazing because of all of the spices.

HR: What’s it like working with Israeli students in the Federation’s LA-Tel Aviv cultural partnership? 

DS: The master class [became] a spectacular incubator for the future kesher between Hollywood and Israel. Joseph Cedar, Gideon Raff, Ariel Foreman etc. are all former Israeli participants. The master class allowed participants from Los Angeles, such as Nina Tassler, Gail Berman, Sarah Timberman and Darren Star early on-site access to the brilliance of some of the Israeli creators and attendees. I cannot be prouder than having had the opportunity to lecture on the stage of the Cinematheque in Tel Aviv. 

HR: What was your own Jewish upbringing like? 

DS: My Jewish upbringing was in the Conservative tradition but we were taught about three very different lanes: 1. Understanding Judaism by its laws including the study of Torah, Talmud, Mishnah and Midrash. 2. Identifying as a Jew through cultural tenets such as the celebration of holidays, the watching and reading of Jewish American writers and comedians and importing a bit of Yiddishkayt into life. 3. Identifying as a Jew through connection with the Zionist idea and the defense and philosophical identity with the Jewish State of Israel. 

HR: When you encounter vociferous negative opinions about Israel and Zionism, especially in progressive Hollywood, how do you counter them?

DS: I think Hollywood is progressive for progressive’s sake. It has always been first to criticize any kind of conservative idea. I think under the current administration, Hollywood has gone especially extreme in this matter. The reason why I accept criticism of the State of Israel is because in our tradition we accept criticism. I never felt the need to yell and scream about Zionism in the progressive Hollywood world because I have always thought our ideas are better, which is why we win every time. 

HR: Are any of your clients pro-Israel?

DS: Most of my clients are pro-Israel. This is not because they are experienced in traveling there, but because Israel is a multicultural democracy with a free press. Why shouldn’t they be pro-Israel?

Howard Rosenman has produced more than 43 movies, including “Call Me by Your Name.” He founded Project Angel Food.