For Wendy Scozzaro of Felix de Wolfe, one of London's oldest theatrical agencies, every day is a whirlwind of deal making. Jason Holmes caught up with her after hours at the Waldorf Hotel
'I have to be excited by an actor's work before I take them on,' says Wendy Scozzaro. 'You don't go into agency on a whim; it's not merely a money-making thing for me. I do it for the love of it.'
Scozzaro only found her vocation as a theatrical agent several years after she began her working life as a bank employee. It was when she took time out to have a family that she met Caroline de Wolfe socially. Caroline was her entry point into a business to which she has now been committed for 13 years.
Born in St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, Scozzaro grew up in Russell Square and went to school near Drury Lane, so from whence she came she has returned. 'I look out of my office window and can see the same sweetshop I used to visit when I went to primary school,' she says with a laugh.
Felix de Wolfe receives hundreds of submissions by email, phone and post each week, but generally they only take on clients through recommendations from industry professionals and clients already on their books. With a three-strong team of Scozzaro, Clare Saunders and Caroline de Wolfe, they have their work cut out for them.
'My day's a bit mental, to be honest,' she says. 'I get up at 6am, catch the 07.18 train into London from Hertfordshire, and get the tube to Holborn where I grab a coffee at Starbucks on Kingsway. I'm in the office for soon after 8am and I enjoy that time of the morning because it's quiet and I can organise my thoughts. At 10am the phones start to ring so I've currently got an assistant who comes in then to help with the general office admin.
'At 10am I'm already dealing with contracts; in fact, I've already started doing that on the train in on my iPad. I get emails at ridiculous times, like in the dead of night, which I do answer.' So she never sleeps? 'I'm a bit of an insomniac,' she laughs. 'I don't sleep particularly well, but I'm working on it. I didn't have any holidays last year either, but I will this year.
'Throughout the day I sift through the Spotlight breakdowns and appointments that are coming in to keep abreast of new projects. I eat lunch at my desk, grabbing a salad or a wheat-free sandwich, or my assistant will go out for me - sometimes I have to be reminded that it's lunchtime.'
Most of Scozzaro's time is spent looking after actors, but she also cross-represents, spending time with casting directors, producers, choreographers and writers, and considering ways they might be able to work together. 'I've not really ever needed to approach actors, it's generally been more fluid and they've come to me. We're a member of the PMA so I would never approach a client who is represented elsewhere. You take a gamble, as the actors do by placing themselves in your hands. You just hope it all locks together.
'We get clients popping in all the time - they plonk themselves in my big lazy boy armchair. The afternoon is definitely busier than the morning as most people in the business don't start until 10am or 11am, so work generates later in the day. We have an accountant, but I also check the figures on a day-to-day basis.'
So agency is a profit-driven business? 'Not at all,' she says. 'I feel immensely proud when I see one of my clients doing good work. I'd rather profits stayed the same as last year if it meant my clients were happy with their work. But, of course, the raison d'être of an agency is to get paid. Profit is important, but it's not that kind of nickel-and-dime business.
'We've got artists on our books doing musicals, feature films, TV in all its various guises, radio, TV commercials, presenting and corporate work; in fact we've currently got several actors filming for the new Les Misérables film directed by Tom Hooper [The King's Speech]. We're a boutique agency so we're not looking to expand as we'd lose the personal touch our clients value. Some work comes from overseas, but we are based solely in London.'
Scozzaro's days are hectic as she fields phone calls and attends meetings, in addition to attending a large number of after-hours shows, all in the name of work. 'The business is compulsive, in the same way that actors are compelled to act. But I've never acted, God no.' She shudders. 'Acting fills me with utter dread. I couldn't be an actor for love nor money, but I'm filled with huge admiration and respect for them.' Does she attend a gym to keep herself in shape? 'No,' she says, 'I'd rather have a cup of tea than sit on a rowing machine.'
Perhaps working in the States is an option, but she shakes her head firmly. 'Britain is full of talented actors, so I have no need to cross the Pond.' I suggest that, in terms of versatility, British actors are still playing catch-up to their American cousins. 'Not at all,' she says. 'British actors use all methods of acting, from Stanislavskian theory to the Meisner technique, but they don't have to wear a T-shirt that says they do!'
Scozzaro asserts that if someone doesn't succeed as a jobbing actor because there isn't enough work out there - and right now things are tough in the economic downturn - you cannot make a judgment based solely on their talent as a result. 'It may take years for the big break to come,' she says. 'I tell them "If you can walk away from acting, then you should". If an actor cannot, then that means he or she has passion and an actor needs that to succeed and to be happy. Confucius said "Find a job you love, and you'll never work a day in your life". And that is what acting is, and should be, about. And never forget, actors have traded security to be able to do what they love.'
As both businesswoman and talent scout, Scozzaro's clarity of purpose is evident. 'Perhaps I'm too outspoken, but I'd rather be honest with people. If I see an actor in a show and they ask me for my feedback on their performance or on the show, I tell them my thoughts as honestly as I can.'
But, amid all the control, does she have a weakness? After a moment's reflection, she says: 'That's for others to decide. I feel privileged to do this job and I can't imagine doing anything else, and I hope I don't have to.'
Finally, I can't resist asking if she knows any salacious showbiz gossip. She raises an eyebrow before answering: 'The rumour mill is huge in this business, but as I always say, if it ain't my story, I ain't telling it!'