Call My Agent is a French, subtitled drama series, set in a Paris actors’ agency, called ASK. The series had 24 episodes broadcast between 2015 – 2020 and is now available on Netflix. It is hard to write about the series without revealing a few plot details – don’t read on if that is a problem.
So I have reached the end of series 1 and I love it.
What intrigues me, apart from the great acting and locations, is the way Call My Agent reflects on the role that acting and fantasy play in life. The agents act as go-betweens, linking reality with the pretend world of film. They are gatekeepers, facilitators, therapists, working to smooth that difficult relationship between the two realms. Fittingly in their unique position, the agents combine fiction and reality in their own lives. The staff at ASK are usually acting a role in some way. The first episode opens with the arrival in Paris, of Camille, a young hairdresser from southern France, who dreams of a job in films. She talks to Mathias, an agent at ASK, who seems to be connected with her in some way. Within a few episodes we learn that Camille is actually Mathias’ daughter, the result of a brief affair, which Mathias wants to keep secret. Immediately there is acting, in the way father and daughter try to hide their relationship. Sent on her way with some money and advice that the film business is not to be recommended, a demoralised Camille runs into another agent, Andréa, at the ASK reception desk. Andréa, finding herself in sudden need of an assistant, conducts a brief interview and makes the impulsive decision to recruit the youngster, who is in the right place at the right time. This sets off a series of situations where both Mathias and Camille have to do a lot of acting to keep their secret.
And that’s only the start. Let’s take the agent Andréa, for example, who in many ways I find the show’s most interesting character. She has contrasting elements to her personality. In some ways she is a sleek, tough, business woman. But this side of her coexists with a wild, hard-partying, seductress. Andréa struggles to balance the differing aspects of her personality. Is one side more real than the other? You might think that the smooth business woman is an act, with the wild child as her reality. But the real Andréa is actually both of these roles. She is an agent in the middle trying to keep each side happy.
So it goes on. Mathias’ assistant, Noémie, lives in a fantasy where her boss is just waiting to ask her to be his wife. Mathias himself is similar to Andréa in the way he has two sides to him, a ruthless business side, and a well-hidden softer side. Like Andréa, he is an agent negotiating the relationship between two roles. Then there’s Gabriel, nice chap and caring agent, who has a weakness for telling people what they want to hear. This lands him in scrapes when different people operate on different versions of the truth. Gabriel’s assistant, Hervé, is always ready with tricks to help his boss bend the truth – often with mixed results. Arlette, now getting older, her energies flagging, calls herself an “impresario” in the hope that this gives the illusion that she is grander than a mere agent. Arlette has a truth-telling terrier dog who has a knack for revealing deception by attacking the trousers of human deceivers. Sofia the receptionist, and aspiring actress, slips her own resumé into submissions to casting directors. When Gabriel ticks her off for pretending to be an ASK client, Sofia furiously responds, by reminding Gabriel of all the tricks she has pulled on his behalf in keeping actors happy. And hanging over the whole series is an audit by play-it-by-the-book tax inspector, Colette, who reprimands the agency for its poor accounting, the way staff treat company money as their own, and a nonexistent division between personal lives and work. And yet, even Colette, whose life seemingly runs along such straight lines, has two sides to her. She is like Andréa in reverse, with a buttoned down character dominant, hiding a carefully controlled sensuous side. Fittingly she has an affair with Andréa. Even a tax inspector becomes an agent balancing roles.
And that brings us to the end of the first series, a wonderful story about fiction and reality. And this isn’t just an abstract game for actors. After all, out in the wider world a lot of people seem to be having trouble reconciling reality and illusion – what with their vulnerability to rumours, conspiracies, and political versions of reality.
I am very much looking forward to the next three series.
Oh, and by the way, if you are a literary agent reading this, please give me a call.