As Ten Percent arrives on Prime Video, the cast talk about falling out with their agents in real life, and the self-deprecating nature of British humour
TEXT Nick Chen
It sounds like a twist from the show itself: Call My Agent! has been given an English-language remake. The French sitcom – a workplace comedy about a chaotic talent agency – celebrated Cannes and homegrown cinema in a way that’d be impossible for a UK version. So Ten Percent is heading to your laptop with a few twists: it’s meaner, more grounded, and, for better or worse, it’s more British.
“The show’s really different because we’re not as cool as the French,” jokes Lydia Leonard, who plays the English equivalent of Camille Cottin’s Andréa. “The humour is British, and it’s authentically what it’s like being an agent in London, hopefully.” Plus, there’s still deadpan celebrities playing themselves. “Our guest stars understood their job was to be the straight guys,” says the show’s creator, John Morton. “The real stars of our show are the made-up people.”
Here, we speak with Morton and the cast about falling out with agents, being rude to Michael Bay, and what French viewers will make of Ten Percent.
Lydia Leonard & Prasanna Puwanarajah
Nick Chen: Have you ever fallen out with an agent?
Lydia Leonard: I’ve been with my agent since I left drama school. It’s the longest non-familial relationship I’ve ever had.
Prasanna Puwanarajah: I’ve been sacked by two agents, and I’ve had two agents retire. One sacked me a day after he read a script I’d written, and he was my literary agent, so that wasn’t great.
LL: I’ve heard stories from friends. It’s like a horrible divorce. Agents become a friend, a therapist, a boxing coach …
PP: An animal handler.
NC: Is the dream that you become so famous, you can sack your agent, rather than them sacking you?
LL: We’ve come this far. That would be a shame.
PP: That kind of thinking always ends up with a relationship that’s meaningless. Lots of agents are really stamp-collecting famous clients. They want to have a better roster than their pal at the other place. We’ve avoided that.
NC: How would you define British humour?
LL: It’s that underdog thing. We’re shambolic and hapless, without expressing our emotions very healthily.
PP: When I went to pitch TV shows in LA, my agent said, “Don’t be self-deprecating, because they don’t get it there.” Whereas here, if you say it’s the best show ever, people are like, “That’s not how we do things.”
NC: So in France, they’ll watch Ten Percent and think, “Those Brits are so self-deprecating.”
PP: Well, as you know, in France they love everything about Britain. Particularly post-Brexit.
LL: I hope they like it as much as we love their one.
Hiftu Quasem & Harry Trevaldwyn
NC: Have you ever fallen out with an agent?
Hiftu Quasem: No comment.
Harry Trevaldwyn: Next question!
NC: Harry, you just did a Judd Apatow movie satirising Hollywood agents. Do The Bubble, Ten Percent and Call My Agent! illustrate the contrasts between American, British and French humour?
HT: The Bubble was 50/50 between American and English actors. It weirdly gelled. Ten Percent is quintessentially British. With the French version, they wear their heart on their sleeve, but Ten Percent feels passive-aggressive.
HQ: Polite aggression.
NC: What does Ten Percent say, intentionally or unintentionally, about the UK film industry? In Call My Agent!, they worship Cannes, but your eight episodes don’t exactly reference the London Film Festival.
HT: The theatre scene is so specific to England. Episode three focuses on a production of Hamlet.
HQ: That’s quintessentially British, Hamlet. Also, I’m excited to see how people react to the British cameos.
NC: Well, Hiftu, it’s a running gag when your character pretends David Tennant is her dad. But he’s known for TV, not film.
HT: He’s theatre as well! I remember seeing him in theatre and thinking he’s so—
HQ: (overlapping) Phenomenal.
HT: (overlapping) Tall.
HT: And phenomenal.
NC: Dream cameo for season two?
HT: Olivia Colman.
HQ: David Tennant. We could marvel about how tall he is.
Rebecca Humphries & Maggie Steed
NC: Rebecca, you did Morgana Robinson’s The Agency. Why do British talent agencies work for comedy?
Rebecca Humphries: It’s when the glamour and fast-paced energy of show business is juxtaposed with how admin-y and mundane the behind-the-scenes of it is. You turn up to work, pick up the phone, it’s Dominic West, and you’ve got to sort it out. The dichotomy works for comedy.
NC: Maggie, in 2017, you did a Transformers film and 54 episodes of EastEnders. What does Ten Percent capture about the industry, regardless of the project?
Maggie Steed: Blimey. I’d forgotten entirely about Transformers.
RH: I’m looking at you with a whole new respect.
MS: It shows how ridiculous an actor’s career can be. Actors are so narcissistic, they think every job is going to change their life. I still live in a little terraced house. Agents have to deal with these ludicrous expectations we have.
NC: How was it when your agent phoned about Transformers?
MS: Isn’t it appalling that it meant nothing to me at all? I just turned up. I was very, very rude to him. I remember that.
NC: Michael Bay?
MS: Let’s not go any further!
NC: Zoe is a receptionist who gets auditions, just like Sofia in Call My Agent!
Fola Evans-Akingbola: I love what Stéfi Celma did. But the writing is so unique and quintessentially British that I could take Zoe on her own path.
NC: It’s interesting that Britishness is a selling point, because I’m not sure how much pride there is in being British these days.
FEA: I’m so proud to be British! I know what you mean. Britain and Britishness has darker connotations, given our history. But the work that comes out of our industry is fantastic. The show captures a very upper-middle-class, entertainment industry Britishness that’s fun to play with. We get into trouble because we don’t say what we mean, and we don’t mean what we say.
NC: I like that the marketing acknowledges that Ten Percent is a remake, whereas I’m not sure it’s common knowledge that Coda was a remake of a French film.
FEA: I didn’t know that. Wow.
NC: Even in her Oscar speech for Best Adapted Screenplay, Sian Heder didn’t thank the previous writers. So is it important that Ten Percent acknowledges the source material?
FEA: Absolutely. We’re putting our own spin on what they did fantastically. Hopefully people will also be able to love our show as much as they loved the French one. Both can exist without us having to fight each other.
Jack Davenport & John Morton
NC: John, who are you writing for? Die-hard Call My Agent! fans? Or people without Netflix who never saw the original?
John Morton: All those people. I hope we bring the people who loved the French version – which I’m one of – with us. Which is hard to do. We hope there’s an episode where their head is on one side, thinking, “Wait a minute, that’s not quite like the French version.” We hope they’ll become loyal.
Someone was trying to cheer me up, and reminded me that proportionally most people won’t have seen the French show. A depressingly small number of people watch shows with subtitles. Which is bizarre to me.
NC: Jack, your character is more grounded than Mathias, his French counterpart. Thibault de Montalembert did the French dub for 15 Hugh Grant films, if that helps with the comparison.
Jack Davenport: John did a couple of small changes that were useful in the grounding – specifically changing the senior partner who, in the French version, dies off-screen. But in this one, he’s my dad, and it’s Jim Broadbent, for fuck’s sake, who everyone would like to be their dad. You sense how that loss reverberates throughout the workplace.
Jonathan has this Prince Charles quality. He’s been waiting all his life to get his hands on the Crown, and then it happens, and no one’s behaving the way he wanted. He’s also, in his repressed, English way, grief-stricken. Everyone understands loss. Which doesn’t sound very funny. But it’s something that’s universally identifiable.
Ten Percent streams April 28 on Prime Video.