Call Your Agent, But Not On Saturday


It’s hard to imagine anyone plugged into the fast world of Hollywood deal-making turning his cell phone off for 25 minutes, let alone 25 hours.

Cory Richman does the latter once a week, more during Jewish holidays. He’s a partner in the growing talent management firm of Liebman Entertainment, and one of the few Sabbath-observant people in the business.

While it might seem difficult to cater to celebrities accustomed to 24-7 attention, the Teaneck, N.J., native says 24-6 works out fine, with a little explanation.

"People have called me 12:30 at night or 5:30 in the morning, but they know they have to call me Friday before the sun sets," says Richman, who turns 29 next month. "It’s part of who I am. Through the years, people have been receptive to it when they like your work and the ethical way you do business."

Among his clients are Adewale Akkinnuoye-Agbage, who stars as Mr. Eko in the hit ABC drama "Lost," and Dominic Chianese, Uncle Junior on HBO’s "The Sopranos."

Loyalty to heritage is a common bond with Akkinnuoye-Agbage, who has resisted pressure to change his Nigerian name to one easier to market in America. And Chianese, who considers his manager "a real mensch," respects his devoutness.

"It’s never been an inconvenience," says the actor and singer during a break from filming last week. "I think in eight years there was only once that I tried to reach him and realized it was a holiday, and that was fine. Good things can wait when good people are waiting."

Talent management is a happy Plan B for Richman after an attempt to break into TV sports coverage while an undergraduate at Yeshiva University. An NBC internship took him to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, and he later worked with sportscasting icon Marv Albert. But the challenges of Sabbath-observance in that field proved insurmountable.

"Sports is something that peaks on weekends," he says. "I saw that I couldn’t continue there as an Orthodox Jew."

Internships and summer jobs followed at Miramax Films, Dreamworks and at Warner Brothers, where he worked to publicize the release of the epic Steven Spielberg film "Saving Private Ryan" in 1998. He also worked in the New York office of legendary TV mogul Aaron Spelling. Before long, Richman was obsessed with Hollywood: "While other people were watching ‘ER’ and saying ‘I want to be a doctor,’ I was watching it and saying ‘I want to represent those actors.’"

After earning his marketing degree from YU, he applied for a job at William Morris Agency, the top banana in the industry, but fretted over the question of wearing his yarmulke to the interview. Figuring it was a long shot anyway, he kept it, assuming it would telegraph his values and presage any later discussions about early Friday departures and days off on obscure holidays. "I wasn’t going to misrepresent myself," he said. "If anyone was talking about it after I left, I’ll never know. But I got the job."

He later signed on with a William Morris breakaway firm, Parseghian Planco, before joining forces with Brian Liebman at their current firm. Other clients include Natalie Silverlieb, currently seen in Broadway’s "Tarzan." The firm also represents athletes, writers and musicians.

Richman lives on the Upper West Side with his wife, Mandy, who is a freelance photo editor, and their 2-year-old twin sons. He’s likely the only member of Congregation Ohab Zedek who has taken Willem Dafoe to the kosher hot dog stand at Shea Stadium or stood on the field before a Giants game while "Uncle Junior" sang the national anthem. In his Midtown office, surrounding his desk, where he sits in a blue Oxford shirt and a matching blue suede kipa, are posters and photos autographed by Al Pacino, Lauren Bacall and the husband-and-wife duo soap star Mark Consuelos and Kelly Ripa, host of ABC’s "Live with Regis and Kelly."

While the titles are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between an agent and a manager. "An agent is supposed to go out and solicit and negotiate" auditions and appearances for a client, Richman explains. "It’s up to the manager to guide their career." Richman functions primarily as a manager.

His ultimate dream is to be thanked in the acceptance speech if one of his clients wins an Oscar or Emmy. Then, he says, "my grandmother will finally understand what I do."