Kevin Costner, one of the world's most popular and highest-paid movie stars, has left Creative Artists Agency, dealing the powerhouse talent agency its biggest blow since the summer departure of co-founders Michael Ovitz and Ron Meyer.
Costner, who was one of the few personal clients of Ovitz, has no current plans to join another agency and will consider various options at the beginning of the year after returning from the Arizona location shoot of his current movie, "Tin Cup," a source close to the star said.
CAA's loss of Costner is considered significant for two reasons. Despite his recent career slump, Costner is still in a select club of Hollywood actors who demand from $15 million to $20 million a picture, and he is also an Oscar-winning director and producer ("Dances With Wolves"). Since talent agencies typically collect a 10% commission on every job booked for a client, losing a major star and filmmaker such as Costner means losing millions of dollars in annual revenue.
Costner's departure also comes at a sensitive time, as CAA is trying to maintain its dominant industry position and redefine itself under new management after the loss of Ovitz and Meyer, who founded the agency 20 years ago with Bill Haber.
CAA's rivals hope that Costner's departure has a domino effect on other "A list" clients who may be considering leaving CAA in the wake of the executives' departures. Sources say Sylvester Stallone, for one, is restless and is being hotly pursued by both United Talent Agency and William Morris Agency. Agents say Barbra Streisand and others have also made noises about possibly leaving.
"Kevin Costner leaving is probably going to take a finger out of the dike," said a CAA rival, suggesting that while a certain percentage of CAA's clients "have been questioning their representation ever since Mike and Ronnie left, now they will be more encouraged to do so."
Under Ovitz and Meyer, CAA dominated the talent business in Hollywood for the past decade. It is still considered to have the most prestigious client list with such superstars as Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Demi Moore, Michael Douglas, Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro and such top-drawer filmmakers as Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Barry Levinson, Robert Zemeckis and Robert Redford.
Since Ovitz announced in mid-August that he was leaving to become president of Walt Disney Co., CAA has signed a number of key clients, including Anthony Hopkins, Melanie Griffith and Mike Meyers.
But in recent weeks, several CAA clients have walked, including action star Steven Seagal, Arsenio Hall, Chevy Chase and Tracey Ullman.
While CAA is not in any jeopardy as a strong business, the cumulative losses appear to signal what many competing agents predicted would happen with the loss of Ovitz and Meyer: a leveling of the playing field between the agencies. The rivals that stand to benefit the most are CAA's closest: International Creative Management, William Morris and United Talent.
The clients who would seem to be most vulnerable are those who, like Costner, were personal clients of Ovitz. Many of CAA's clients, even some of the biggest stars such as Tom Cruise, have a team of agents working for them.
"It was a big blow to Kevin when Mike left," said one CAA agent, who also said that Costner felt he lost another key relationship when Ovitz's close business associate, Sandy Climan, recently left to join Meyer at MCA. Climan worked closely with Costner and his producing partner Jim Wilson on deals at their Warner Bros.-based company Tig Productions.
Newly installed CAA President Richard Lovett announced the loss of Costner at an internal meeting Thursday.
"It's realistic to think we'll go through some changes and suffer some losses," said one agent. "As sad as we feel about Kevin, it's part of the times we're in."
Industry observers believe Costner is powerful enough as a star that he may not need an agent to orchestrate his career. He may decide to simply conduct his business through his attorney.
Although Costner has long been one of Hollywood's most bankable romantic leads thanks to movies such as "Field of Dreams," "The Bodyguard," "Bull Durham," and "Dances With Wolves" (for which he also won a best director Oscar), his popularity has waned with his most recent outings: "The War," "A Perfect World," "Wyatt Earp" and "Waterworld," which was mired in controversy for going wildly over budget.
He will next be seen on the big screen in "Tin Cup," directed by Ron Shelton, and will direct "The Kentucky Cycle" for HBO next year.