Pilot season was ending, and James Thurston was still without a contract. “Eric, I came to you because you made it very clear that we could land something.” “Yes, and that requires a little humility on your behalf,” I said. “You’ve either got an issue with the way a role is written, or you want more money, or you refuse to audition and assume they’ll hand you the part.” His response was cowardly: “Sam always got me out of auditions.” I snapped: “Well your career will end up just like his if you don’t get with the program.” That was an equally awful thing to say, and we both paused for a few moments. “James, this isn’t your first lap around the track. We’ll be fine, even if we come up empty handed without some cruddy TBS pilot.” We hung up, and I turned to Joanie, who was sitting beside me in the airport terminal. We were Austin-bound for South by Southwest. “Trouble in TV Land?” she asked. I let out an exasperated sigh: “Please never expect royal treatment, Joanie. Because you won’t get it from me.”
This was a big week for Joanie: she was playing a hyped-up set at SXSW to help launch her second EP. We teased it online with the lead single “People I Trust More Than You,” a cheeky but brooding breakup song that gave her a little synth-pop crossover appeal. Her new publicist Claire had arranged more than a dozen interviews in Austin, and we would announce her supporting the Lorde tour with Billboard to cap the week. My poor assistant William was manning the office all by himself back in New York, forwarding endless calls and emails and messages about Joanie and my actor clients alike. It was good trial-by-fire exposure for him, though it kept me somewhat distracted from the action right in front of me. “Eric. Eric!” Joanie elbowed me during a business dinner as I was lost in my email inbox. Then, a hushed aside: “You could probably afford to learn a few things about music. Pay attention.”
Omar and a few Republic people joined us in Austin the day the Saturant EP dropped. Omar lied to his travel coordinator and said he would be staying with friends, but really he was with me in my hotel room. This was awkward when we ran into Dixon and Joanie in the lobby—Dixon and Omar knew one another, and Dixon recoiled a bit when Omar said “We’re so excited to rep your girlfriend. She’s our next superstar, I know it.” Poor Joanie was especially in the middle of it all, excited by this speak but sensitive to the fact that Dixon’s label had tried signing her, too. As Omar and I left, we heard Dixon say to her under his breath: “Don’t you think they got cozy really fast?” Then, Omar to me: “I feel kind of bad for him, don’t you? I hear his role at Glassnote has been in flux and they needed him to land this deal. We stopped him from signing his own girlfriend…!”
The release show for Saturant’s EP “Fade to Gray” was one of the festival’s centerpiece draws. Half of Williamsburg must have flown down to Austin as I recognized every third person from her other shows, and Brooklyn’s gay bars. I also saw a few celebrities—Penn Badgley, Greta Gerwig, Mo Rocca, Liv Tyler, and that unimpressed gymnast from the 2012 Olympics, though she seemed to be enjoying herself quite a bit, erupting in cheers as Joanie sang “Kansas.” I noticed Dixon in the crowd, mingling with a few friends. Since Omar wasn’t with me, I waved and started inching that way. He subtly shook his head and then cold-shouldered me as Joanie sang the first few lines of her new single: “My loser high school boyfriend who cheated on me // The man with binoculars outside my rearview // A very pregnant woman in a very liquor store // Just a few of the people I trust more than you.”
I got a call from my client Alexa the next day: she had been upgraded from understudy to lead in her Broadway play. Lucky for her, Jessica Chastain was leaving to pursue new projects. Alexa was dropping her agent and wanted me to handle all negotiations, which were happening that day. It was the same day as Joanie’s big press push in Austin, and since her publicist and agent seemed to have everything under control, I politely excused myself so that I could help Alexa. At least Joanie understood: “Eric, do what you have to do. I know you need to prioritize certain things on certain days. We’ll be fine.” Alexa was so giddy on the phone, and I regret that I couldn’t be fully excited in that moment. I really just wanted to be with Joanie to show my support. Not as a manager, but as her best friend.
We toasted champagne and seltzer that night to celebrate the big week. The new Saturant single was charting on a few pop and indie lists, and the Lorde tour announcement gave us a huge impression. “Saturant is a household name by summer,” Taryn predicted, as Joanie blushed from flattery and alcohol both. I was chatting with a producer by the bar, watching Omar from across the room and smiling. Then I overheard a conversation beside me between two clearly-Los-Angeleno gays: “There’s Omar. The Republic guy I told you about.” “Oh, right. He’s hot, for sure. When are you two going out?” “Tomorrow night. He said he has friends in town tonight, but tomorrow he’s gonna stay at my hotel.” I rolled my eyes—tonight was my last night in Austin. I was evidently Omar’s “friends in town.”