Troika’s Ben Hall Talks Production, Growth & And Holding Onto A-List Talent In First Interview As Executive Chairman Of UK Agency In Transition

EXCLUSIVE: Blue chip UK talent agency Troika, which reps 300+ clients, is going through a significant transition following the announced departure of co-founders Conor McCaughan and Michael Duff after 15 years at the helm. In his first interview in the role, we spoke to new Executive Chairman Ben Hall about the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Hall ran Curtis Brown as CEO from 2012 until 2018. He served as joint CEO of Original Talent following its acquisition of Curtis Brown from 2016 through to his departure last April. He has also acted as an executive producer on multiple film and TV projects, including BBC and Amazon’s McMafia. In his new role he will support the existing leadership team and head up the development and growth of the division both in the UK and the U.S. He will report directly into the Drama and Comedy Board.

The UK exec only started at Troika last week, just in time for its rebrand as YMU Drama and Comedy. The YMU group of agencies is backed by European private equity firm Trilantic Europe.

It’s a delicate moment for the agency, whose starry client roster has included Michael Fassbender, Ruth Wilson, Lena Headey, Daniel Kaluuya, Karen Gillan, Anya Taylor-Joy, Michaela Coel, Joe Cole, Peter Capaldi and Matt Smith.

Until recently, one of Troika’s most prized assets was Fifty Shades and The Fall star Jamie Dornan but we understand from multiple sources that the actor is no longer with the agency (he is no longer listed on their website, either). Fassbender, it is widely assumed, will ultimately follow his long-time agent McCaughan, with whom he also has production company DMC Film. Of the names noted above, Fassbender, Headey and Coel are not currently listed as clients on the website. On IMDB, Troika isn’t listed as a contact for Headey and Coel. Troika declined to comment on the status of talent.

Many of the agency’s stars were brought in by McCaughan and Duff whose contracts officially run until the end of the year. We hear both men will enjoy sizeable pay-days and will have to carry out decent periods of gardening leave before they can launch new ventures, which are also expected. It remains to be seen how many of Troika’s roster will also look for pastures new.

Here’s our interview with Hall, in which he discusses the current landscape, company direction and the agency’s roster.

DEADLINE: Ben, congrats on the new gig. Why did this move make sense for you now?

Ben Hall: I’ve known the guys a really long time. Neil [Global CEO Neil Rodford] and I go back longer than we’d like to reveal. We’ve always shared a vision for how the UK representation market should develop. When I finished my tour of duty at Curtis Brown and took some time to reflect, it felt natural that we’d work together. It was pretty organic. It crystalized in the last month or so.

DEADLINE: Going forward, will Troika focus on management or a traditional agency model?

Hall: I think one of the major things everyone is looking at the major re-organization and disruption that is going on in the states at the moment. Our vision is something more akin to a management operation, which to an extent YMU has offered already through its many strands. One of the things we’re looking at is how to rewire the more traditional representation model for the 21st century. I think the old days of deal-breaking being the major activity is starting to be not enough service for clients.

DEADLINE: How important will production be?

There’s a brilliant production infrastructure out there in the UK. We should be very proud of that. We’re not trying to disrupt that, but there is an opportunity to help clients go further along the road through acquisition of IP and for clients to have their own development services, to work in partnership with them. YMU isn’t looking to own IP rights, but development, discovery of material, making sure clients are able to push on with passion projects — yes, absolutely.

DEADLINE: YMU has spoken about further growth in 2020 and beyond. What does that mean?

It’s no secret that YMU wants to make big investments in the drama area. There remain opportunities. Our aim is to give our clients the best representation platform. It’s three years since the Troika acquisition and we would love to partner up and increase the scale with other interested entities.

DEADLINE: It sounds like there will be further M&A to come…

Watch this space…

DEADLINE: Are there any incomings or outgoings among staff in coming months?

Micheal and Conor are amazing agents and built an amazing company. We’re really excited in the team that are here. It’s time for us to invest in that generation.

DEADLINE: Those guys amassed a great client list. How many of their clients will be staying?

We’ll have to see how it shakes out. We’re offering an amazing service. It’s a fantastic roster. There could be some flux, which opens up possibilities for new clients, but I’m really confident in the level of talent the team will be representing going forward. Troika is arguably the leading talent agency in the UK. I feel confident and relaxed about it. The engine that Michael and Conor built will continue. If you obsess about particular clients it can be a harrowing process.

DEADLINE: Will you be re-starting your own list?

My role is to support Paul Randle (Managing Director) and Mary Bekhait (UK CEO). I will bring my expertise from Curtis Brown as a specialist in the drama area but I also have a fair amount of department development experience having overseen the creation of the talent department at Curtis Brown. I’m not expecting to be re-starting my roster. I’m there to augment the team.

DEADLINE: Does YMU have a film and TV presence in LA? What are the U.S. opportunities for the company?

We don’t have a presence in a significant way. That is one of YMU’s ultimate strategic goals and I understand they are actively pursuing certain opportunities and open to looking at others.

DEADLINE: Will you hire more agents in London?

We’re always looking to recruit the right people; those with the right culture and ambition. We’re open to it and keen to grow in that area. We currently have around 12-13 agents.

DEADLINE: Do you have something on the go on the production side?

Not yet. I’ve been ‘in my garden’ between jobs…

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