'London is different. It's more chaotic and diverse, in a way, and we wanted to embrace that,' showrunner John Morton says.
Writer-producer John Morton counts himself as one of the millions of Call My Agent fans. The French comedy, which follows a group of Parisian agents representing A-list French talent, is an International Emmy winner with a rabid fanbase. So, when Morton agreed to showrun a British iteration of the show, Ten Percent, he absolutely felt some pressure.
"Panicking was my first step," he tells Metacritic. "It's a huge responsibility because the French show is brilliant. The first thought is, 'God, how do we not mess this up?' You've got to move past that somehow, but it's difficult because when you tell someone what you're working on, they immediately go, 'Oh I love that show!'"
Ten Percent is out in the U.K. via Amazon Prime Video on April 28 and debuts its first two episodes in the U.S. April 29 on Sundance Now and AMC+. The eight-episode project follows the employees of a boutique London talent agency, Nightingale Hart, as they scramble to keep their clients happy while adapting to a changing industry. Jack Davenport, Lydia Leonard, Maggie Steed, and Prasanna Puwanarajah play the four central agents at the center of the action, while Hiftu Quasem, Fola Evans-Akingbola, Harry Trevaldwyn, and Rebecca Humphries play their staffers.
"People who love the French show will recognize this show was born out of that, but the center of gravity is confidently different," Morton says. "The British, for better or worse, behave in a different way from the French. There's no point in trying to compete with the French show in that sense. London is different. It's more chaotic and diverse, in a way, and we wanted to embrace that."
"One of the things about John's writing is he has this worldview, which is very tender towards human frailty," Davenport tells Metacritic. "It's like comic compassion. It's so beguiling as a tone because you're not laughing at these people, but you're laughing in recognition for the terrible mistakes we all make, constantly."
The show mostly follows that of the French series in the beginning, with famous British faces guest-starring as the agency's clients, and a few key character changes that Morton and his cast preview for Metacritic, below.
Jonathan is based on Mathias Barneville (Thibault de Montalembert), and just like Mathias, he does have a secret daughter who begins working at the agency, complicating his life both professionally and personally. (Here she is played by Quasem.) But in one of the biggest departures from the French series, he has a familial connection to one of the founding Nightingale Hart partners: Richard Nightingale (Jim Broadbent) is his father.
In writing that complex relationship into the series, Morton looked to U.K. theatrical and acting dynasties and thought about how those would translate in the world of agents.
"Jonathan has probably had to live in the shadow of a father who is still living in the 1980s," Morton says. "It gave the show a whole other layer of emotional depth just by that one decision to make him the father."
"It's a huge fuel injection for how my character behaves throughout," Davenport adds. "There's a Prince Charles quality to Jonathan because he's been waiting to be in charge for so long. He thinks he knows better than everybody else."
Stella, the firm's other founding partner, is inspired by Call My Agent's Arlette Azémar (Liliane Rovère). Both characters are older women with a penchant for dogs (Stella's dog, Mathias, is a nod to the original series) and in the respective pilots both are slightly overlooked by their younger colleagues in terms of their experience and knowledge.
"There are very few parts of this caliber for female actors on television," Steed says. "Her wit, the fact that she shoots from the hip, the fact that she's very warm-hearted but doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve — she's an independent women, she has been for a long time and she's probably got a complicated backstory somewhere along the line. But she's not going to blurt it out, either."
By making Stella a founding partner and having Richard be Jonathan's father, Steed says the relationship between Stella and Jonathan is also more complex in this British reimagining.
"I think I'm probably his Godmother," she says. "It must be terribly embarrassing — that I knew him and probably cuddled him as a baby and now we're colleagues. To be on his back as much as I am must be frustrating [for him]. That's a dynamic that happens a lot because we have a lot of problems as a company to resolve. It's very rich humor."
In France, Camille Cottin has received critical acclaim for her role as Andréa Martel. In Ten Percent, Leonard puts her own spin on a version of that character, Rebecca Fox. In the beginning, Rebecca is a tightly wound character, in part because of the constant muck-ups courtesy of an ill-equipped assistant, and in part because she has big ambitions of starting a production company.
"Rebecca goes on a very big arc," Leonard previews. "You start to worry because she is so hardcore and ambitious and ruthless and very passionate for her clients and ambitious for herself. There's a hefty shell that's impenetrable to start with, but throughout the series there are emotional challenges with certain people and you'll see the enormous vulnerability underneath. It grows a lot more than the hard exterior you see in Episode 1."
The Dan character is loosely based on Gabriel Sarda (Grégory Montel) from the French series, and in both pilots viewers meet a bumbling agent who is having a terrible day after he learns one of his top clients is being passed over for a juicy role because of her age. In Call My Agent that actor is played by Cécile de France, and in Ten Percent it's Kelly Macdonald, who guest stars as a version of herself.
"He's having a rough time. Look, we all have bad days," Puwanarajah says. "I think he is a very good agent. Like all good professionals and all good people he has bad days. He makes not necessarily bad decisions, but decisions according to his vulnerabilities and his frailties. He's not particularly into conflict, which is not great if you work in a deal-making space, but he's been doing it a long time and he has his own energy, which is about trust."
Similar to the Gabriel in the French series, Dan becomes smitten with the agency's receptionist who is also trying to be an actor. (Here that is Zoe, played by Evans-Akingbola.) He agrees to represent her, even while he is also trying to date her.
"One of the things I really liked about the French show is it was a dysfunctional family," Morton says, adding that it would have been easy to make a show about backstabbing and conniving characters in this space. "There's a kind of pleasure in that, where everybody gets what they deserve. But they went for something much more human. These people are fallible, they make mistakes and are trying to correct them. Nobody's perfect. In the end you root for these characters, you want them to get it right."
Like the original series, Ten Percent hinges its episodes on notable celebrity cameos as top U.K. talent guest stars as heightened versions of themselves. Macdonald appears in the pilot while future installments welcome actors from Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West, to Phoebe Dynevor, David Oyelowo, Emma Corrin, Himesh Patel, Clémence Poésy, and David Harewood.
"We wrote stories that had a name in the script originally, but we knew it probably it wasn't going to be that person. So there was a lot of, 'Oh my God, two weeks to go and we just lost X!'" Morton says. "In the end we got incredibly lucky because it's not easy to play yourself. People are often poor at it because they seem awkward and they start overperforming. These guests didn't do any mugging."
Morton reveals part of the pitch was an initial Zoom conversation with the talent in question, which he likens to a dress fitting. He recalls his conversation with Oyelowo, who was concerned his character swore so much. (Oyelowo rarely swears in real life.) That chat resulted in a "tailoring" of the script to make it a fit for everyone.
Meanwhile, Chelsey Crisp plays an American power player in the agency who is brought across the pond to further shake up the dynamics at Nightingale Hart, and one person who isn't in the first season but is mentioned several times throughout is Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Morton says she'd be a dream casting addition, but warns not to expect a cameo just yet.
"It will be amazing to see, once this show has aired, whether it's easier or harder to get people to do the show. I hope it gets easier," he says. "That's what the French found: The more successful the show became, the more people wanted to participate. So, that wasn't a secret sign she's coming, but if we do get her, that will be a hell of a lot of fun."