When Bruce Dean, long-time agent and owner of The Talent House, explains what makes Daniel Birnbaum stand out in a sea of other young agents, it boils down to one word: fearless.
It was that quality that prompted Dean to tap Birnbaum to lead The Talent House’s film and television department at just 23 years old. At the time, Birnbaum was less than a year into his job as a youth agent at the firm. Despite his youth, the department’s departing head suggested Birnbaum replace him — and Dean listened.
“I had a few clients saying — ‘oh, he’s too young. I can’t put my career in the hands of someone that young’…but he was fearless. I can watch him walk into a room full of big-name people and he can hold his own, and that is what it’s all about,” Dean tells Playback.
Birnbaum, however, was reluctant to leave his roster of youth talent behind — so he asked if he could handle both departments. An initially hesitant Dean let him do it, to resounding success. Since then, Birnbaum has helped some Talent House clients, like Melissa O’Neil, Callan Potter and Adrianna DiLiello, get their first major on-screen parts, and is responsible for landing a host of other actors lead and recurring roles in numerous Canadian productions.
“When I took on the film and TV department, it wasn’t like I came on board and managed to bring a flurry of amazing clients with me. I looked at the clients we had and was realistic about where I saw them fit. And that garnered a lot of respect from people in casting,” Birnbaum says.
Birnbaum got O’Neil her first-ever TV part as a lead in Prodigy Pictures’ Dark Matter, and landed Potter his first major role as a co-star in the upcoming YTV MOW Bruno and Boots: Go Jump in the Pool. DiLiello’s lead role on Annedroids is one of her first major parts, and she’s since been cast as a lead in Fresh TV’s Backstage.
His other successes include getting Michael Therriault series-regular parts on Reign, The Girlfriend Experience and Hemlock Grove, along with recurring parts on 19-2, Damien and Heroes Reborn. Ryan Allen and Krystal Nausbaum both got lead roles on Between thanks to his efforts. While he declined to provide exact figures, Birnbaum said he has also brought “many” new people onto The Talent House’s roster.
“As an agent, you can’t sit there and be an order-taker…you don’t go necessarily after what is just on the breakdown, you go after other ideas and think outside the box,” Dean says of Birnbaum. “He has surpassed what I wanted him to do – and I don’t say that lightly.”
An example of Birnbaum’s approach is O’Neil’s part on Dark Matter. Although she wasn’t his client – Talent House is a cooperative — as soon as Birnbaum saw the part, he knew it was for her, even though she hadn’t done TV.
Recently offered a six-week stint on a Broadway production of Les Mis, O’Neil recalls thinking Birnbaum was “crazy” to push her to read for Dark Matter when she had a job lined up. But he persisted, and she landed the role and has since been cast in CBC’s This Life.
“When he thinks someone is right for something, he will go to bat for it, even when that person is saying, ‘I don’t want to.’ He’ll go, ‘ok, I understand that, but look at all the different ways this could be a positive experience for you,’” she says.
Birnbaum says he’s driven by his perfectionist tendencies (“I joke my ego is too big for me to suck”) and his goal to connect each actor to the part best suited for them.
“If I don’t think someone is in the pocket for a role, and I think there is going to be someone who is a better, natural fit out there in the world, I’m not going to waste anyone’s time. And I think that is how I’ve been able to garner — knock wood — accolades and an accelerated career,” Birnbaum says.
Photo credit: David Leyes