Jack Davenport: 'Ten Percent' shows funny side of human frailty

Jack Davenport's comedy series, "Ten Percent," debuts on Friday. Photo courtesy of Sundance
1 of 5 | Jack Davenport's comedy series, "Ten Percent," debuts on Friday. Photo courtesy of Sundance

NEW YORK, April 28 (UPI) -- Pirates of the Caribbean and The Morning Show actor Jack Davenport says his new talent-agency comedy, Ten Percent, has a lot more heart and high-stakes drama than some viewers might anticipate.

The series, writer John Morton's British adaptation of the French series Call My Agent!, debuts Friday on Sundance Now.


Set at a family-owned London firm, the show features an ensemble cast led by Davenport, Maggie Steed, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Lydia Leonard and Hiftu Quasem.

Kelly Macdonald, Helena Bonham Carter, Olivia Williams, Himish Patel, Emma Corrin, Dominic West, Phoebe Dynevor and David Oyelowo guest star as high-maintenance, fictionalized versions of themselves.

Davenport told UPI in a recent Zoom interview that the show's shifting tones work because of Morton's "compassionate worldview" and "otherworldly ability really to blend the comic with the tender."


"He is very tender toward human frailty and he knows that it is also quite funny -- human frailty -- so there is no judgment," Davenport said.

"It's not out-and-out laughs and it's not out-and-out drama. It is a very exquisite blend of the two."

The show opens as Richard Nightingale (Jim Broadbent), the beloved and optimistic co-owner of Nightingale/Hart, dies, leaving his son Jonathan (Davenport) and business partner Stella (Steed) to take over.

"We have to carry on as normal. We just have to keep this ship afloat and everyone has got their job to do. There is nothing like work to heal a broken heart," said Steed, best known for her years on EastEnders.

"I also know that -- not only has Richard died -- but the company is in deep trouble, financially, and something has to be done," the actress went on. "I'm trying to shore that up, but not take that too seriously, whereas Jonathan is trying to take it on the chin and move it forward with potentially disastrous results."

Davenport sees shades of Britain's real-life Prince Charles in Jonathan.

"In some ways, he's been waiting for this moment his entire life, and then, of course, it happens and he's devastated," the actor said. "It's a smart piece of casting to have Jim Broadbent, who I think we all wish deep down was our dad, to play my dad in the show."


This plot turn is a departure from the original French series, which has the boss, who isn't blood-related to any of the other characters, die off-screen.

"It's an interesting way of raising the emotional stakes in a culture that is much more emotionally suppressed than the French," Davenport observed. "It kind of cranks things up in a way."

Jonathan is also shocked to learn what dire straits the company is actually in.

"He's ascended to the throne and it turns out the throne is made of balsa wood," the actor quipped. "There's a lot of fun to be had there."

Also adding to the humor is the fact Jonathan and Stella have very different styles when it comes to dealing with the anxious and insecure artists they represent.

"I've been very, very faithful to my clients and respectful and have stuck by them through thick and thin," Steed said of Stella.

"I've never really sacked anyone and people may have left me because I've been a bit uncompromising in terms of what work I will suggest to people," she said. "She shoots from the hip, this girl. She always has and she has been doing this a very long time."


Davenport pointed out that the evolution of show business is related to technology, moving from theater to cinema to TV.

Artist representation has changed along with it, with radio, newspapers, magazines, TV and social media as vehicles for publicity.

"Thirty years ago, television was a dirty word. You went there if you couldn't get a job anywhere else. That's all changed. Streaming has changed everything," he said. "Jonathan -- justifiably or not -- thinks he has a sense of what the game board looks like better than Stella."

Understandably, this causes friction between the partners because Jonathan associates Stella with a bygone era, one his father embodied and one that caused him both pride and frustration.

"He thinks he's dragging the business into the 21st century and, in doing that, he has in mind the technological aspects of it and less, perhaps, [the personal connections] Stella does," Davenport said. "To be a good agent, contrary to popular belief, requires a degree of moral clarity.

"Stella really has that and she's the one who speaks up about loyalty and sticking by people and not discarding them like so much disposable whatever. I think that is a really interesting tension to explore."


As actors who have spent decades in the entertainment industry, Davenport and Steed said Ten Percent is an authentic, not idealized, portrayal of this aspect of the business.

"Being a performer is an act of heightened public vulnerability, so the stakes are really quite high emotionally and so what in any other business might appear to be almost ludicrous in terms of personnel management, in this world" is normal, Davenport said.

"Not all actors are neurotic, bubble-headed show ponies," he said. "That's kind of cliche, but it is still rough out there."

Steed added: "There are pretty big, but flabby egos, mainly. A lot of them are very clever, too, which makes it even more difficult."

"You're quite right," Davenport agreed. "So, it does feel quite real and, also, when the emotional stakes are that high, things and situations can tip quite naturally into farce, where in any other world that might seem a bit over the top. John's writing grounds it in an emotional reality, which helps that all play out."

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