Being a self-described “horrible” actress has worked out well for the William Morris Agency's Cori Wellins. Having landed a role in the 1990 film Arachnophobia, she hoped to launch a career as a TV actor. But she has been much more successful in representing television writers, so much so that she became head of WMA's Television Literary Department in 2005.
Growing up in Clare­mont, Calif., Wellins snagged the lead in a local play and then used her freckle-faced look to get a lot of commercial work. But later, while at UCLA, she went through an entire pilot season without a single audition. Realizing she had to get creative, she took an internship with her agent, thinking her presence around the office would get her sent out to more auditions.
But Wellins soon came to the conclusion that she wanted to be an agent herself. “Her life looked great,” she remembers of her agent/boss. “She had a Lexus, people brought her coffee, and she controlled things.”
Wellins needed an in, and got it in 1995 through her stepmother, who was good friends with veteran agent Sol Leon at William Morris; Leon helped her land a job as an assistant making $375 a week. For the next two years, she would work for Rob Wilken and then Gary Loder, before getting promoted to agent.
She took on a few writer clients and quickly realized the power they could wield in television, where writers typically run shows. “When I started here, not a lot of feature writers worked in television,” she says. “Now writers are happy to come into TV and realize the medium is all about them, where, in film, it's the director or the big-name actor.”
Among her early clients was Gary Scott Thompson, who had written The Fast and the Furious and is now the creator of NBC's long-running hit Las Vegas. “Cori really taught me the business of the television world,” he says. “Features and TV are very different beasts, and Cori has been tireless in helping me make the jump.”
Her clients also include Spike Lee, who directed the pilot for Shark, which CBS picked up for its fall schedule, and writers on shows ranging from The Simpsons to The O.C.
Wellins tries to be the agent she never had as an actress: someone who strategizes for her clients constantly and relentlessly. And what if she had had an agent like herself during her acting days?
“I would be an Academy Award winner, of course,” Wellins says with a laugh.