Interview: Marisa McGrath

The world of an L.A. publicist isn't glamourous as much as parental

Jonathan Lipnicki during Tom Cruise Honored by Artists Rights at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, April 17th, 1998. Credit: Ron Galella/WireImage/Getty

26, Publicist, Los Angeles

"Do we have a tux for Jonathan Lipnicki yet?"

Seconds after Marisa McGrath walks into her Beverly Hills office on an early-April morning, this is one of the many matters on her mind. Lipnicki, 7, needs a tuxedo for a tribute to his colleague and Jerry Maguire co-star Tom Cruise, and it is one of Marisa's many responsibilities to make sure he finds one. She soon learns that calls have been made to Milan — through which it was learned, sadly, that Armani makes nothing small enough.

Marisa is an up-and-coming publicist. This means that she spends her days trying to make other people's lives easier, more glamorous, more exciting and, ultimately, more profitable. What's good for them, after all, is good for her. Clients pay publicity firms well for such image support — generally a monthly fee in the low thousands of dollars; sometimes there is an added commission for the individual publicist. Marisa works with Alison Eastwood, Bobcat Goldthwait and Lipnicki, among others.

After dealing with the tuxedo problem, she has to decide whether Goldthwait should make an appearance on Good Morning Atlanta — he's doing stand-up there — or whether he can safely skip it. "Find out how his shows are selling," she tells her assistant. And after that, there are more calls — to touch base, to negotiate, to charm, to bond.

Her job requires that she operate on many levels, simultaneously keeping in mind the big picture of where her clients want to go and interacting with journalists who can, at least theoretically, help get them there. She also does things like making sure that clients have the right credentials for a premiere and that they have companionship when they want it. "When you hang out with these people, they assume that you're in their world," she says. "You'll go shopping and they can't understand why you're not going to buy the same $400 dress they are."

Marisa makes more money than she thought she would at this age, but nothing near six figures. Still, there are upsides to being near the limelight: Traveling with clients can mean first-class flights and lunches at the Four Seasons.

At a little before 1 p.m., Marisa leaves to meet a manager who represents a new actress. There's no hard business to discuss, but this kind of loose networking is how a lot of business gets done in Hollywood. "The longer you stay here, the more it gets like high school," the manager explains.

After that, it's over to a photographer's studio to check on the results of a shoot of a young actor who's in the upcoming film Saving Private Ryan. This photo may be the first image hundreds of people see of him, and Marisa settles tentatively on one shot that suggests a young Christopher Walken. After that, back to the office for an hour before dinner with an entertainment executive.

Date or work?

She pauses to ponder the question. "I think it's work. He thinks it's a date. I get a lot of that."