Hollywood talent agencies and their celebrity clients have jumped into crypto. : The Indicator from Planet Money From Jimmy Fallon to Reese Witherspoon, why are so many celebrities promoting crypto? We untangle the web of connections between Hollywood A-listers, Bored Apes, and one influential talent agency, with journalist Max Read. He wrote about this in his Substack newsletter, Read Max.

The celebrity crypto nexus

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SYLVIE DOUGLIS, BYLINE: NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, "WAKING UP TO THE FIRE")

ADRIAN MA, HOST:

This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. I'm Adrian Ma.

WAILIN WONG, HOST:

And I'm Wailin Wong. Here at the show, we've been digging into this meltdown in crypto markets and what it means for the economy. And we noticed something. Hollywood stars have gotten really into Web3, this vision of an internet built on blockchain technology. And they've gotten into one aspect of Web3 in particular - NFTs.

MA: Wailin, I know you are a fan of following the celebs, so you have noticed this.

WONG: I have. And here's one recent example. Sir Anthony Hopkins, two-time Academy Award winner, Hannibal Lecter himself, he's on Twitter, and he usually posts videos where he's playing piano or vacationing somewhere really glamorous.

MA: It's like typical lifestyles of the rich and famous, right?

WONG: Exactly. But then a few weeks ago, Anthony Hopkins tweeted this. I'm astonished by all the great NFT artists. Jumping in to acquire my first piece. Any recommendations? He tagged Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Fallon and Reese Witherspoon. But you know, this list of boldface names is maybe not as random as you might think. They all have promoted crypto, and they're all represented by the same Hollywood talent agency.

So today on the show, we connect the dots between these famous faces and explore what the celebrity crypto nexus reveals about the modern-day talent agency business.

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WONG: It turns out I am not the only one who noticed celebrities had started talking about NFTs.

MAX READ: At some point, it was just sort of bizarre that I kept seeing celebrities pushing and buying NFTs.

WONG: Max Read is a journalist who publishes a newsletter on Substack called Read Max about the impact of technology on culture. And for him, the first big moment was in January. Paris Hilton went on "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon," and they talked about how they had both acquired Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs. These are digital portraits of cartoon apes.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON")

PARIS HILTON: ...Animated version.

JIMMY FALLON: We're part of the same community.

HILTON: I know, yes.

FALLON: We're both apes.

HILTON: I love it.

WONG: So when Max saw the segment, he got curious. Because normally when celebrities go on late-night talk shows to promote something, it's a new movie or album or clothing line. This enthusiasm over a bunch of NFTs felt different.

READ: These are not merely sort of collectible art pieces that are being shared. We're talking about, in my opinion, literally financial securities. And we would find it so weird if Paris Hilton and Jimmy Fallon were talking about stocks they've bought. So that was sort of the impetus to be like, OK, so who else has invested in these? Where are the connections being made?

MA: So Max started looking into it. And in February, he published a big diagram of his findings in his newsletter. He called it mapping the celebrity NFT complex.

READ: This makes it sound like I was doing some, like, really deep, like, dark investigation and like, you know, meeting people in parking lots or whatever. But this is all open. You know, none of this is hidden.

WONG: And, you know, I think that is a cue for us because you know how in Los Angeles, you can buy tickets to bus tours of celebrity mansions? Well, I thought we could do our own virtual crypto star tour. So - oh, oh, look. Look, the bus is pulling up now.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUS PULLING UP)

MA: OK, everybody hop aboard. Yep, yep, yep. Take a seat, take a seat. And we're off.

And if you look to your left, you'll see actor/venture capitalist Ashton Kutcher.

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ASHTON KUTCHER: I still think that cryptocurrency is in its nascency.

WONG: Ashton Kutcher is big into Web3. He's invested in crypto-related startups. And he and his wife, Mila Kunis, make an animated series called "Stoner Cats," where the only way to watch is to buy a "Stoner Cats" NFT.

MA: Hey, look, there's one of the Stoner Cats now.

(SOUNDBITE OF PERSON COUGHING, CAT MEOWING)

WONG: Wave goodbye to the kitties. Now, as we continue our tour, on your right, you'll see one of Ashton Kutcher's business partners, a well-known talent manager named Guy Oseary, whose clientele includes the creator of Bored Apes and an NFT collective called World of Women.

MA: And oh, speaking of which, if you look to your left real quick and just press your face up against the window, you'll see actress Reese Witherspoon. She's a big promoter of World of Women and is developing TV shows and movies based on its NFTs.

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REESE WITHERSPOON: As I got more educated about NFTs, I realized there's just so much opportunity for women to own their own work.

WONG: OK, everyone get excited because we are coming up on a whole line of famous faces now. OK, you got to look quick. We've got Madonna. Oh, look, we've got Snoop Dogg.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SNOOP DOGG: Top of the morning, y'all. What's crackaling (ph)? I don't know if y'all up on this NFT thing, but right now, it's available, so...

WONG: Oh, gosh, look over here. We got Jimmy Fallon and Anthony Hopkins - all celebrities that are talking up NFTs.

MA: And they have something else in common. They're all clients of the same talent agency. Anthony Hopkins signed up with this agency just months before tweeting about NFTs.

WONG: So that is why we are now arriving at the final stop of our Hollywood crypto tour - the offices of Creative Artists Agency, or CAA.

READ: CAA will send a team of highly trained assassins to kill me if I directly accuse them of pushing NFTs on all their clients. But it is notable that they, I do think, have a somewhat outsized stake in this particular world in a way that so far, it doesn't seem like the other big management or talent agencies in Hollywood do.

MA: Now, when we think about a talent agency, like traditionally, we just think about an agent, you know, chatting on the phone with their client and trying to get them a role in a blockbuster movie or landing them in a commercial or get their face on, like, a cereal box. But the industry has grown way more complex than that.

READ: Over the last 10 or 15 years, the talent agencies in Hollywood have sort of turned on the booster rockets. They've become extremely aggressive about expansion and growth.

WONG: And there's a reason for that. Private equity firms have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buy stakes in Hollywood talent agencies, including CAA. And we know private equity investors want to see growth.

MA: And so talent agencies are pursuing new revenue streams and becoming, like, these little conglomerates - right? - getting into production, acquiring other media companies and even making riskier bets like investing in startups.

WONG: CAA has put money into crypto ventures like MoonPay, a payment technology company, and OpenSea, the auction marketplace that sells the NFTs for Bored Apes and "Stoner Cats" and World of Women.

MA: We did reach out to CAA, and they declined to comment for this story. But here is one of their agents, Tom Capone, on a podcast last year talking about the company's interest in NFTs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM CAPONE: We came together and said, this is probably going to be a serious business, a serious industry. We should start strategizing how we interact with this. Obviously, we're a client first business. We need to have an answer when a client says, how do I enter the NFT space?

MA: Stars, they're just like us, right? They want to be on top of the latest hot thing. Max Read says NFTs are appealing to the entertainment world because they bring together art and culture and trendy technology in a whole new way to make money.

READ: One of the sort of interesting things about this whole phenomenon is that the cynical motivations mix incredibly freely with the sincere ones, that - it's very possible Anthony Hopkins has a manager who has decided because there's been so much positive energy around Web3 over the last couple years, that this is the way that Anthony Hopkins is going to make money. And so, you know, Anthony says, sure, do whatever you want. I'm at a beautiful infinity pool. You know, like, I don't need to pay attention to this.

WONG: I would also like to be at a beautiful infinity pool right now.

(LAUGHTER)

MA: Same. But, you know, thinking about whether Anthony Hopkins really cares about crypto brings us to this question. How are all of these celebrity Web3 cheerleaders faring in the current crypto meltdown?

WONG: Well, Max thinks they're doing just fine. They probably have enough wealth and diversified investments to weather any real financial damage.

READ: The phrase that they use in the crypto world is bag holders, that somebody's left holding the bag. And I think in some cases, the celebrities come across as bag holders. But I think ultimately, they're just sort of reputational bag holders.

MA: OK, so the rich and the famous, maybe they're not just like us. They're much better insulated from the sell-off. But we are just talking about a tiny group of people that are betting on crypto. There is another group of investors that is probably feeling much more of the hurt right now. And that's what we going to talk about on tomorrow's show.

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WONG: All right, folks. To your left, you'll see episode producer Corey Bridges and engineer Gilly Moon.

MA: Ooh, ooh, and is that fact-checker Kathryn Yang standing next to senior producer Viet Le? I think it is. And if everybody looks at your right, you'll see Kate Concannon, who edits the show. Thanks for joining THE INDICATOR tour, brought to you by NPR.

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