In Depth

Hot List: Mike Jelline

Head of TV Talent, ICM

You wouldn’t know it from the fancy suits and clean-cut look he now sports, but it wasn’t too long ago that Mike Jelline spent his days banging the skins for a high school garage band called Django Vargo, playing covers of songs by Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.

Fifteen years later, Mr. Jelline has traded “Stairway to Heaven” for the corporate ladder, rising rapidly through the TV talent department at ICM. He’s helped place actors on shows such as “Mad Men” (January Jones), “Numbers” (Peter MacNicol), “Heroes” (Ali Larter), “Dollhouse” (Olivia Williams), “90210” (Rob Estes), “Life on Mars” (Jason O’Mara) and “Rules of Engagement” (Oliver Hudson).

His bosses at ICM have taken note of his work, last month naming him head of TV talent at the agency, replacing casting industry legend Leigh Brillstein.

Teri Weinberg, executive vice president of development at NBC, said Mr. Jelline “not only has his clients’ best interests at heart, but (he) dares to pitch out-of-the-box ideas.”

Mr. Jelline is young—he turns 34 this week—but he isn’t exactly an overnight success. He’s been at ICM since 1997, joining the agency soon after graduating the University of Oregon. Very soon.

“I moved to L.A. the day after I graduated from college,” Mr. Jelline said. “I had a broad idea that I wanted to work in the industry. But I grew up in Portland, which isn’t exactly the entertainment capital of the world. I didn’t know exactly how I’d get there.”

Friends suggested the agency world would be a good way to learn about all aspects of the business. A chance encounter with the frat brother of one of Mr. Jelline’s high school buddies led to an interview with “the right person” at ICM.

Mr. Jelline landed a spot as an assistant for then-ICM film agent Risa Shapiro. Not long after, he got an even higher-profile job on the desk of Nancy Josephson, who packaged “Friends.”

“It made me realize how much I love television,” Mr. Jelline said of his time on Ms. Josephson’s desk. “A film script could sit on a shelf for seven years. With Nancy, a client might be pitching a script one day, and four months later, it was shooting.”

Within 18 months of going to work for Ms. Josephson, Mr. Jelline became an agent. One of his first big deals was landing Kelly Rowan a key role on “The OC.”

One of Mr. Jelline’s biggest boosters at ICM has been the woman he replaced, Ms. Brillstein. “Leigh has been telling me almost from my first day on the job that this would happen one day,” Mr. Jelline said of his promotion. “The transition couldn’t have been more seamless.”

Also key to his rise: ICM’s 2006 merger with Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann, which brought a major influx of youth to the agency. While several longtime ICM agents left in the wake of the shakeup, Mr. Jelline stayed—and flourished.

“Once I sat in a room with [current ICM President] Chris Silbermann for five minutes, I got it,” Mr. Jelline said, explaining that the former BWCS folks helped bring a new spirit to the agency, an energy that meshed well with Mr. Jelline’s style.

“Mike is one of the best talent agents in the business, and he’s become a good friend,” said Keli Lee, executive VP of casting, Disney-ABC Television Group. “He has the incredible combination of intelligence, business savvy, great taste, likability, humor and passion. He makes my job easier when he calls me about the next television star, like a Jason O’Mara. When he believes in someone, he’s like a dog with a bone. He will never give up.”

Not that Mr. Jelline believes there’s some magic formula that makes people in his line of business successful.

“Being an agent is not brain surgery,” he said. “It’s about hopefully having some taste, a strong point of view and a lot of hard work.”