As a talent agent for International Creative Management (ICM), Andrea Nelson Meigs J.D. '94 has risen to the top of her profession by taking unconventional professional risks, working tirelessly for her clients, and refusing to take no for an answer. She's been included in an Essence magazine cover story on Hollywood's movers and shakers (along with Ruby Dee and Jennifer Hudson, among others), named to Black Enterprise magazine's "Hot List," and selected as one of Honey magazine's "25 Hottest Women in Entertainment." With a roster that includes singer-actress Beyoncé Knowles and actor-musician Idris Elba, Nelson Meigs could be forgiven if she wanted to coast for a while. But that's not going to happen.
"I am, admittedly, a very ambitious person," says Nelson Meigs. "I always want to do my best, and I always want to be better. So every time I hit one of those pinnacles in my career where I feel as though I've reached another rung in the ladder of success, I look up and see there's another rung within reach."
As a child growing up in a Los Angeles suburb, Nelson Meigs dabbled in modeling and acting, appearing in television sitcoms and commercials. But as she matured, she realized that she would rather work behind the cameras and decided to become a lawyer specializing in entertainment. After receiving her bachelor's degree from Tufts University in 1990, she spent a year working for Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), then enrolled in Duke Law School. Degree in hand, she landed a job in the Los Angeles district attorney's office, but within a year was itching for bigger challenges.
When an entry-level job in the mailroom at Creative Artists Management (CAA) opened up, Nelson Meigs took a leap of faith. It soon paid off—in a little more than a year she was promoted to talent agent. Her client list at CAA eventually expanded to include Ellen Burstyn, Christina Applegate, Jon Voight, Cedric the Entertainer, and Destiny's Child, whose members she took with her when she left CAA in 2007 to join rival agency ICM.
Nelson Meigs says that being a talent agent "is the best of both worlds because I get to combine business and creativity. [Professor] David Lange's entertainment and moot-court team at Duke gave me a lot of preparation for the advocacy and negotiation work I do, and, on the creative side, I enjoy reading scripts and strategizing the career goals for my clients."
Nelson Meigs was instrumental in helping Beyoncé Knowles make the transition from singer to actor, brokering roles for the Grammy-winning entertainer in Dreamgirls and Obsessed, the performer's first non-singing role, which debuted at number one at the box office and went on to earn $70 million. Nelson Meigs also helped fast-track the career of Idris Elba, who played Stringer Bell in The Wire and Michael Scott's coolly professional boss on several episodes of The Office. In 2010, Elba will star as a bank robber in the action/heist movie Takers; as a CIA special agent in The Losers, based on Vertigo comics; and as the main character in a six-part BBC detective drama titled Luther.
Although she is more comfortable working behind the scenes for her clients, Nelson Meigs has used her high visibility to bring attention to things that matter to her personally. When she and her husband, entertainment lawyer John V. Meigs Jr., lost an infant daughter, Alexandra, to Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), the couple became active in spreading awareness about the genetic disorder. (She notes that Duke recently launched the Pediatric Neuromuscular Clinic, which, among other initiatives, is conducting clinical trials for SMA.) The couple's other daughter, Avery, is four.
As a mother, Nelson Meigs is passing along lessons in perseverance she learned from her parents. Both worked multiple jobs, rarely took vacations, and instilled in their daughter a tenacious work ethic. And Avery is also absorbing valuable entertainment-industry skills by watching her parents at work. "She's at the age where she has definite opinions," says Nelson Meigs. "So when she's upset, she'll say things like, 'This is the deal.' She wants to negotiate everything."