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How to Think Beyond Your ‘Brand’

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How to Think Beyond Your ‘Brand’

As a former agent and manager, I am asked each year to teach the graduating class at Juilliard how to prepare for the “business” aspects of their careers. One of the areas that I always make sure to cover is preparation for the often asked – and always dreaded – agent/actor interview question, “How do you see yourself?”

In my twenty-five years as a career coach and marketing instructor for performing artists, I have been working in-depth in this very specific area long before “brand” became the buzzword in the corporate, and now artistic, world.

If you ask five different people to define “brand” as it relates to the acting profession, you’re bound to get five different answers. To some it means “essence,” while to others it signifies “type,” and to others – including a number of successful actors and the half-dozen agents I queried – the actual term itself has no real meaning in their world at all.  And yet no one argued that an actor must know himself and be able to articulate his awareness of where he fits into the professional world of casting.

For some, there is no question that the concept of “branding” has brought clarity and focus, but to others, the concept has fostered confusion and limitation. As an example of limitation, an actor who I recently met told me she was reluctant to work on a particular monologue that a casting director has suggested to her because it wasn’t, as she put it, “my brand.”

“And what about your range?” I asked her. I should point out there that the character in the monologue in question was perfectly suited to her, but did not sit squarely in the box in which she had narrowly placed herself. She told me she felt that “other doors” would open to her if she proved she could do the “one thing” she was specifically focused on. I couldn’t help but point out that “other doors” might open even faster if she had audition material that proved she could do such “other things,” especially in light of the fact that actors are so often asked for contrasting material in an audition situation.

On a more extreme level, I had the puzzling experience of interviewing an actor who was wearing a bright green dress, which she selected to match the color of the font on her resume. Unprovoked by me, she offered that the reason for all this was because she was “eco-friendly, earthy, and grounded.”  Stranger still, she performed a monologue that – though well-done – presented a side of her that showed a quirky, off-center, and loopy sensibility.  This was clearly the all-around oddest situation I have encountered in all my years of meeting and dealing with actors.

What to do, then? To best prepare for the “How do you see yourself?” question with which you will indeed be faced, try the following. Think of a role in which you were cast that you and those who saw you perform it felt was a perfect match. If you’re still in the training stages and have little professional experience out in the world, think of a role you’ve worked on in scene class that meets the same criteria. Describe the character. What adjectives would you use? Write them down as if you were creating an actual breakdown for the character. Think of another role and do the same thing. Then do one more. What do you notice?  Many, but not all, of the adjectives you use will usually also describe you, which is, of course, a big part of the reason you were cast in those roles.

Now work on a presentation that keeps you focused, yet shows some range. The way to do this best is to point out what each of the characters have in common, before you talk about how they are different. For example, when you describe one character’s qualities, and then you want to talk about a different character, point out the characteristics they share—there are always some if you give this proper thought. Talking about their commonality before talking about their differences gives you focus, a theme, and ultimately a reasonable presentation of your knowledge of yourself and where you are confident that you fit in the world of casting at this time. 

To see a clear and precise example of exactly what I’m talking about in action, watch the video below. Note that when I’ve finished with my discussion of how the actor should analyze and present his response, the actor I speak of here has a concise but meaty discussion that runs not more that 30 seconds total!

So call it “brand,” call it “type,” call it whatever you’d like, but prepare for it, because if you do not, the odds that you will have a strong, professional and focused response when asked “how do you see yourself” are not good. I have yet to meet an actor who regretted spending a little bit of time and effort in this area when he or she found themselves seated in front of an agent who was firing questions at them.

Brian O’Neil is a former agent and best-selling author of "Acting As a Business: Strategies for Success" which was hailed by Entertainment Weekly as a “show-biz industry bible." An acting career coach and an audition coach, he teaches at many of the country’s top acting training programs including The Juilliard School. For more information, please visit www.actingasabusiness.com.

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