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Secret Agent Man

Embrace the Struggle of Your Career

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Embrace the Struggle of Your Career
Photo Source: Pete McDonnell

Nothing about this industry is easy.

When I decided to become an agent, I was a cocky bastard straight out of film school who believed he had the world by the tail. My résumé was impressive. People liked me. How hard could it be? Well, I had to meet with seven companies before I was offered an assistant job, and that offer came after four grueling interviews. 

As a reward for my tenacity, I was granted the pleasure of assisting a cutthroat son of a bitch who reminded me of Mr. Smith from the “Matrix” movies. Every day was a new adventure, depending on his mood. The only thing I could count on was that if anything went wrong, it was my fault.

To make matters worse, the salary they gave me was a joke. I’m talking the kind of money entry-level employees at a fast-food chain would turn down. Would you like to hear my definition of irony? I was forced to take on a weekend job so I could afford to work at one of the most successful talent agencies in town.

At least I could commiserate with a few of the other assistants who resembled human beings. The rest were junior sharks with an ace up one sleeve and a loaded derringer up the other.

Looking back, that was the toughest year of my professional life—and I’m grateful for every moment.

I don’t mean to imply suffering is noble. That’s absurd. But I do believe struggle is inevitable. The trick is to see struggle as an obstacle that must be overcome. If you see it as a burden, then your life will be much harder and alcohol will become your best friend.

Actors have to understand that they’ve chosen one of the hardest careers on the face of this planet and a few others. And no, I’m not being glib. Success as a performer has no clear path. I know graduates from the drama department at Yale who cannot find representation. I also know actors with no formal training who have stumbled into series regular roles on hit shows.

Sadly, the eternal struggle in this industry is just that: eternal. It doesn’t go away when you’re successful; there will always be a new hurdle right around the corner. You finally signed with an agent? Great, but why aren’t you getting out more than once a month? You booked your first job? Great, but why aren’t you reading for larger roles? You landed a series? Great, but why aren’t you working on features?

Trust me. It never ends.

I know a New York actor who, after several intense auditions, landed the lead in a Broadway show. The guy was on cloud nine. Nothing could stop him. Then the show closed after six performances.

I believe the key is to accept adversity as part of your personal story. Like I said before, it’s just an obstacle that must be overcome. And here’s the thing you have to understand: Your struggle is not unique. It’s your response to struggle that will define you.

A few years ago, I was visiting a client who was on location in Sydney. The two of us ended up in a pub after a long day’s shoot, and we enjoyed a few pints with some colorful locals. One of them taught us an old Aussie toast that I will never forget:

“Press on, regardless!”

I’ve always loved those three words. And if you want to be an actor, I suggest you make them your mantra.

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