When I attend a workshop, the routine is usually the same. The evening starts with a group of agents answering questions, and then we watch a series of scenes and monologues. Sometimes we're asked to give notes; sometimes we're not. And that's it. Game over in about two hours, less if we're lucky.
The question-and-answer session is usually a waste, because actors tend to ask the same questions over and over. How many clients do you have? What do you look for in an actor? Do you work well with managers? I can answer those questions in my sleep.
Last week, I attended a workshop where one of the actors surprised me with an original question. It was direct, even a little confrontational.
"I had a great meeting with an agent," he said, "but at the end of the meeting, the agent said he couldn't sign me because he already had my type. He said it was a conflict. If that's true, why did he bother meeting with me in the first place? Do you think he was lying or trying to let me down easy?"
I knew right away the agent was lying. Logic dictates he would know about the conflict before setting up the meeting. So what gives? There are three possible explanations:
1) The meeting was a favor to a third party, maybe a manager or a casting director. The agent knew he wasn't interested but he couldn't say no. So he took the meeting and then lied about the conflict.
2) The agent went into the meeting with an open mind but decided he wasn't interested. This happens all the time. Saying there's a conflict is an easy out.
3) The agent liked the actor and wanted to sign him, but all the other agents said no. So he invented a conflict to avoid looking weak.
I explained my theory to the actor, and he seemed disappointed. He said he'd rather hear the truth, not a lie. I smiled. Ah, to be that naïve again….
Answering his question got me thinking about the nature of my job. Telling lies is such a big part of it, especially when I'm dealing with actors.
Let's go back to the workshop. Right before her scene, one of the actors told me she'd just signed with her first manager. She wanted to know if I knew him. How could I be honest? How could I possibly explain that the man's a slug who never lifts a finger to help his clients? So I lied. I told her I didn't recognize the name.
That's not the only lie I told that night. As I was leaving, another actor asked me point-blank if I was going to bring him in for a meeting. So I had to make a quick decision. Should I tell him the truth or should I lie? The truth was the guy didn't have an ounce of talent in his body. But how could I say that? It's not my job to crush someone's dream. He probably wouldn't even believe me. So I lied. I said I'd have to review his picture and résumé when I got home.
Part of me believes that the lives of actors would be easier if all they heard was the truth. Unfortunately, most creative people can't handle that much honesty. Do you really want your teacher to pull you aside after class so he can explain you're lacking the basic skills needed to be a good actor?
So to survive, actors create their own reality, one that protects them from the brutal nature of this business. That's how they stay focused on a distant goal. In a weird kind of way, agents buy into that reality by not always telling the truth. And I'm fine with that. Sometimes, we all need a little lie to help us get through the night.