I met with an agent yesterday, and although she offered to sign me, I feel strangely unhappy. I had gotten the interview from a mailing I did last month—this was the only interview I got from it, actually—and I was excited because she works at a legit agency that has a decent reputation, even though it's pretty small. I wasn't expecting it to be superfancy, and I wasn't even put off by the tiny and kind of smelly office. I did, however, have a really hard time with how this woman behaved.
She acted the whole time like I was annoying her and she just wanted to get me out of there, even though she was the one who had called me in and given me the appointment. We talked for, like, eight minutes total. I did a monologue—which she cut off after about one minute—and then she said she'd be willing to work with me for a while and "see what she could do with me." I thanked her and stood to shake her hand, but she was already taking a call that was coming in and just sort of waved me away.
I know I should be happy about having an agent, but I just feel kind of resistant. Should I suck it up and move forward with her? I don't have anyone else offering to rep me, and I feel foolish not jumping on this, but maybe I need to hold out for someone better? Are all agents this mean?
via the Internet
I can see why you're feeling nonplussed, but I can't tell you what to do, especially without knowing more about you and the agent herself. Then again, even if I had your résumé and a long biography of the agent, I'd still be hesitant to give advice about how you should proceed.
I was reminded of just how peculiar a good actor-agent relationship can be a couple of weeks back. I was hosting Back Stage's most recent Successful Actor event in Los Angeles, moderating a conversation between working actors and an audience of 100 or so Back Stage readers and acting students. In the course of the conversation, one of the actors mentioned the first names of a couple of the agents he'd worked with in New York. The names rang a bell, and afterwards I rushed over to ask him if he'd indeed once had the same agent as I. We discovered that not only were we with the same agency but we were there at the same time. But that was where the similarities ended. While I gushed over my experience with these agents, he told me some depressing stories of mistreatment and lack of effort. We had been with the same agents at the same time, and while I had walked away totally satisfied, he left angry and disappointed. Why the difference? Relationships—all kinds of relationships—are tricky.
While you and this woman might have gotten off on the wrong foot, there's no saying you won't end up having a solid partnership. It might be wise to put in some time to see whether you can encourage a more positive relationship.
Start by making an appointment to show her your headshots—she needs to see them—and discuss which shot she'd like you to reproduce. At the meeting, make a point of saying that you're eager to create a great working relationship with her. Ask what you can do to best help her promote you. Does she mind if you self-submit? Does she want you to notify her if you do so? Should you use your own phone number when you submit for nonunion work such as student films, or does she prefer that you always use the agency as your contact? How would she like to communicate in the future? Does she prefer phone calls? If so, what time of day is best for her? Does she like emails or occasional meetings? What kinds of things does she want you to contact her about? Some agents like feedback after auditions; others don't want to hear from you unless you're letting them know you're leaving town for a week. While most actors would prefer a more communicative representative, a kind, chatty agent isn't necessarily "better" than a standoffish but hard-working one. Perhaps dogged advocacy for her clients makes up for what she lacks in social acumen.
Hopefully, a straightforward and polite approach will yield the respect you felt was missing at your last meeting. If not, and your questions are met with resistance—or worse, your call about showing her your headshots is greeted with sighs and moans—you'll be back to this difficult decision: Stick with an agent you don't like or go back out on your own and continue the search. It might take you a few weeks or months to decide—and that's fine. There's no need to make a quick decision as long as you keep working on your own behalf.
What do I mean by that? I want to be sure you don't make the common mistake of thinking that landing an agent, even one who acts like Mary Poppins, permits you to let up on your own personal career management. If you continue to find your own auditions, take classes, and make contacts—in other words, if you continue to work for yourself as if you don't have a representative—and the agent ends up being unhelpful, you'll still be in good shape. You may have even met your new representative in the interim—after all, you're in demand! If, however, you spend the next few months sitting back and waiting for her to get you auditions, worrying in the meantime over her lack of professionalism, you'll end up having wasted a lot of time.
Finally, while it's true that competition is fierce and many feel that any agent is better than no agent, your self-respect is paramount to your success. It's more than all right to say no to situations that make you uneasy or unhappy. Everyone has a bad day now and then, but if this agent is consistently rude or dismissive, you're likely better off without her on your team. You are the only representative who will stick with you through your whole career, after all. Treat yourself with respect, even when others don't.
Dear Los Angeles Readers:
I mentioned the Successful Actor series above and wanted to bring your attention to this month's event. It's on Tues., Nov. 17, at 7:30 p.m. at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, 1336 La Brea Ave., in Hollywood. You must RSVP to attend. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Details can be found on BackStage.com under "Bulletins."
Any questions or comments for The Working Actor? Please email Jackie and Michael at email@example.com.