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Interview

Kids in the Picture

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Mitchell Gossett is a rare breed. Equally talented as an agent and performer, he might be the only agent in town with a Back Stage West Garland award for performance on his desk, won for his virtuoso performance in Mac Wellman's demanding language play Terminal Hip. Not only is he the producing artistic director for the innovative L.A. theatre company Bottom's Dream—devoted to tackling tough "language playwrights" like Wellman and Erik Ehn—he's a founding member of the RAT Conference, a national alliance of independent theatres, and a director of the Edge of the World Theater Festival.

Yet there is another unusual thing about Gossett: While many agents have made the switch to managing, attracted by the promise of more flexibility and higher commissions, Gossett did the reverse. Before joining the children's division of Cunningham Escot Dipene in May of 2001, Gossett was a talent manager for eight years.

How he became an agent: "I got into managing because I got cast as Iago at Occidental Theatre Festival one summer and I said to my wife, 'It's not a lot of money, but I've got to do this part,' and she said, 'Sure, as long as you promise to get a job by Oct. 1,' so I said 'Sure, sure, sure.' She had faxed my resumés out to management companies and agencies. I started getting these calls figuring, 'Oh, they'd all seen my acting work,' but then she told me that they were really for assistant jobs."

He began at Artists Management West with Patrick Baca, who later became a casting director. Gossett became an associate within months, and within a year he was running the company.

"After two and a half years," said Gossett, "I realized I had brought in a lot of my own people, and I said, 'Well, is there any reason I shouldn't be having my own company here?' So Melissa Berger and I left on a Friday afternoon with a milk crate and some pictures and started a company.

"Out of the blue one day I called my friend Bob Preston at CED, whom I had had clients with over the years, and he said, 'You know, I'm leaving here in two weeks. Maybe you'd like to interview.' So although my company was doing well, CED had such a great reputation. It was really the first agency that had a division specifically devoted to young talent, it was close to my house.… The whole job was very attractive."

Where he finds talent: "All over," said Gossett. "I really am quite aggressive about it. I fly about 50,000 miles a year scouting. I'm in 12 cities every year. I'm very into the Texas and Chicago markets specifically. I'm usually invited by an acting school or local talent agency or convention. There are a number of conventions that go around the country: Model Search America, ProScout, Manhattan Model Search, IMTA, Best New Talent. These companies call me regularly. I'm also in with Yale and Juilliard, and University of Arizona. I see about 20,000 kids a year."

He does look at blind submissions, though he says he rarely calls people in off a cold letter. Most of the people he sees are manager referrals—though not always managers he knows well.

"If a manager gets me on the phone," said Gossett, "I respect that, because I'm not always an easy person to get on the phone."

What he looks for: "A person's appearance," said Gossett. "I'm not talking about beautiful, I'm talking about appearance. Because of my own acting training, I look at poise and alignment—their spine alignment, their vocal apparatus, the way they conduct themselves. You start seeing things that seem to be hints for success. They are natural. It really comes down to what God has given them. I've seen wonderful actors who may not be so marketable because there are just certain traits that apply. There are personal grooming issues—how you prepare yourself for an audition physically, as well as with the material, your attitude about it, how you approach the art in yourself. Whether you are desperate about it or confident in it, how you walk, an inner and outer poise."

Up-and-coming clients: Eddie Karr, who just won a BSW Garland for The Visible Horse at the Court Theatre, Mae Whitman (JAG, Chicago Hope), Skye McCole Bartusiak (Mel Gibson's daughter in The Patriot, starring as Helen Keller with Hillary Swank on Broadway this fall), Hayden Panitierre (starring with Kate Hudson in a Disney movie called Raising Helen, a series regular on Ally McBeal), the kids from Spy Kids, Raven-Symone. Gossett also managed and coached Seann William Scott for a long time before he booked American Pie.

Trends he is observing: "The roles have really gotten mature," said Gossett. "The roles coming out for 10-, 12-, 14-year-olds can be sexual now. I just dealt with a script called Birth where a 10- to 12-year-old boy is a kind of a reincarnation of Nicole Kidman's husband and tells her about things only a husband would know. There are some really explicit story lines for young actors.

"There's also a trend for actors to want to emancipate and to get their GEDs so they can work adult hours. I do come across this: that producers want to hire someone who is 18 or older or has a GED or who is emancipated because they can use them 8-10 hours on set. Sometimes the writers or producers will say, 'If he can't get a GED or emancipation, we'll just have to write him in a little less.' So there is a tendency for actors to be homeschooled or to really play with their education a little bit more."

What sets him apart: "I am an agent who is very interested in theatre for my clients," he said. "I always see theatre as part of a career strategy, and I don't think some of the bigger agencies do."

Advice to actors and parents: "Get an agent," said Gossett. "If you can't get an agent, there are a lot of managers out there. Go find one. Somebody's got to be submitting your child. Somebody's got to be talking you up on the phone." Also, Gossett suggests that parents who want to talk to him frequently about their child's career make use of e-mail, which he can return while he fields calls from casting directors throughout the day.

Passions: "My satisfaction is when I hang up the phone knowing I'm about to call somebody and change their life," said Gossett. "That's a tremendous feeling. I can help make dreams come true." He also hopes to get back to producing theatre with Bottom's Dream, though he's pretty busy with another recent production: his 4-year-old daughter. Any chance she's headed for showbiz? She'll have to pay her dues onstage first. BSW

Mitchell Gossett

Cunningham-Escott-Dipene

10635 Santa Monica Blvd., #130

Los Angeles, CA 90025

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