Commercial agent Susan Nathe understands it's the look that books, but it still takes discipline and business savvy to impress her—skills she learned early on. A former teenage model who worked with the legendary agent Eileen Ford, Nathe quickly learned that being on time and having her clothing and makeup at the ready were as important as her tall good looks. Nathe began her own agenting career in fashion but, noticing that all the fun seemed to happen in the agency's television department, she asked to be transferred. After a number of years at various agencies, she bought out her last bosses.
Who and what her agency handles: Nathe handles commercials primarily, plus a little print. Her associates handle theatrical work. The difference, from Nathe's point of view? "Commercials are fast. They can call today, audition tomorrow, shoot Friday. So what somebody tells you it is, is." In other words the producer who wants a young Caucasian won't agree to a middle-aged actor of mixed ethnicity.
Recently she's added kids to her stable. A client—by day a FedEx worker—asked Nathe to see a co-worker's two children who were looking to change agencies. As it turned out, the kids are darling. "And if their mother can't take the kids to the audition, her husband, her mother, someone always can," said Nathe. "They've never said, 'It's too far. It's too late. It's too much traffic.'" So the agency now handles ages infant to 80.
How to get that agent: "Get a current photo that looks like you, and send it with a short, well-written introductory letter," advised Nathe. And please include full, correct contact information. She recently received a letter to which she planned to respond—but neither the letter nor the photo mentioned a phone number. "And I don't have time to write back," Nathe said wistfully. And please avoid suggestive or seductive photos. "Calvin Klein will not pick you," she said. "Calvin Klein will pick supermodels."
Where she finds her clients: Most of her agency's clients come recommended by other clients. "Someone who's in his acting class, or someone's niece who wants to get into the business, or a CD who calls on behalf of an actor whose current agent is going out of business," she said. But the agency also receives 10 to 40 submissions a day; those accompanied by a businesslike letter are more likely to get called by Nathe. "We're never looking for somebody, but we're always looking for somebody," she noted paradoxically.
Trends she has observed: Until recently the call was always for "a Midwestern 35-year-old dad," said Nathe. Now mixed ethnicities—or, better yet, indeterminate ethnicities—are getting the calls. "It's those with dark hair—you can't pinpoint their ethnicity."
Her ideal actor: "The business is pretty much visual," said Nathe. "You don't have time to create a character when you walk in the door." So she signs actors who have a "good commercial look"—which look continues to evolve. Right now it's "18-22, gorgeous, trained at Yale, UCLA, USC," said Nathe. For example, Nathe got a call from a client whose wife's niece needed an agent. The actor's headshots showed "an absolutely adorable 22-year-old, a recent UCLA grad who was already SAG and AFTRA, bilingual, and you can't tell her ethnicity." Nathe signed her immediately. But not all of Nathe's clients fit the "young gorgeous" bill. She also signs character types, including a middle-aged woman with wispy gray hair—and the woman's mother.
Other items on her wish list include actors who have a functioning car, a pager, and a cell phone—and who also check the pager and keep the cell phone on. "The other half is the business side," she said. "Have updated pictures and resumés." Those items can be maintained online with an electronic service, as far as she's concerned, for those Breakdowns that come in at noon for interviews scheduled at 1 p.m.
"I don't read actors," said Nathe. "I don't have to read actors. Very often there isn't any dialogue in the commercial." As such she also happens to represent actors who don't do well in cold reads.
What happens once you're in the door: "It takes a bit to get started," said Nathe. "CDs have to see the picture a couple of times before they get familiar with the actor." And stay in touch with Nathe. "We have 400 clients," she said. "Don't say, 'My friend is out on a interview and I'm not.' Pop in. Say, 'Hi, I'm going to Starbuck's. Do you want a cappuccino? Do you need more pictures?'"
What it means if you're not getting booked: If she's sending out your photo but you're not getting booked, it could mean you need new pictures. "You also need to realize they're not booking 45-year-old housewives," Nathe warned. "They're also booking those who've already been on a series."
What her clients say about her: Charlene Hall has three nationals currently running: JC Penney, Dodge (she's the baker in a big chef's hat), and Home Depot (she teaches the class in sponge painting). Last week she shot a print ad for Scotts Turf Builder. Hall was living in Hawaii and stewarding for United Airlines, shot a commercial for the airline, liked it, and moved to L.A. to do more. She met an ICM agent in first class, who recommended her to Nathe.
Hall booked two jobs the first year, "then went dry as the desert for another year." But, said Hall, "Susan stuck with me—she's honest, she's got a lot of integrity, she works hard, and she runs a small, homey operation." Their 16-year relationship has been going strong.
Another client who asked not to be named but who had nothing but praise for Nathe was referred by another of Nathe's clients. "Once I got my pictures and film together, I went down and interviewed with her," he said. "She told me, 'Come back when you have a car.'" He did so and she signed him. "I got sent out one month later, and gradually the number of calls started increasing. It helps that I'm a patient man," he said.
Her passions: Her daughters—one a producer, one a writer—and granddaughters, including one budding journalist. And fundraising for the AFI Directors Workshops for Women and for the American Cancer Society. BSW
Susan Nathe & Associates
8281 Melrose Ave., Suite 200
Los Angeles, CA 90046