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Secret Agent Man

Actors Who Take the Business Personally Are Doomed to Fail

Actors Who Take the Business Personally Are Doomed to Fail
Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

I love to read, but I don’t always have time to sit down with a lengthy piece of fiction that will take me weeks to finish. So my attention usually lands on nonfiction, and most of those books end up being about the business. And that’s just fine, because I love the entertainment industry.

“Truth Is a Total Defense: My Fifty Years in Television” is a recent memoir by producer Steven Bochco. He’s the man who created classic shows like “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law,” and “NYPD Blue.” It’s a fun read, and there’s a passage in the book that really struck me:

“One of the advantages a studio always has over talent, separate and apart from the financial resources, is that for them it’s never personal. For us, as artists, it’s always personal. And that puts us at a disadvantage.”

This is an important lesson you absolutely, positively must learn if you want to succeed. Any actor who takes this business personally is doomed to fail. You know why? Because a large part of being a performer involves getting rejected on a regular basis for reasons that are beyond your control.

READ: 6 Ways to Find the Best Agent for You

Sadly, guys like me are usually the ones who deliver the details of those rejections to actors like you. For example, a client will ask me to please get feedback after an audition because he’s certain he nailed it. So I’ll call the casting director, who will tell me the actor did a nice job but the producers just didn’t respond—and when I deliver this benign explanation to the client, he will lose his shit and assume the producers hated everything he did and the casting director will never read him again.

(This is why agents hate asking for feedback.)

Look at it this way. You’re too tall. You’re too short. You’re too young. You’re too old. None of that is personal. They’re just opinions based on the needs of the character. Hell, during a one-week period, I was once told the same actor was too good-looking for one role and not good-looking enough for another.

Taking any of this personally puts you at a huge disadvantage, because you’ll end up carrying that baggage with you into the next audition. And the last thing you want on your mind when you’re reading for a part is the memory of how much it hurt the last time you didn’t get hired.

Having the wrong perspective can also create problems during negotiations. I recently did a deal for an established actor who hadn’t worked in a while, and the studio refused to meet his quote. This freaked the client out. He felt the studio was disrespecting him and his long list of credits, but nothing could be further from the truth. The facts were the project was being produced on a tight budget and the studio guy was just trying to make the numbers add up. None of it was remotely personal. I’m not even sure the guy knew who my client was or what he had done. From his perspective, the negotiation was about the deal points, not the actor.

So I told my client the same thing Michael Corleone told his brother in “The Godfather”: “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”

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