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Secret Agent Man

The Key to Meeting an Agent

The Key to Meeting an Agent
Photo Source: Jonathan Bartlett

The most important part of being an agent is deciding how much sin you can live with. Nah, I’m just kidding. It’s figuring out whom you’re going to represent. Agents are only as good as the actors on their list, so we have to be picky.  

My company is all about referrals, so the process usually begins when someone contacts me about an actor. It could be a manager or a lawyer or a publicist or a casting director or a client or the ghost of my dead grandmother. You just never know.

Naturally, my first move is to check out the picture and résumé. If an actor’s green, I need to see that he’s been training with the right people. I also check for stage experience. That tells me a foundation is in place and I won’t be starting from scratch if we end up working together.

When an actor is more established the résumé is less of an issue, but I still do my homework. At first glance, guest-star credits on network shows are a major plus, but I’ve learned from experience that résumés don’t always tell the entire story.

I recently got excited about a guy who had several current guest-star credits on his résumé, but after checking IMDb, I discovered he booked those jobs five years ago when the shows were just starting to air. Gaps like that are usually a bad sign, so I decided to pass.

I’ve also caught actors exaggerating credits. For example, you can’t list a part on “Criminal Minds” as a guest-star role when the good people at IMDb say you played Cop #2.

Next, I watch the reel. The thing to remember here is that my expectations are based on the résumé. If the actor’s just getting started, I don’t expect to see epic scenes with Ryan Gosling. I’m just looking to get a sense of how the actor photographs and what he’s been doing.

Assuming the reel and résumé both get a thumbs up, I now have to ask myself the million-dollar question: “Do I need this person?”

Let’s say the actor in question is an Asian woman in her 30s. Well, logic would dictate that if I already have two actors in that category, I’m probably not going to need a third. On the other hand, let’s say I’m looking at the next Taylor Kinney, a handsome young man in his 20s. Even if I have a few conflicts on my list, I’m still going to take the meeting. Why? Because he’s in the single most popular category there is, and momma didn’t raise a fool.

Finally, before I move forward, I need details about the actor’s current representation. If he’s been working with a starter agency, I know he hasn’t had much experience auditioning for bigger roles. Is he ready for the challenge? Will casting directors who’ve been seeing this actor for day-player parts be open to bringing him in for the good stuff?

The flip side comes into play when someone’s leaving a large company like Innovative or Abrams. I have friends at those agencies, and they know what they’re doing. So if they couldn’t do the job, I probably won’t be able to either.

And that’s what I go through every time someone calls me about a potential client. The process is twice as long when I’m trying to figure out if I should sign the actor.

Agents can only represent so many people before their lists become bloated and difficult to manage. So we have to be very selective about whom we sign. Does the process I’ve outlined guarantee results? Nope. Signing an actor is still a crapshoot. It’s just like Forrest Gump said: “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

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