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The Working Actor

How to Give Good Interviews

How to Give Good Interviews
Asked and Answered

Dear Michael:

When meeting with potential new agents, what is the best way to answer the question about why you're seeking new representation?

Sandi N., San Diego, Calif.

Dear Sandi:
When being interviewed, in general I recommend simple, pleasant answers. Simple and pleasant is more important than accurate. Many interviewees make the mistake of thinking that the content of an answer is what's important. But this is neither interrogation nor DMV test. There's no fact-checking and no grading. Mostly, the interviewer just wants to hear you talk.

Too many details make answers hard to follow and therefore less interesting. I used to find myself caught up in rambling attempts to provide accurate answers as my listener's attention dwindled by the second: "So Michael, you grew up in New York?" "Well, I was born there, then we moved to Florida, and then -- well, I lived in L.A. as a teenager, then moved back and forth ... " Even I'm bored. Now I respond with "Yep. Born and raised," and we move on. See what I mean?

When asked why you're seeking new representation, you could laugh and say, "Well, you know actors. We're never satisfied," and come across as perfectly charming. Or you could say something such as "People love my work when they meet me. They just need to meet me." "My agents have been great, but I'm ready to take the next step, and I don't think they can take it with me." "Why does anyone seek new representation?" Or even "Representation?! I thought I was here for a psychic reading!"

Answers to interview questions are opportunities to show your style, poise, and professionalism. It almost doesn't matter what you say, as long as you present yourself well.

While we're on the subject, here's another clever interview technique I've learned: Answer the question you wish they had asked. (You'll see great demonstrations of this technique in political interviews.) Here's how that works: I'm focused on pursuing theater these days. But what if the interviewer wants to discuss my TV work? Watch and learn: "So wow, Michael. You were on my favorite show, 'The Wire.' What was that like?" "Oh, it was fantastic. And I love the fans. When I was touring with 'Les Miz,' I met lots of them at the stage door. They were surprised to see me singing onstage. But that's what I love to do, which is why I'm back in New York." I've now cleverly steered the conversation to the subject I want to discuss. Sneaky, huh? Try it sometime.

The worst thing to do during an interview is panic. There's no need. Think about the circumstances -- just two people, in a room, conversing. That's all it is. I promise, that hidden lever that opens the trap door under your chair, dropping you into a pool full of sharks as soon as you give the wrong answer, only exists in the movies. OK, and maybe at CAA, but that's never been confirmed.

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