With over three decades of experience representing artists, it’s fair to say Richard Fisher—senior partner, talent division at Abrams Artists Agency—knows talent when he sees it. After starting his career working as a theatrical stage manager, Fisher joined talent agency J. Michael Bloom and Associates as an assistant before transitioning to boutique agency Duva-Flack Associates, where he remained until he joined Abrams in 2002. Fisher recently sat down with Backstage to share the best ways for actors to sign on for representation, just what the “it factor” is that he looks for, and his key to staying positive in an at-times unforgiving industry.
He finds talent all over.
“Almost every night of the week, somebody [from the agency is] out at the theater. So we see actors all the time. Certainly, we might be out seeing a specific client of ours at a play, but then you notice another great performance, as well, and then you start making inquiries about who they are. Watching television, of course—we watch a lot of TV, so we see people there. It can be as simple as, ‘Oh my god, that series regular on that show is amazing,’ or the actor who’s on ‘Law & Order’ and does just two great scenes and it really sparks an interest in you and you need to know who they are, so you just call that casting director and ask some questions. And certainly we see showcases—school showcases—all year long, primarily February, March through May; we will probably see 1,000–1,500 students over a good 10-week period.”
To get representation, show, don’t tell.
“I’m going to be honest and say that it’s rare that I’m gonna call somebody from the mailing. I’d rather be aware of that person, that they’re doing something somewhere. And that doesn’t mean it has to be Broadway or the biggest Off-Broadway, but even if it is a really good downtown showcase that they’re doing and they send us a postcard—“Hey, I’m doing this”—that’s the best thing. That’s the best way to get our young agents and assistants out to see things, and we’ll often go through our assistants and say, ‘You should see this. Go downtown and go see this and let’s talk about it tomorrow.’ ”
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The key to getting noticed? Keep it about the work.
“It can be a lot of the ‘it’ factor. After seeing so many people, who at the moment just really stands out? Meaning that they’re doing great work, but they’re also not being selfish onstage with their scene partner—doing everything that a great actor is supposed to do.”
During an initial meeting, he doesn’t need a performance, but still: Do your homework.
“I just want somebody to come in and be themselves. I don’t really want to sit down with somebody that, you know, the lights come on and they just start performing and they’re not who you’d hope they would be. So just be yourself and be natural. We’re just going to ask questions to get a sense of yourself and your personality. Your preparation should just really be about knowing who you’re coming in to meet. There’s plenty of information all over the internet, of course—you can go on IMDb and see the clientele they represent and get a feel for those kinds of people, and you might likely know somebody who we represent and you can make a phone call. Just do your homework on the history and the background of the agency and who you might be meeting. That’s it, because the rest is simple. You’re just going to come in and have a chat, and we’ll go from there.”
After meeting with an agent, go with your gut.
“The actor should walk out and say, ‘I really like those people,’ or ‘They are not for me.’ It’s a gut instinct all the time. Hopefully, you’ve done the homework, like we talked about earlier, so you know something about the people you’re going into the room to meet with. But as soon as you leave, if you really felt great about it, make some notes, and if you have other meetings, continue on with the meetings or just say, ‘Great group of people, but this is not the place for me.’ ”
Believing in yourself goes a long way as an actor.
“You have to believe in yourself enough that no matter where you are in your career, no matter what age you’re at, you know that it’s going to happen. And by ‘happen’ I don’t mean that you are going to become the biggest movie star in the world. Everybody’s definition of success or notoriety is different, so it depends on really what you want. I have a couple of clients who have done this since they went to college, and they trained, but they didn’t start their success until they were 40. And now, one in particular—two Emmy Awards later, many nominations, starting his third TV series—it literally wasn’t until he was 40 that anybody noticed him onstage, but he believed in himself. He never gave up. He knew he was really good at being an actor, so that’s really it. You just really have to believe in yourself and want to do it day after day.”
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