Why Communication Is Key to the Actor-Agent Relationship

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

Actors see agents as a source of information and support. They rely on us to provide opportunities for them. They also examine every exchange we have under a high-powered microscope: Is my agent upset? Did my agent lie? Is my agent doing anything? That’s why we have to be careful about how we communicate with clients.

For example, I will never say anything that could come off as dismissive. If a client invites me to a play they’re in, I won’t tell them that I don’t have time or that I’m not interested. I’ll try to attend, and if I can’t, I’ll ask questions about the show so that the actor feels that I’m still interested.

Intellectually, at least, actors know they’re not the only client on their agent’s list. My job is to serve the needs of the marketplace, and that means representing a wide range of talent across all categories. But I still have to make sure every client feels like they’re my top priority, even if they’re not. That’s why I’ll never tell an actor I can’t talk to them because I’m busy with another client. That’s a beginner’s mistake.   

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That said, if I represent you and you’re bringing in real money, your calls will be returned faster than the Flash can run. I’ll check in constantly, visit you on set, and make sure you feel like the only actor in my life. That will lower the chances of you leaving if another agency comes calling.

If you’re just starting out, I’ll try my best to provide you with the attention you need. Actors remember how their reps treated them when there was no money on the table, so I always give my developmental clients the courtesy and respect they deserve. Then when they start making real money, the memory of that attention will hopefully get them to stay. 

I have never, ever responded to a client’s question with a mindless, “I don’t know.” My job is to always know, even when I don’t. So if I don’t have the answer you need, I’ll say something like, “I’m not sure, but I’ll look into it.” And I will.     

Now, here’s the big one: Actors always think they want to hear the complete, uncensored truth, but they don’t. They want a pleasant version of the truth. This comes into play when a client asks for feedback after an audition. Do you really want to hear that the casting director told me you came off as amateurish and unprepared, or would you rather hear that they felt you were a little off that day? Both responses will land hard, but only one of them will crush you.  

I always pass along useful feedback; that’s how actors grow and improve. But over the years, I’ve learned there are positive and negative ways to say the exact same thing.

A large part of my job is knowing how to communicate with my clients, and my approach changes based on the specific actor and their level of experience. But no matter what, I always try to make sure everyone feels heard; that’s a lesson I learned the hard way during my first marriage.

This story originally appeared in the Sept. 7 issue of Backstage Magazine.

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Secret Agent Man
Secret Agent Man is a Los Angeles–based talent agent and our resident tell-all columnist. Writing anonymously, he dishes out the candid and honest industry insight all actors need to hear.
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