Actors May Sing the Same Song, but They Require a Different Dance

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

I’ve always been a Burt Reynolds fan, and I was sad to see him go. He wasn’t exactly Robert De Niro, but the guy had his moments, and he directed quite a few decent films. Here’s what Reynolds had to say about working with actors:

“I think I’m an actor’s director. I love actors. And I don’t mean that to sound like a stupid thing coming from an actor. I realize how terribly personal acting is, how difficult it is. And I also realize and know some actors need to be coerced, some have to be kissed, some have to be driven, some have to be spoiled, some have to be yelled at—and you can’t treat them all the same.”

The man is 100 percent right. One of the first lessons they taught me in agent school was that you can’t treat your clients the same way. Each actor is an individual with their own personality. One approach does not fit all.

I recently had to sit down with two clients so we could discuss the same issue: poor performance. They both had a ton of activity last year, but neither one booked. In these situations, an agent has to decide if the actor is worth keeping. These two had been moneymakers in the past, so from my perspective, the previous 12 months had been nothing more than a slump; I had no intention of letting them go.

READ: Got a New Agent? Here’s How to Make a Good Impression

The first actor is a handsome guy in his 20s who has tested on a few pilots. Let’s call him Ryan. Here’s how I spoke to him: “Dude, you’re talented. I know that and you know that. So last year doesn’t matter. Just forget it. Bottom line is you always get good feedback and you always come close. That’s what matters. And you know what? I’ve seen this kind of thing before. Talented actors like you get in a slump and strike out over and over, but sooner or later, they always hit. And when they hit, it’s a home run. So don’t get frustrated. Frustration will kill you. Just stay focused and let’s crush it this year!”

When you meet Ryan, he doesn’t come across as a sensitive guy, but he is. I’ve seen him break down in tears when he gets bad news. So in this case, a gentle touch with some ego-building is best.

The second actor is a woman in her 30s with an extensive résumé. Let’s call her Lisa. Here’s how I approached her: “What are you doing? Seriously. I want to know. Because you sure as hell aren’t giving it your best. Did someone die? Was there a breakup? Is it Trump? I need to know, because I am your biggest fan, and this is unacceptable. You’re too talented. It kills me that you’re not working. You know why? Because we’re in it together and I love you and I want to be thanked when you win your first Oscar!”

In her case, handholding doesn’t work. Gentle makes her throw up. So I always hit Lisa with some tough love and a little humor.

That’s it for this week. I’m off in my Trans Am to deliver some Coors across the state line. And if you don’t get that reference, you really need to watch more Burt Reynolds movies. 

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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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