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From both the creative and business standpoints, the acting industry is a tough one to break into—and Ashley Landay knows it. Working as a talent agent at Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin & Associates, she represents actors across film, television, and theater and has seen it all when it comes to booking work for her talent. She recently sat down with Backstage and offered her best advice for those getting started and looking for representation.
Talent and personality will make her want to sign you.
“The baseline that you are looking for is talent. There’s nobody on my list that I represent that I don’t believe is talented. I’m 110 percent behind their talent. From there, it becomes a personality game: Do your sensibilities match? Do you see yourself being productive for this actor in their career? Do you see their career moving in a forward trajectory? Do you get along? We say it often in our office: Life is short, and we want to be able to bring actors into our world who we get excited about, who we want to be on the phone with every day, who we want to be saying their name out loud every day to casting directors. I really respond to people who are a little bit left of center and, I hate this word, but, quirky. We really respond to great character actors and ones who have great senses of humor. This business is really, really hard; I have a tendency to enjoy actors who have been able to find the humor in some of the darkness.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“I would say, ‘Tend to your own garden.’ That’s always been my biggest piece of advice. You know a lot more people in this industry than you think you do; nobody does this by themselves. Nobody all of a sudden just becomes a thing or becomes a working actor because nobody helped them or helped elevate them. So tend to your own garden. Start with a list of people you know working in this industry. Are they with representation? Do they work at a casting office? Do they intern at an agency? Are they involved in interesting projects with downtown theaters? It could be anything. But make a list of the creative people in your world, and start there. So, you start with [the people in] your own garden, in your own backyard, and you ask them for help. One of the quickest ways I end up meeting with actors is through recommendations—from other actors, casting directors, managers, friends.”
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Determine your dream destination before setting your course.
“If you don’t have a sense of direction, you’ve got to figure out what you want to do—what’s your dream? Why are you doing this?—and then have a holistic view of why you are pursuing this career. Then we can funnel it down from there. I think it’s incredibly important that you are in classes, taking very good television classes if that’s where you want to put your energy. [You should be] working and always studying—I cannot emphasize that enough. I think that will help navigate you in some clear direction. But we always ask, ‘What do you want to do?’ And what I’m looking for is answers of ‘I want to be a series regular on a television show, and I want it to look like this, and be written in this kind of style and type and be on this sort of network.’ We are looking for specificity, so I think it’s OK for you to really sit down and go, ‘OK, what do I want, why do I want it, and what steps am I going to take to then get me in that direction?’ ”
Use your singularity as way to play into type.
“I particularly find type to be a tricky and sometimes unhelpful way of looking at things. I think the way you need to look at yourself is: What are your strengths, what do you do better than anybody, what’s going to be what makes you and sets you apart from other people that are going to be auditioning for this particular role? In the sense of type, we can go down that road of your height, your hair color, your this, your that. All of the things that makes you who you are, that’s your type. So, it’s knowing where you’re going to fit in the realm of television. A CBS show is very different from an HBO show, which is very different from a Showtime show or a Freeform show. It’s knowing where your sensibilities are and where they match. I look at that as more as a type, where it’s easy for me to go, ‘OK, you’re going to fit in this very generic character description, but I’m also looking for the layers.’ ”
She also has advice on how YOU can become a talent agent.
“A lot of it is starting from internships or assistants. There’s no training ground—with the exception of the conglomerates, [the] large agencies that have agent training programs. You don’t go to college for this; you don’t go to graduate school for this. You start and work your way up. I started as an assistant and knew I wanted to be an agent, and so that was the direction my old office helped me navigate. Like, ‘We are going to train you in understanding contracts, we’re going to learn how we negotiate.’ Some of these things are innate skill sets, but you sort of bounce around and you assist and you intern and you get to really know the industry [and] figure out what area of the industry you want to be in. For me, it was agent. I got my undergraduate degree at Southern Methodist in Dallas in theater. Then I went straight into graduate school and got my MFA in acting at the National Theatre Conservatory. But I knew about two years into my grad degree, two of the three years, that I wanted to move into the business side. I started applying for internships, assistant jobs, and I was very fortunate that six weeks after landing in New York, an assistant job landed, we connected, and that was my first office. I was fortunate; I knew I wanted to work with actors, I wanted to use my degrees, I still wanted to be involved with actors, I want to be able to speak their language, but I want to be in the business, as well.”
This story originally appeared in the Dec. 3 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.
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