Breaking Down the Actor’s Odds

Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

(I would like to acknowledge in advance that this is one of those columns that tends to make actors angry. So you can bury your head in the sand and ignore the harsh realities of this business, or you can choose to understand and overcome them. The decision is yours.)

I have a buddy in his 40s who went through a tough divorce last year. He finally found his way back, and now he’s dating a woman who’s about the same age as him. I recently had the pleasure of meeting her at a party thrown together by mutual friends.

As we chatted, I learned that Margo had just walked away from a nursing career to become an actor. It was a lifelong dream and she had decided to take the plunge. When my buddy revealed that I was an agent, she started pestering me for my professional opinion on her chances for success. I tried to dodge the question, but Margo insisted on an answer, so I gave her one. I explained that from my perspective, she was a long shot running in the third race at Santa Anita with 90-to-1 odds.

That didn’t go over well. Needless to say, Margo wasn’t very impressed with my odds-making ability. But I stand by my response.

Now, let’s get something straight: No one has the right to tell another human being they’re a fool for pursuing their dreams. That’s a personal choice that everyone has to make on their own. But as an agent, I can calculate anyone’s chances based on 10 years of experience and my understanding of the realities of the entertainment industry. And trust me. You ignore those realities at your own peril.

READ: “Do Big-Name Colleges Give Actors an Advantage?”

As for my buddy’s new love, let’s say for the sake of argument that Margo has some natural talent. That’s definitely a plus, but her odds are still lousy because she’s competing with a ton of other actors in her age category and those women have over 20 years of experience on their résumés.

Now let’s look at this topic from another perspective. Do I have the right to tell a handsome young man fresh out of Juilliard that he’s definitely going to have a successful career? No, of course not. Agents don’t have crystal balls, and there’s no way I can guarantee that. But like I said before, I can certainly calculate his chances, and that kid is looking sharp right out of the gate.

And please don’t whine that places like Juilliard are overrated. That’s just ignorant. A young actor graduating from a school like Juilliard will find countless open doors in both New York and L.A. But that get-out-of-jail-free card is only good for a year. Why? Because 12 months later, the next batch of graduates will hatch and they’ll become the new favorites.

READ: “Top MFA Programs for Actors in NYC”

So in these two cases, the older woman needs to understand what she’s up against if she’s going to succeed and the young actor has to know that while his degree might help, he’ll still have to work his ass off.

Most actors pursue their careers like Han Solo, defiantly yelling, “Never tell me the odds!” But I think that’s foolish. How can you beat the odds if you don’t understand them?

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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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