Although it is impossible to predict which direction the conversation in an initial meeting with an agent will take, there are a few common areas that require preparation. The more prepared you are, the more relaxed you will be. And the more prepared you are, the more businesslike you will appear, while you are giving the appearance of being casual and relaxed.
Topping off the list is that perennial favorite question: "Tell me something about yourself." Although this is the second most dreaded question that an actor will be posed by an agent (I'll get to the actual most dreaded), it's really a great question, as it lets you tell the agent whatever you decide you want him or her to know about you. In other words, if you handle it well, you get to control the interview from the very get-go. Therefore, prepare a seemingly off-the-cuff but well-thought-out presentation with a beginning, middle, and end. It should last less than one minute and be a combination of the personal and the professional, with the accent on the professional. Your presentation might include where you are from originally, where you went to college, and where you trained, and it may conclude with what you are up to professionally at this very minute. Period. No rambling. If you follow this suggestion, the ball will be back in the agent's court, and the agent can extract from your presentation any area of interest that he or she would like to discuss or ask you to elaborate upon.
"Which casting directors know your work?" is another very common question that also warrants a well-prepared but seemingly spontaneous response. Your list should be presented in descending order of whoever knows you best. Ideally then, you would start the list with the names of any casting directors who have been instrumental in your having been hired—and what it was that you were hired for. Next, mention those casting directors who have given you callbacks—and what the callbacks were for. Last on the list should be casting directors who've seen you in performance or whom you've auditioned for only once. Presented in the above manner, your response becomes a subtle but strong sales pitch for yourself.
"How do you see yourself?" Okay, this is the question I mentioned earlier that is most dreaded by actors. This needs to be an especially well-thought-out—and may I add concise—presentation of the kinds of roles that you believe you are most realistically suited for at this time. Unlike your acting teacher, most agents aren't interested in the extremes of your range but would rather hear about the roles that best fit your type and essence. Although citing prototypes of famous actors is often encouraged by agents, get honest feedback from others first. That is, try to make sure you really are similar in look and/or quality to any of the big names you mention. Otherwise the agent may be tempted to give you a harsh reality check. Also, avoid naming someone simply because you resemble him or her; instead, name a role or two that he or she has played that makes your point more specific.
Warning: It is not uncommon for an agent to say to an actor, "This is just an interview, so there is no need for you to prepare any kind of audition material for me at this time." The reality here is that agents mean this when saying it, but it sometimes happens that once you are in the office, they have a project they would like to submit you on right away and need "to see something from you." So make sure you have monologues and/or songs ready at all times.
Brian O'Neil is a former agent and the author of "Acting as a Business: Strategies for Success." He is a career coach for actors and lives in New York City.