Do You Only Become a Real Actor After You Sign With an Agent?

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

This is the time of year when agents descend like sharks on the pool of recent college grads. It’s a feeding frenzy, as we all try to find the next big thing. Some of us score; most don’t. That’s the nature of the hunt. 

I got lucky this year and beat out several larger companies for the privilege of signing a young lady from NYU. The two of us just clicked. I’m looking at her picture right now, and I’m more excited than the time I bumped into Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson at the same party. 

Now, here’s what I found intriguing about this new client: After we agreed to work together, the young lady from NYU smiled and said, “I guess I’m a real actor now.” I agreed, because agreeing with clients is a default setting for guys like me. But then I started thinking about it. Was she right? Does signing with your first agent make you a “real actor”?

Let’s unpack this. Securing professional representation is most definitely an accomplishment, but that’s a vague milestone at best. Let’s say the agent ends up dropping you. Does that mean you’re not a real actor anymore? And what about the size of the company? Does signing with CAA make you more “real” than signing with a boutique agency? 

Finding representation might not be the answer here, so let’s move on to one of my favorite topics: money. Is getting paid to act a sign that you have finally arrived? And does the size of the check matter? Let’s say you book your first TV job, and it’s a one-line role on a procedural. Your pay is just over $1,000 for the day. Is that enough to make you a real actor? Or does it need to be more? 

I would argue that using a monetary figure to validate your career is the wrong way to go, too. So what does that leave us? Oh, I know! Maybe your ascension to realness can be determined by the first time someone recognizes you in public, or the first time you receive a round of applause onstage from a paying audience. Or maybe it’s the day you pay your parents back all the money you’ve borrowed. But now that I think about it, none of those sound right either. 

So we’re back to square one: What makes you a real actor? 

The truth is that there’s no universal bar. There’s no invisible threshold you have to cross. Everyone is different. That means you must choose your own milestones. Nobody gets to decide when you’re a so-called real actor except you.

And you should never, ever compare your progress to others’, because that’s a tough way to live. Some actors are in the fast lane; others are stuck in the slow one. But, hey, none of that matters. Both groups will reach their destinations eventually.

I have a close friend who has been an absurdly successful attorney for over 10 years. This woman is a fierce litigator, and she has won more cases than she’s lost. A few months ago, my friend finally made partner at her firm, and you know what she said to me? “Now I’m a real lawyer.”

I should tell her to read my column. 

This story originally appeared in the June 24 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.

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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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