How to Connect With an ICM Agent (Without a Referral)

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Photo Source: Edu Lauton/Unsplash

Repped asks agents to get real about the performance industry, what they want from prospective clients, and more. Who knows – you might find your future agent right here.

We sat down with Chris Horsman, a talent agent at ICM Partners. His eclectic client list includes “Gotham” and “Barry” star Anthony Carrigan, Ashley Blain Ferguson (“Dear White People”), Louisa Krause (“Billions”), Jerry O’Connell, Stephanie Beatriz, and “BlackKklansman” breakout Jasper Pääkkönen.

Describe your talent roster.
I have a diverse list of about 40 clients: a mix of well-established artists and great, young up-and-comers working across film, TV, and theater. As an agent, you’re often pulled in multiple directions, so it’s important to me to keep my list manageable in order to dedicate the time really necessary to build and guide clients’ careers. At ICM, we intentionally keep the client list smaller than a lot of our competitors in order to provide individual attention to every client.

Are you looking for any particular clients right now?
I am excited by multi-hyphenate clients—people who have the passion to write, direct, and create their own material in addition to acting. To sit around and wait for opportunities to come knocking is an outdated way of thinking. Especially when you’re first starting out in the business, it’s important to be creating opportunities for yourself.   

You often sign clients following industry referrals. How can someone attract your attention if they don’t have access to those contacts?
It’s all about getting people to see your work, whether that means in person or on tape. Do your research and figure out who some of the younger agents and managers in town are, and target them with invites to your show or links to your reel. Also, be persistent without being annoying. There is a fine line, but persistence goes a long way!

What You Need to Impress + Sign With an L.A. Agent

Have you signed clients without a referral?
Most of my clients come through referrals, whether it’s a lawyer or a manager. That being said, I have pursued clients that I have discovered who were not referrals. I also rep a couple of actors I signed right out of school, people I saw in a showcase and fell in love with. Sometimes you see a young actor and can just tell that in addition to talent, they have a real sense of who they are as an artist. That is what makes me want to take a chance on them.  

If an actor does secure a meeting with you, or you attend their showcase, what’s important?
When you’re coming in for a meeting—whether with an agent, casting director, or manager—the most important thing is to really know who you are as an actor. Often young actors right out of school think they need to be able to do it all because that’s the mentality in drama school. But once you’re out in the real world, we don’t expect you to be able to do everything. Know what you’re good at, and what you as an individual can bring to the roles you play. Having a strong sense of who you are as an artist, and being able to translate that in a meeting, is an incredibly important thing.

What do you look for in a headshot or showreel?
It must be a current photo that represents who you are and looks like the real you. There’s nothing worse than seeing a headshot and then meeting somebody that doesn’t match the photo. It’s like going on a blind date where the person doesn’t look like their photo.

A showreel should be a highlight of work you’ve done on camera thus far and should play up your strengths. For those who don’t have enough experience yet to create a traditional showreel, putting together a few strong self-tapes is a good start.  

What’s the secret to a great self-tape?
Most people have an iPhone at this point, and the picture quality is incredible. It rivals any decent camera out there. Use your phone, get a cheap little tripod, and hang a sheet or get a pop-up background, which isn’t expensive, and stand by a well-lit window. You’d be surprised how great that self-tape looks, sometimes even better than ones done in a professional studio. Just like on a set, find your light. You want to make sure you’re well-lit, looking into the camera, and making strong choices.  

How critical is it to have representation at the beginning of your career?
Everyone thinks an agent or manager is the first stop but, for a lot of actors, it’s about finding a casting director who will be your champion and bring you in over and over again, even if you don’t have representation. That helps you build a résumé, which hopefully helps you get representation.

How important is moving to L.A.?
If you’re just starting out in the business, I think it’s important to be in either New York or L.A., at least in the beginning. Now you can make an amazing self-tape on an iPhone and send from literally anywhere in the world. But early in your career, it’s important to be able to go into the room and build strong relationships with casting directors and executives. That’s tough to do if you’re not in New York or L.A.

What are some common misconceptions about top agents?
Everyone has this idea of what an agent does because they’ve seen “Entourage.” People tend to think we scream into the phone all day and then go to glamorous premieres and parties at night, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s an extremely personal relationship you have with clients, and you’re with them through all the highs and the lows. They really become like family, and you want to be there for them whenever they need you.  

What does success on social media look like?
If you ask me personally, I am not a big social media person, so I am sort of always at odds with it, but I do understand the importance of it from a business point of view. A client’s social media is an extension of their personal brand, and I think success on social media is different for each client. Some like to use it for fun and to show a glimpse into who they are as a person off-camera; others want to find a way to monetize their followers. One thing I do love about social media is the way it allows fans to engage and interact with their favorite actors in a way they haven’t been able to in the past.

How do you think social media’s importance will evolve in the future?
I think it’s becoming increasingly important in the business. More and more, you see studios and networks paying attention to an actor’s social media numbers since their online presence often acts as built-in advertising for a project. I think we’re only going to see that increase in the future.  

Can you name a recent client performance you’re especially proud of?
Jasper Pääkkönen is having a really nice moment with the success of “BlacKkKlansman,” which we’re super-excited about. I started working with Jasper right as he was moving to L.A. from Finland. I had read the script for “BlacKkKlansman” before I’d even met Jasper and, once I met him, I called Kim Coleman, the casting director, and said, “You’ve never heard of this actor from Finland, but I think he could be great [to play] Felix. Is there any way you’d take a chance and read him?” The next day Jasper was in the room with Spike Lee. He won the role, and Spike fell in love with him. It was only after the audition that Spike learned he is actually from Finland and normally speaks with a Finnish accent! Jasper has been a big fan of Spike’s since he was a kid, so it was exciting to see him land that role.

Check out all of our articles on agents—how to find them and how to keep them—here!