Dear Secret Agent Man:
You ended your column about actor-agent meetings with the line "Maybe you don't ask the right questions." This actor, for one, would love to see a column devoted to the right questions instead of the wrong ones. It was rather stunning that you were willing to confirm in print what actors have long feared about prospective representatives: that the main perk of becoming an agent isn't the money nor working with talent; it's the self-aggrandizing power to put young people down and lord it over them in meetings.
Young actors are vulnerable, and newbies are ignorant. Those aren't faults, just temporary conditions. They are certainly not your cue to play the sour expert who can't be bothered. Expecting young actors to walk in and mind-read what's obvious to you is at the very least ungenerous and at worst unkind.
Actors come to a meeting nervous and hoping to be accepted. At the same time, they want to appear professional. How many young people have been drawn by the glitz and glamour, only to be reminded by some self-appointed expert, "Don't forget, kid, it's show business!"? Trying to juggle all these emotions and thoughts in a meeting is a tall order.
So you're irritated by the content or the form of actors' questions. I'm here to tell you that there's no way to become an expert interviewee. How many agent interviews does someone have even if they are in the business for a long time? In a 50-year career, I've had eight or nine. Would you expect a driver to remember the layout of Houston or Boston if they visited once every 10 years?
You suggested several honest answers. Why not give them and keep it brief? No further explanation. "We have over 100 clients." Period. "The business is youth-oriented. It behooves us to meet the demands of the market, so we have a dozen or so young men in their 20s, but if any of them were exactly like you, we wouldn't be having a meeting." "Managers keep us informed of the best young talent."
What's wrong with the truth? Keep it simple. Your elaborate ideas of what young actors should know are self-serving. If you are pressed beyond that, you can curtail further inquiry with "We don't discuss that" or "We don't go into details with prospective clients."
I don't like thinking that flaming A-holes are attracted to agentry for the opportunity to be cruel and superior.
So, what are the right questions, bud?
Secret Actor Man