How Do You Know Who to Trust While Building an Acting Career?

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

This is a tough business. Who can you trust? Common wisdom says you should rely on experts, but how can you be certain about someone’s true level of expertise?

Back in 2001, a researcher at the University of Bordeaux invited 57 wine students to evaluate two wines. One was red; the other was white. After tasting both, the students described the red wine as being “intense,” “deep,” and “spicy.” The white wine was described in equally standard terms: “lively,” “fresh,” and “floral.” But what none of them noticed was that both wines were exactly the same. The researcher only used one white wine, and he tinted half of it with red food coloring.

These test subjects were part of the wine community in France, a country that claims to know more about grapes than anyone in our 50 states—and they got fooled. So, I guess the question here is: Where does that leave us?

The entertainment industry is littered with “experts” who claim to know everything an actor could possibly need to learn about the business of acting. You’ve probably come across some of these characters. Maybe you studied with the teacher who was a failed actor but loves to give his students career advice. Or maybe you’ve been represented by the agent who works with day players but claims he can point out all the mistakes certain successful actors are making in their careers. Or maybe you hired the headshot photographer who says you should ignore the kind of pictures your reps want because he knows what’s best.

READ: Agents: What They Don’t Teach You in Drama School

There are a ton of these people out there. They never reached the level of success they dreamed about, so these characters validate themselves by sharing their “advice” and “wisdom” with every actor who crosses their path. That’s why you have to be Johnny-on-the-spot with your skepticism when you run into one of them. 

Just the other day, I was enjoying some raw fish at my favorite sushi bar when I overheard a conversation between a young actor and his manager. The manager was going on and on about how the kid didn’t need an agent because his management skills would be more than enough to get his career going. I almost choked on my tuna when I heard that.

Think of it this way: You wouldn’t take financial advice from people who don’t have money. And you wouldn’t accept real estate advice from those who don’t own property. And legal advice shouldn’t come from anyone but a lawyer. Why should actors be any different? Similar parameters need to be set.

I totally get that you’re starved for information, but you can’t just turn off your brain. You have to be smart. You have to question the source. Who is the person offering advice? What is their background? Is your Spidey-sense tingling? These are all valid concerns.

I’ve been working with actors for more than 10 years now, so I know of what I speak. That’s why you read this column. But I would never presume to give you advice on anything other than the business of acting. Take matters of the heart, for instance; my two former wives will confirm that my level of expertise is strictly limited to show business!

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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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