If a role in the next season of Bridgerton or a hit West End show is high on your agenda, then an acting agent can help you get there. Encouragingly, in 2021 the UK film and television industry spent £5.6bn on production. Adrian Wootton, chief executive of the British Film Commission, told the Guardian: “The demand for content has never been greater.”
Talent and experience are integral to becoming a professional actor—but without an agent, access to higher-profile jobs can be limited. Having representation means someone is actively finding jobs, negotiating contracts, and making sure you get paid on time. How to get an agent can seem overwhelming, so if you are wondering where to start, we’ve got you covered.
- What does an agent do for an actor?
- How do acting agents get paid?
- Different types of agencies
- Do I need an agent to become an actor in the UK?
- How do I find an acting agent in the UK?
- How to submit to talent agents in the UK
- Meeting with a talent agent: what to expect
- How do I maintain a good relationship with my agent?
- What happens if I get dropped by my agent?
A good agent is the ultimate multi-tasker who finds auditions and fights your corner while developing your career. Agents use their industry connections with casting directors, producers, and directors to get you seen by the right people, which could be harder to achieve alone.
Once you get an acting job, your agent will act as a point of contact between you and the production company. This includes organising accommodation, transport, and smoothing over any issues such as pay. A professional agent has years of experience under their belt and will play a significant part in establishing your career. They will also be a first port of call for guidance and support.
UK talent agents usually take a 10–15% commission; alarm bells should be ringing if they are asking for more than that. Keep in mind a legitimate agent will never charge any upfront costs or a joining fee. Every actor represented by an agent is required to join Spotlight, the UK’s largest casting platform. You might not get offered representation if you don’t qualify for membership.
To meet the criteria, actors need formal drama training, or four credits in a professional production.
There are hundreds of acting agencies across the UK, so finding one who is passionate about your career is essential. Don’t rush to sign with the first agent; do your research to find the right fit.
Top-tier agencies represent some of the most successful talents in the UK and have a huge roster of clients. Many of their actors star in major movies, television, and theatre productions and are often a casting director’s go-to when sourcing talent.
These agencies are not easy to get into; those who do will either have an impressive CV or get discovered at a production or a drama school showcase. Those who are signed can achieve success quickly, but newer actors can feel overlooked, so another type of agency might be a better fit at the start of your career. Top UK talent agencies include Curtis Brown, Hamilton Hodell, United Artists and Conway van Gelder Grant.
Boutique agencies offer a more personal approach than the bigger ones as they have fewer clients on their books. Their client base may be smaller, but they will still have excellent industry connections and are an ideal choice for a long-term working relationship. Hatton McEwan Penford, a boutique agency in London, says: “We don’t just field jobs, we nurture careers that last.”
A co-operative operates the same as a conventional agency, but the actors on its books are also agents. If you become a member, you will be required to work a set amount of time in the office each month, finding you and other actors’ auditions. The agency work is unpaid but will give valuable insight into how the industry functions.
In a word, no! There are many actors without agents who independently find paid work, and the internet is the best place to start. Online casting sites post auditions daily and are a great way to build your CV and get footage for your showreel.
Casting sites in the UK include:
- The Stage
Taking classes and workshops with industry professionals is another effective way to hone your craft and network; you never know who you might meet. Make sure you are signed up to all the relevant social media platforms, as castings are often posted via this medium. Regularly check IMDb to see what shows are pre-production, then email your CV, headshot, and showreel to the casting director. They may not get back to you this time, but they might remember you for future projects.
Decide what type of talent agent you want and do your research. If an agency already has multiple actors with a similar casting type to you, they may not want to sign you. Find agents that don’t have someone like you, putting yourself in a stronger position when reaching out. If there are some specific shows and directors you want to work with, then find agencies that have the relevant connections. Also, take advantage of asking friends in the industry for their recommendations.
It can also be beneficial to start your search in your local area. Although most of the major acting agents in the UK are based in London, there are lots of good agencies across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland catering to local clients and leveraging their regional connections. Another good way in is to search through a casting site and identify actors doing the kind of work you’re interested in. You can then approach their agent secure in the knowledge that they have contacts in that area.
First, check how they would like to be contacted; if it says via email, then do that. The email should include a cover letter, your profile or website link and embed your headshot in the body of the email, as many agents are too busy to open multiple attachments. Make sure your CV mentions any additional skills, such as horse riding, singing, juggling and driver’s license; they will make you stand out.
Make the cover letter personal by including why you think you would be a good fit, why you chose this agency and roles you are interested in playing. Keep it short and spell check before sending; include an invitation to a production you are in if you have one.
Don’t send to a generic email address; check Contacts Listings if the contact details are not on the agent’s website. If you don’t hear back, send a follow-up email a few weeks later; once is enough.
Firstly, arrange to meet in a safe place such as the agent’s office or coffee shop.
Allow plenty of time to travel into the meeting; being late will not make a good first impression. Make sure you look like your headshot, so avoid drastic image changes. Prepare some questions beforehand to keep the conversation flowing and see if you are both a good fit. Below are some questions you could ask.
- How many actors do you represent?
- Do you currently represent someone like me?
- What kind of projects do you typically work on?
- What is your commission structure?
- How do you prefer me to contact you and how often?
If they make you an offer (congrats!), read the contract carefully and ask for professional help if you are unsure. It’s important to find the right agent, so don’t rush and accept the first offer; no agent is better than the wrong agent. Always remember the golden rule: They are working for you, not the other way around.
Agents are very busy, so don’t expect them to be available at the drop of a hat; find a time that suits both of you and decide how often to check in.
Always keep your agent in the loop regarding holidays and commitments in your calendar. Agents can work for weeks to get you an audition, and it will reflect badly on both of you if you are not available. Good communication is key, so be honest about what you want to achieve, and if you see a job you are interested in, call your agent to submit you. Keep learning in between jobs by taking classes, going to the theatre and keeping your headshots and showreel up to date. If you haven’t heard from your agent in a while, then set up a face to face meeting and reconnect over a coffee.
It is perfectly normal to have more than one agent throughout your career. Being dropped by your agent is not the end of the world, so don’t take it personally. When an actor/agent relationship is not working, it is better to be free to find one that does. Use this opportunity to enhance your skills by taking some classes and getting new headshots. Before you contact agents again, make a list prioritising what you want in the future and jump back in the saddle.
Check out Backstage’s UK audition listings!