Following a rather interesting article by Gwyn Gilliss in BackStage Magazine back in mid-January, I have been dying to know the truth about what agents really want. What do they look for when they are looking at actors. So, I decided to have some very frank discussions with my successful agent friends. I wanted to the truth, no matter how harsh it was. I didn’t want the same old watered down answers we hear again and again in seminars, blogs, online casting articles, etc. I wanted the truth… and yes, I can handle the truth. Well, I got it. Are you sitting down?
What They Want
Agents (and managers) are almost exclusively looking for actors who are highly marketable and able to book major roles immediately. Agents don’t have the time to develop clients 3-5 years anymore. They need actors who are highly cast-able right now. What makes an actor highly marketable and cast-able immediately? This is what they said…
They want actors who are one or more of the following:
1) Absolutely gorgeous
2) Extremely young but mature beyond their years
3) Incredibly unique and fascinating
4) Well known actors with extensive and impressive resumes
They don’t want:
1) Another “nice” actor who has good technique
2) Specific types who are not that talented (or engaging)
3) One more actor on their roster who they signed as a “favor to someone else”
Why don’t they want any of the three categories above? Because they already have WAY too many of those on their roster. Ouch!
What Can You Do About It?
So, what does that mean if you are an actor seeking new representation? Let’s look at the list of what they don’t want first. The last two on the list (specific types who aren’t talented and someone they signed as a favor) will eventually fall off their list anyway and will for the most part be ignored. If you suspect are one of those two types of actors (because you’re ignored or not booking) get in a great class immediately and work on “being uniquely yourself,” which I’ll address in a second.
What concerns me the most is the “nice actor who is talented.” Why it concerns me is because there are so many in Hollywood. I fight that title, myself. The two phrases that came up the most when describing this type of actor were “placating” and “trying to please everyone.” These are the actors who go to classes year after your hoping to learn the “proper” techniques of acting. They work hard to be professional, natural and spot on in their acting. They don’t ruffle feathers on a set or in an audition. They do nice things all the time and say only sweet tinges to their agent, to casting directors and to just about everyone on a set. They are good actors because they work hard but they hold back on saying what they really want to and refrain from being who they really are because professionalism and technical prowess is what is most important to them. I was sad to find out that most agents rosters are filled with these kinds of actors and yet they are the actors who rarely go on to big success. Those are not my words, those are the words of the successful agents I spoke with.
When we look at the list of what agents are really looking for it should be obvious whether or not you have some of those traits. If you’re absolutely gorgeous or very young and peculiarly mature you will know it because people who don’t know you tell you so. Sadly, I’ve met plenty of actors who thought they were one of those because family members or friends told them so. But, by Hollywood’s standards they were not. Family and friends are usually biased and far too kind. The public who don’t know you (or people in the industry) are the judge of those two factors, not your friends, family or especially yourself. If you have one of those two things going for you, God bless you. You have been given a gift. Use it while you can.
If you are a working actor with extensive and impressive credits, again God bless you! Use it to your advantage, especially while the momentum is in your favor.
If you don’t fall into one of the three categories above then the only hope you have is to shoot for that forth category, incredibly unique and fascinating. This too is a God given gift for some who naturally have it. But, the good news is, it is also something you can develop. It is the only hope for the rest of us.
The truth is, truly unique and fascinating individuals are people who are completely and 100% “themselves” in their art and sometimes in their life. They don’t placate and they don’t try to please anyone but themselves. It may sound selfish, but it is not, especially when you are making your art. Just because you are unique doesn’t mean you don’t care about others, it simply means you don’t censor yourself. You speak your mind and do the things that come naturally rather than trying to please others all the time. It means you go after what you want regardless of what others think.
Being unique also doesn’t mean you’re free from insecurities. Unique people are often very insecure. They just deal with it differently. It all comes down to how you handle it based on how you were created and how you were brought up (nature and nurture). Everyone has insecurities, everyone! Unique individuals naturally rebel when their insecurities come up. For example if your mother said over and over, “You’re too ugly to be a movie star,” (like Dame Maggie Smith’s mother did) you would simply say, “I don’t care! I’ll do it my way then” (which is exactly what she did). They don’t cave in because of what others say. The “nice actor with talent,” on the other hand, could hear the same message and have the same insecurities but they would let it effect them and ultimately let it alter what they do when they are around other people. As a result, they naturally try to please, hoping they’ll fit in better. They try to make others like them. They placate.
Unique actors don’t care if they fit in or not (or at least they don’t show it). Nice actors do. Unique actors don’t back down from their opinions. Nice actors do. When an actor is comfortable or habitually driven to be themselves, they are unique. The irony is, we were all created unique. We are totally different than anyone before or after us. But, most of us stifle that. We allow ourselves to be censored, thus blending in. When we censor and alter our behavior in order to please others, and woo them, we sacrifice our uniqueness in order to be like everyone else.
It is interesting to note that great actors like Jennifer Lawrence and Joaquin Phoenix never took acting classes. They did theater when they were young but they are both gifted from birth with the natural ability to never censor themselves. They are, or certainly appear to be, completely comfortable being themselves when they work. They don't care what other say about them. Most of us need to work hard in order to do that, especially when we are being “judged” in an audition situation or a meeting. Unfortunately, many acting teachers get hung up on making actors brilliant technicians of their particular technique rather than encouraging them to be themselves. This makes actors hyper-aware of everything they do rather than free them up. Those acting teachers stifle, rather than encourage, the actor’s natural urge to play uncensored like we did when we were kids.
Look at your habits, your behavior around others and your choices. If you blend in rather than be “unique,” then work on it. I’m not encouraging you to be selfish in life, not at all, I am encouraging you to be unfiltered and uncensored in your work. Be proud of what makes you different than everyone else. That is precisely what agents are looking for! That is what makes you instantly cast-able and hot property in any agent’s eyes.
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Mark Atteberry is an award winning actor, teacher and photographer. As an actor his work includes features like Miranda July’s "The Future” and Ang Lee’s "The Hulk.” His recent TV work includes “The Newsroom,” “Rules of Engagement,” “Luck,” "House M.D.," “Justified,” "The Closer," “The Mentalist,” "Dexter" and “Criminal Minds.” Mark is internationally known for his commercial advertising and headshot photography. His clients include NBC, CBS, A&E, Bravo, CAA, ICM, WME, and Big Lots. Mark regularly teaches and lectures on the topics of "Branding, Marketing and Type" and "How to Succeed in the Entertainment Industry." He has authored or co-authored several books on the business of acting including the best selling, "Working Actor's Guide to LA." For more of Mark’s acting credits go to: www.imdb.com/name/nm0040992. For Mark’s headshot photography go to: www.idyllicphotography.com. And, for Mark’s classes go to: www.beaworkingactor.com