Your Interview with an Agent

by Katherine Mayfield

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When you get that prized interview with a talent agent, you want to be as prepared as possible.

So, Tell Me About Yourself. Do these words strike fear into your heart? Or are you thinking, "Finally, someone wants to know about me!"? What do you say to such a broad opening line?

When you get that prized interview with an agent, you want to be as prepared as possible. You have copies of your favorite headshot and resume, neatly stapled and trimmed, plus a couple of monologues prepared in case the agent asks you to "Show me what you can do." But the first part of the interview is sometimes awkward for both agent and actor, as you both make an effort to get on the same wavelength. The agent has probably already seen your headshot and resume, and if you're lucky, he or she may have seen your work in a play or film. But the agent wants to get to know you a bit more personally, and to find out how you present yourself to people in the business. After all, if you work with the agent, he or she will be sending you to audition for other professionals in the business -- the agent wants to make sure that you'll present yourself professionally.

So the agent says, "Tell me a little about yourself." Or "What's your background?" What do you say? You should prepare ahead of time for this moment, just as you've prepared your photos and monologues. Here's your opportunity to be a writer, to create exactly the monologue that suits you as a person. And you should memorize and practice it, just as you would an audition piece, until you're completely confident about it.

Think about what you'd want the agent to know about you. Don't just rattle off your resume; the agent has already seen that. But you can mention a few highlights, just to emphasize your strong points. If you have good training, be sure to mention this. People in the business like to know that you know what you're doing. If you've played some lead roles in plays the agent might recognize, mention this. If none of the above apply, don't let it shake your confidence. Every actor had to start somewhere - pick a role you've played and talk about why you enjoyed it, or what you learned from the director or another actor you worked with. You can talk about what it is that turns you on about acting -- is it the opportunity to get into a character's head and rummage around that you enjoy, or the chance to express yourself on stage? What do you love about the theater?

If you have a hobby that is particularly interesting, such as stunt motorcycle riding, you can mention this. Try to give the agent as clear a picture of what's unique about you as you can (but remember to be professional -- you don't want to go too far over the "weird" line), and communicate from your true self, rather than putting on some kind of mask. You don't have to list every hobby you have -- "I do flower arranging, and I have seven cats, and I love books, and every Friday night I go swing dancing, and bird-watching on Saturdays. . ." In fact, it's better if you "distill" your monologue into a 15-30 second distinct image of who you are. Agents are usually short on time, and the more clear your presentation, the more they'll see you as a professional.

Finally, remember that if an agent has invited you in for an interview, he or she is already interested. You don't have to push. Be as relaxed as you can, be as much your "real self" as you can, and relate to the agent on a personal level, as you do a friend or acquaintance. The agent probably hopes you are a down-to-earth, interesting (and professional) person, someone he or she might enjoy working with. View the interview as one of several paths leading to many possibilities, rather than as a career success or failure test.

To find SAG/AFTRA franchised talent agents, visit Actingland provides contact information for thousands of agents along with casting notices and auditions.

A final note: If you have an interview with an agent, and find yourself extremely uncomfortable in that person's presence -- if they yell at you or put you down, or exhibit very negative behavior -- this is probably someone you don't want to work with, because they'll just continue to abuse you throughout your relationship. Trust your instincts -- if you're uncomfortable, keep looking for an agent. There are plenty of good agents out there, and you'll know when you've found the right one.
Katherine Mayfield is the author of "Acting A to Z" and "Smart Actors, Foolish Choices".

Copyright © Katherine Mayfield. Used with permission of the author. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or distributed.
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