Have you ever wondered how an acting career is made and managed? This is my third post in a series explaining what goes on inside an actors' agency. In my first post, I described how agents can propel clients to success, and my second concentrated on the business of casting. Today, I shed more light on the relationship between agent and client, which often involves much more than just securing employment.
The relationship between agent and actor is a peculiar one. Agents and their clients have mutually loyal and steadfast relationships, requiring a dynamic which is much more pastoral than is usual between employer and employee. Commitment, faith and hard work are required by both parties for the relationship to succeed, as agent and actor are dependent on each other for income. Interestingly, both terms - agent/agency and actor/acting - share the same Latin etymology from agere, to do. The actor is reliant on the agent for access to the profession. Moreover, an actor requires emotional support from an agent. Acting jobs are varied, short-term, intense and demanding, and the agent therefore remains one constant throughout an often precarious and uncertain acting career. But agents are always on the lookout for hot new talent, and actors are in competition with each other for roles. Consequently, clients strive to remain a priority for their agents.
VIPs, divas, drama queens, thesps, luvvies: these are not particularly endearing terms for a talented bunch of clients. Indeed, big personalities with all manner of insecurities are not unusual in the profession. A charismatic personality often shines off-stage and screen as well as on, so an actor must work out how to stand out from the crowd without annoying his or her agent, losing jobs and perhaps even being dropped.
Drawing attention to oneself is an absolute necessity for stardom. Ideally, the characteristic that stands out is talent, but all too often illness, personal relationships gone bad, and the troublesome British press mean that dark times in an actors' life play out in the public eye.
I have had an ear to many situations when a client is at a low and yet the agent just knows he or she will pull through and go on to better and brighter things. Actors occasionally need time away from the spotlight for illness; what we often read about as "exhaustion" is well known to mean a spell in a clinic for eating disorders or rehab for drug or alcohol addiction. A good agent knows when to give clients a break from casting and when to bring them back into the public eye again, all while keeping the press at bay.
I often think back to one memorable moment when I was given the unglamorous task of clearing out a filing cabinet. There was an empty folder with nothing but a name sticker on it. I asked if I should throw it out - no, I was told, not yet, the client is in rehab for substance abuse and we think he'll be ok. "Wow," I thought, these agents have a lot of faith that their empty-folder client will come through. And the agent was right, the loyalty paid off. The client sobered-up and his career has gone from strength to strength. I wonder if the agent's loyalty paid some part the client's recovery, providing positive hope for his future.
Actors do sometimes change representation within an agency, or move agency; rarely are clients dropped by an agent, as this would be on serious grounds such as breaching a contract. But a good relationship, like a happy marriage, can last for decades - till death do them part.
Having worked in various talent management agencies, I have seen how a team works together to propel an actor into work and to maintain a level of success. Actors and their agents are a dedicated and hard working bunch. Ultimately, however, an actor's sustained success depends on talent and audience appeal, two factors which only the actor can provide.
Although I enjoyed working in agencies, I myself never aspired to be an actor nor an agent. However, my experiences have certainly informed my academic work, and the figure of the agent in film studies will be the topic of my next post.
Next time - Going Academic