Hey J! Ask the Agent: What do you want from me?

Hey J,

I haven’t booked a job in a while and I’m getting really frustrated. I’m confused every time I go to a casting – I just don’t know what you want from me! How can I know what to do if I don’t know what you want? Help!

Mitchell

Oh Mitchell, if I had a dollar every time someone asked me this, well, I’d have retired by now. I think every actor wishes they knew the answer to this. The job of an actor is literally to be someone else, isn’t it? Actors are trained to be as versatile as possible, why can’t we just tell you what we want you to be and that would make things a whole lot easier, right? Why don’t we just tell you exactly what we’re looking for?

I’m reminded of that great opening scene from the film Tootsie where Dustin Hoffman, as Michael, is auditioning on stage and hears the disembodied voice of the director watching from the audience;

Director: The reading was fine. You’re the wrong height.

Michael: I can be taller.

Director: No. We’re looking for somebody shorter.

Michael: Look, I don’t have to be this tall. See, I’m wearing lifts. I can be shorter.

Director: I know, but we’re looking for somebody different.

Michael: I can be different.

Director: We’re looking for somebody else.

It’s a heartbreaking scene but it really cuts to the core. The truth is I genuinely think we often don’t know what we want (or don’t want) until we see it. That makes things a bit tricky for you coming in to the room though.

So what do we want? Simply, we want you. We want you to know who you are and what you bring. That’s the golden ticket.

Orson Welles said acting isn’t about what you put on but what you strip away; what you reveal. Personally I don’t think acting is ‘pretending to be other people’ – I think it’s filtering your own experiences and thoughts and imbuing a character with them.  Actors are artists, they are choosing what brush strokes to use, how to use colour, how to show depth. A very famous British actress I know says she thinks of ‘acting’ as being like a veil. She walks on stage, or on set, and covers herself in the veil. The veil is the character but beneath the veil, it’s always her. You can still see her through the veil, it’s her thoughts, her expressions, her voice. Sometimes the veil is thicker, sometimes it’s more transparent but you can always see something of her though it.

I used to have an acting coach who would advise me ‘with every character you play, first work out how much of yourself is in there, then work out where to find the rest. It’s easier if you bring as much of yourself as you can.’

Essentially, when I’m casting a project I’m not looking for someone who comes in to the room trying to second guess what I’m looking for, I’m looking for someone who comes in and says, ‘this is how I would play it’. That’s unique to you. That’s authenticity.

The most memorable auditions I’ve ever seen have been from someone who doesn’t show me what they think I want to see but shows me something that only they could do. They haven’t always booked the role but those are the people who get called in to audition over and over.

There’s a saying I recently came across ‘come with your seed, not your need’. In my experience, what makes a successful casting, or a successful agent meeting, or a successful performance, is when someone plants their own, unique, authentic seed, and allows it to grow. They don’t need approval, they don’t need permission, they don’t need anything from me, or from the panel, or from the audience, they have simply come to be themselves and to grow. That’s incredibly exciting to watch.

When I first meet a new client I want to learn as much about them as I can, why they became a creative, what keeps them doing it, what interests and excites them about this industry. I want to understand what makes someone tick. I want to know who they are. 

I know you can be different. I know you can be all kinds of extraordinary, wonderful things. What I want you to bring into the room is yourself and we can build on that. Show us who you are, show us what makes you unique.

Relax, take a breath. You say you haven’t booked a job in a while so presumably you’ve booked jobs before – well, you will again. Trust yourself, stop trying to work out what you think we want and just offer us what you’ve got – that is what we want. 

Stay connected. Stay creative.

J

Got a question? Email JBR at [email protected]

JBR

JBR is a UK Talent Agent based in London. He began his career as a child performer in the 1980’s and has spent more than three decades in the industry exploring creativity and working across a number of fields. He has been an actor, a director, a writer, a designer, a drag queen, a producer, a dramaturg, a teacher, a comedy booker, a publican, a marketing manager and an agent. He runs JBR Creative Management working with a small group of multi-platform creatives. JBR's first book, published by Nick Hern Books, will be released in summer 2021.

JBR

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