Jonathan Shankey has been an agent at the Lisa Richards agency in Dublin since 2001. It was founded over 25 years ago and covers literary, voiceover, and comedy, as well as acting talent. Their clients include Cillian Murphy, Aidan Turner and Sarah Greene, to name a few.
During our Open House first birthday celebrations in Ireland we spoke to Jonathan to find out how the Irish industry differs, and how actors seeking representation should approach them.
What are some of the roles your actors are put forward for?
We have obvious leading actors like Aidan and Cillian. With actors in their position it’s more that the work comes looking for them. As an agent in that position, you want to find out what they’re interested in, what they want to push in themselves as a performer next. Cillian has an amazingly varied career as an actor because he makes choices about scripts that are driven just by what he responds to as a performer rather than any strategy. We respond to the material and the actors’ response to the material.
What is it you look for in new clients?
I don’t actually know the answer to that other than I know it when I see it! The reality is it’s not about taking on actors who are stupefyingly good looking; it’s not all about finding leading men and women. That’s part of what we do and we do that quite successfully, but it’s also that every project has one lead of each gender. There’s a lot of other great supporting and character actors. We do know what we already have on our books and we’re very conscious of not double-recruiting our clients.
If someone was to approach your agency, what should they do first?
A bit of research doesn’t hurt. The essential thing is to bring your best game. I was an actor myself before I was an agent and sometimes in a moment of enthusiasm or frustration you fire off a headshot that you’re kind of ok with, and a showreel which needs updating, and a CV that doesn’t look great. And it’s a shame because you can only ask somebody to the prom maybe twice, and then it gets creepy. If you come to me with something I don’t respond to on your first try, it’s going to be harder for you the second time. It doesn’t have to be amazing, it just has to be the best possible shot you can bring me. We still respond to headshots and showreels more than anything else, particularly in young actors. If you just came out of drama school, I don’t expect you to have a CV a mile long. The fact that you’re brand new makes you interesting. Unlike lots of other jobs, young talent is always interesting in our business. That’s nothing to be afraid of. But your headshot has to work for you. Whatever you’ve got has to work.
Should actors tailor their application to each agency rather than sending out blanket submissions?
Yes it needs to feel, at least to the agent, that they’re really personally coming after your agency. We have egos too, so it helps to appeal a little bit! I think we all do much the same job, so you’re really just making it look like you know what you’re talking about to that agent.
What advice do you offer to actors coming straight out of drama school heading to a big audition?
I think you cannot know the material too well. As well as you think you know it, you don’t know it that well. Even with the nicest casting director in the world, you’re going to feel that pressure internally. The only way to get past that is preparation. You cannot over-prepare for those moments. Be ready in the audition, because somebody might throw something at you you didn’t expect. The more firmly you’ve got that material in your head, the more firmly you know who you’re playing in that scene. You can overthink but you can’t over-prepare.
If a young performer is looking to get into acting in Ireland, where do they go?
I’m a big fan of youth theatre, it teaches you a lot about the business of being an actor, about stage management, and about direction. You learn about every aspect of what happens in a production, whether that’s theatre or film. It’s useful information for when you go out into the world professionally. I still have a number of actors on my books who never trained. Training isn’t the be all and end all but if you come out of a course I’m probably going to pay more attention. The big one here in Ireland is DYT, which is a great youth theatre. NAYD is a great resource to find your local youth theatre.
So actors who haven’t been to drama school shouldn’t be afraid of approaching you?
I think the key is having something to show me. We look after Robert Sheehan and we took him on when he was 17. He had over 20 hours of television under his belt, so as an agent you think it’s a serious proposition. This guy has been working since he was 14, in Song for a Raggy Boy, which he was cast in from an open audition, so he’s a good example of someone who has a compelling argument for taking him on. Not everybody is going to have that, but you need something to show so we can look at your work in some shape or form.
What are the differences between the Irish industry and London?
One of the big differences here is there’s a bigger separation between screen work and theatre work than there is in the UK, so you have a lot of crossover between directing talent and acting talent, and people move back and forth between the two. You can be a really well known and much loved actor in the Irish community, but that won’t necessarily translate into screen work because that world doesn’t know you in the way the London equivalent would. That’s probably the big difference. Essentially, outside of that the business is just much smaller.
How has Spotlight helped change the scene in Ireland since coming here?
Oh it’s brilliant. It allows us to reach into the industry and makes it so much easier to see what’s going on and to submit actors for roles.