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The Essentials

There’s a load of advice out there about how to get an agent, but very little about what to do once you have one. How do you build an effective working relationship with your agent? How often should you email? Should you let them know when you hear about work? And what if things aren’t going well?

I’ve had more than a few agents over the past 15 years. Some that worked for me and some that didn’t, some I got on with and others who would barely answer an email. Generally speaking, there has been a direct correlation between the quality of the relationship and the quality of the results.

For the past few years, I’ve taken pride in saying that I count my agent as a friend, and from the looks on the faces of other actors every time they hear he’s been over to dinner, I know that’s not as common as it should be. As a consequence, I have a few things I recommend to help improve this most crucial of partnerships, whether you’re starting afresh or working to rebuild where things have broken down…

1. Don’t be a stranger

Most agents, great ones included, will mostly only get in touch when they have something to talk to you about – an audition, a contract, or, on those very kind days, an offer. If you haven’t heard from your agent for long enough that you’re feeling forgotten about, drop them a brief email to say hello and ask if there is anything you can do to help them. Is there anyone you should be writing to? Perhaps there is a casting director they’d love you to be seen by, but are having difficulty convincing? Or a production they know is coming up and for which you could lay some groundwork with an introductory letter to the director? Once a year or so, suggest a coffee or a drink to catch up. The better your agent knows you as a person, the better equipped they’ll be to represent you.

2. Don’t be a stalker

Yes, stay in touch and remind them you exist if you feel like they may have forgotten, but don’t be the client they get Caller ID to avoid talking to. There is a very simple way to know when you’re taking up too much of their time: do the math. Ask yourself how many clients your agent has, and what would happen if they all called/emailed as often as you do. Would that inhibit them from doing their job to everyone’s satisfaction? If the answer is yes, push the keyboard away, put down the phone and go for a walk. Trust me. You need to go for a walk. Go for a walk.

3. Know what they do

The more you understand what your agent actually does, the less likely you are to tread on their toes, insult or undermine them. In general terms, our agents are there to try to get us in the door to be seen by the right people, and to help us get the right type of work. That said, it’s important to know specifically what your agent sees as being their responsibilities with regard to your career. Clarity about this at the beginning of the relationship will make things much easier for both of you going forward. If you’re unsure, and you don’t feel comfortable discussing it bluntly, try asking them what you need to be doing to assist them.

4. Know what you do

While much of this is dependent on the gaps left once you know the limits of your agent’s responsibilities, some things are universal. You are the actor. You can’t complain about how hard an agent is or isn’t working on your behalf if you aren’t working hard on your end of the bargain. Imagine unsuccessfully submitting a client dozens of times, and when a meeting eventually does come in, you get feedback to say your client was late, ill-prepared or anything other than a joy to be around. Not good, eh? Plus, it’s in your interests anyway: you’re auditioning for the next audition…

5. Do more yourself

Having established a division of labour where you’re clear on what your agent does and of what is expected from you, get to it. The feeling of helplessness that often leads to you becoming an annoyance to your agent will be much reduced if you take control of whatever you can. It may be a cliché, but at least try to do one thing every day for your acting career, and be honest with yourself when you evaluate your efforts. If you feel like nothing’s happening and have an urge to call your agent to check in, only allow yourself to do so if you’ve been keeping to the daily routine. Start off gently: watch a movie, research a theatre, read a play…

That’s all for now. It should be enough to be getting on with. It’s not rocket science, I know, but hopefully, it’ll save you from making some of the same mistakes I have. Like that time I resolved to call my agent every day. Or that time I left an agent and just didn’t bother to tell them. Or… you get the picture…

We have more advice on agents, including more tips to maintain a good working relationship with your agent, information about how to find an agent, and how to leave your agent if things aren’t working out. If you’re Ireland-based, you may find this interview with agent Jonathan Shankey about how to get an agent in Ireland a useful read.

Jonathan Harden was born in Belfast. Since moving to London, he has worked extensively in television and film, as well as in restaurants, bars and on building sites. Since 2015, he has been at the helm of The Honest Actors’ Podcast – the UK’s #1 acting podcast – and it’s award-nominated blog.

This article was originally published on Spotlight in March 2016.