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How to… be an agent

Jimmy Jewell. Photo: Catherine Jukes Jimmy Jewell. Photo: Catherine Jukes
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1. You need to like people. All sorts of people

This job is not for the shy and retiring. The more diverse your agency – and mine deals with plays, musicals, opera, television, film, radio and commercials – the broader the range of personalities. People are wonderful, silly, funny, angry, hard, stupid, clever and talented. Every single one of them, be it an actor, a casting director, lighting designer, stage door manager or journalist is fighting to keep themselves employed and at the top of their game. An effective agent needs to be able to engage them all, without either brown-nosing or being condescending, and maintain those relationships.

2. You need to know what you are talking about

Every year a number of agencies start up, sign a load of friends, and close two years later. Most are performers who realise they have contacts and friends, and after being in the industry for long enough consider themselves capable of the job. There are a few successes, but most fall by the wayside because the job tends to be completely underestimated. I have seen musical theatre folk sign friends and then completely fall apart when one lands a TV role and suddenly they are faced with a PACT agreement and haven’t a clue what they are talking about. You need to learn the craft. This job is not a walk in the park. Besides excellent negotiating skills, you need to know what you are talking about, all of the time.

3. You need patience

My agency is 10 years old, with clients in leading roles in theatre, television and major films and on the biggest concert stages in the world – but there are still a few casting directors that don’t open the door. Sometimes relationships take a week, sometimes they take years. What I do know is that once that casting director opens the door, they never ever shut it, because they know that anyone we send them will be right for the role. They won’t necessarily get that role, but that’s not down to me, or the casting director, or the actor. If it were, I’d be in the Bahamas.

Jimmy Jewell, of Jewell Wright, was talking to John Byrne

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