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Green Room: What should you do if you’re unhappy with your agent?

Photo: Shutterstock

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…​​​​​​​​

Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays, and toured both nationally and internationally

Annie Walker is 25. Since graduating from drama school, she has worked in regional theatres and is also a writer and street performer

Jenny Talbot, 39, has nearly 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre with occasional forays into TV, film and plays

Adam Lovett is a 45-year-old actor who has appeared in Oscar-winning film, BAFTA-winning TV, and at the RSC and National Theatre

Peter Quince is a 72-year-old actor working in theatre and television

Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA-winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

 

Adam This is such a tough one, because the answer is easy in theory, but how many of us avoid those conversations?

Albert Talk to your agent, always talk.

Beryl If the relationship doesn’t work, change it. Easier said than done.

Jenny I stayed with an agent I was unhappy with for a long time – but they kept getting me good auditions, so I didn’t feel I could leave. It was personal rather than a business thing.

Peter If you can talk to your agent, do. If you can’t, you shouldn’t be with them.

Jenny I didn’t feel as though I could say “I find you unpleasant” so I just kept going…

Annie Communication is key. Mention the great things they have done and are doing for you, then mention there’s something you think could be improved on. If nothing changes – do your research and speak to the agents that stand out to you.

JonI’ve heard a lot of actors saying it’s much harder to change than it used to be, because agents are tending to tell each other when they hear from someone looking to jump.

Jenny I’ve heard the same – actors putting out feelers to new agents and being snitched on so the current agents dumps them.

JonI wonder if anyone’s ever called their agent and said: ‘Hi, just to let you know, I’m doing a mailshot to see what else is out there, but I’d be happy to stay on if nothing better comes up’. That’s the honest answer. But I suspect that person would be dropped.

Beryl And if you have no one who will take you on, is it better to be stuck with someone who is not working for you or strike out on your own? I’d only suggest you do that when in employment, ideally.

Peter I’m very happy with my agents and regard them as friends. But if I wasn’t, I’m at an age where I’d find it difficult to get a new one.

Adam We’re conditioned by this business to be compliant and avoid conflict.

Peter I know actors who are frightened of their agents.

Adam I am very lucky, I have been with the same agent since drama school, whom I consider a friend. But if she retires – and she will, some day soon – I have no idea what I’ll do.

Peter When I had an agent who retired, a friendly casting director made suggestions.

Adam Yes, I’d probably ask a few of the casting directors I know well.

JonWith the wrong agent it can feel like a catch-22 for actors. If they get us in the room, it’s their achievement; if they can’t get us in, it’s our fault.

The days of some power agent ringing up a casting director and saying ‘you must see my client’ are gone

Adam I agree. The days of some power agent ringing up a casting director and saying ‘you must see my client’ are gone. That only happens with young new potential stars who are more likely to be unknown.

JonAlso, there are different circumstances where jumping ship is concerned. If you leave an agent who has got you a load of big jobs because you want something even bigger, that’s not great. But if you aren’t getting seen and you’re worried about getting dinner on the table I don’t think that’s disloyal or flaky.

Peter There are unscrupulous agents who take on huge swathes of young actors from drama schools and just wait to see which ones make it.

Adam For me, a critical part of the relationship is that my agent understands I have to make a living so I do other things. Back in the day, actors used to be terrified of not being available for the odd audition and afraid to ask the obvious question: “How do you expect me to live on the work you’re getting me every year?”

The Green Room: How do you switch agents?

Jenny An agent once told me the business now means you need a second job, so she doesn’t have to worry about clients making a living. Savage.

Peter Some actors resent paying commission on jobs they get for themselves. But they forget the time agents put into putting them up for jobs they don’t get.

Adam Agreed. Most of the time my agent works tirelessly for free. So she deserves the payday when it comes in.

Jenny It is a good idea to try to have a conversation with your agent if you’re worried about lack of castings and such things. Get some advice about how you can both work together to change things up – new photos, new direction.

Adam Most actors don’t change their photos often enough, but that’s another topic.

Peter I remember before mobile phones, if you weren’t at home you were expected to ring at 5pm and ask if they’d needed you. They never did.

JonI’m just about old enough to remember getting a letter in the post with audition details.

Peter And having scripts biked around.

Adam I still get the odd script biked around. With a courier who makes me sign an NDA. For one fucking line – which is usually “Yes, sir”.

Beryl Getting back to agents – always do your own work keeping in contact with people in the industry. At least you’ll feel as though you’re doing something.

Adam It’s tempting to give agents too much power. We are so powerless in this business we love to believe jumping agents will magically change everything, but the truth is our agents want us to work and be successful. They aren’t sat there with their feet up not suggesting us for things.

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