Guy Kean is an actors’ agent at Mrs Jordan Associates. He spoke about how he got started and the daily trials of his business.
Becoming an agent
Like many agents, Guy started off as an actor. His first professional job was in the 1967 film version of Oliver. That means a TV appearance every Christmas Day for the last forty years. If it was hard then, he feels it has become much harder to be an actor now.
“I’d always had a clear idea of what I would do if I was an agent. And then eventually I thought, well I shall do it, then. And here I am!”
Starting up as an actors’ agent
In theory anyone can just open up, put a sign up and say ‘I’m an agent’ and off you go. Attracting clients is easy - there are lots of people out looking. Guy spent five years preparing for opening because he didn’t want to make mistakes.
“When you start off, people are very cautious. It’s about persuading people you are worth looking at.”
“Then of course, it was the worst recession in the history of mankind ever! But, that was actually quite a spur.”
His partner Sean heard that, ‘A good product will always sell. It may not sell as well as you would hope, but it will always sell.’ So Guy knew if they could make it in a recession, they could make it any time.
“It’s not a smash-and-grab profession. You’re not going to rush in and suddenly get big film deals. We held our nerve. Now, the careful preparation is paying dividends.”
Working as an actors’ agent
Like any job, there are some unspeakably rude people to deal with. But using tact and diplomacy is vital in the performing arts industry.
“It’s probably not my strongest suit in life! I am a famous complainer! Unfortunately these revolting brusque people know that effectively, they’ve got what you or your clients want. You just have to bite your lip. Most people, of course, are delightful.
“When you start off, people are very cautious. Some overtly say ‘I don’t need another load of actors being suggested, I’m doing fine thank you!’ So it’s about persuading people you are worth looking at.”
Many actors complain that their agent is too business focussed. They feel like their agent doesn’t go to the theatre and doesn’t like actors. Guy thinks that’s not unusual, but he tries to strike a balance. He likes the acting side, but likes to bring some business acumen as well. Show business is, after all, still a business. Someone needs to keep an eye on what makes money and what doesn’t.
If directors asked for greater accessibility to actors, Guy would be pleased. He met an important TV director who was very frustrated because the same people were trotted out to him all the time. Funnily enough, Guy has exactly the same frustration.
“If they’re getting frustrated and we’re getting frustrated, maybe we could do something about it,” he says. “I would like to see directors maybe occasionally say to casting directors ‘I don’t want to see anyone I’ve seen before’.”
An agent’s advice to actors
Guy thinks there is no point in contacting anyone unless they have a role for you. After all, agents don’t create jobs. He can hunt around to see if there’s something out there, but by and large if the jobs aren’t there, he can’t make them.
“If I tell someone ‘I’ve got this great person you must see,’ and if they go ‘they were terrific, but actually they’re a six foot tall man and I need a ginger-haired eight year old,’ you’re not getting anywhere.
“It’s not just being right for the role, which is what actors get stuck on, it’s about being at the right point in your career that you will be taken seriously in that role.
“It doesn’t mean that ‘miracles’ don’t happen - you can be discovered and we do look out for that - but you have to be sensible or else you lose credibility as an actor and as an agent.”
The life of an actors’ agent
“It’s not a smash-and-grab profession. We held our nerve. Now, the careful preparation is paying dividends.”
“A typical day never stops! I do a lot of work from home and I get up very early at six o’ clock. There’s this ghastly temptation to turn the computer on just to have a little glance and see.”
Once castings have been dealt with, there’s all the other domestic stuff to do with the agency. That usually gets done later in the day, when casting directors have shut up shop. But that can mean waiting until six or seven o clock. Guy is often still at the computer until 9pm. Access at home makes him think ‘I’ll just have a little look’ on a Saturday. Before he knows it, he’s hooked in.
“The one piece of advice I was given was make sure you have a cut-off time, or it will take over your life. Unfortunately I ignored it!”