"If you keep at it and don’t give up you will get where you want to go" Sean Gascoine

Sean Gascoine is working for one of the biggest talent agencies in the world, United Agents. He started his career as a child actor in film and stage. He represents successful screenwriters, playwrights, directors, actors and is on the panel for the Mandy Monologue Competition 2019.

13th March 2019
/ By Petra Mandova

Sean Gascoine BFI Future Film Festival

Your background comes from acting is that unique or common for talent agents? 

Yes. I was a child actor. There are agents out there which used to be actors. I don’t think it is particularly unique. But at the same time, it’s not a norm either. There is always a mixture of agents. Some have come from law, some have come from acting and some have fallen in from other professions. 

Is there a profession that would be more common? 

I am always amazed at the number of lawyers that really want to do something else. It’s one of these professions where the family pressure is. They set up a different career and then they reach a moment when they have a little bit more of security to do what they really want. 

Why did you decide to be an agent? 

I would already tick some boxes which I wanted to do as an actor and I didn’t have any great motivation to play any of the great roles, plus I wanted to pay my bills on time. I went into my agent's office and she very kindly, when I was not working, asked me if I would like to redecorate the office one weekend for some extra money. And she was about to go on maternity leave and she suggested that I could still audition for acting jobs, but in the same time I could work in the office and be there as a runner, answering the phones. I could say within two weeks that I could do this. I knew how to speak to the actors, I knew their paranoia and what they worry about and for the first time in my life I could pay my bills on time and so I started to think about crazy things like maybe a holiday. That was more important to me than wanting to be famous. 

What kind of personal characteristic should a good agent have? 

I think it varies from different things. You have to be very confident about speaking to other people and dealing with difficult issues head-on. You have to be confident in confrontation and quite open to suggestions as well. 

What is the ideal relationship between agent/actor/talent? 

Best of friends as long as they don’t call me on weekends. 


 "If you want to have this career and you see it as a long term thing do the jobs that make sense, 

that will only improve you as an actor"


So all your clients are your friends? 

Yes. Kind of. It’s a very strange relationship because you don’t want to be hurt. When you put a lot of time and effort into someone and they might then decide that they want to go with someone else, that’s very hurtful. When I am meeting clients or possible clients I am looking at long term relationship. Of course, I’ve got clients that I would take on and 18 months later we’ve parted ways and they would go off to someone else. But actually the majority of my clients I’ve looked after more than 20 years. I’ve been to weddings, I’ve been to funerals, christenings. They trust me. 

Do you prefer when your clients are being proactive rather than waiting for you to get them work? 

I don’t get my clients' jobs. The clients get the jobs. I advise, I can point them in the right direction, set up meetings, do all the things. It’s a very subtle difference, but the clients get their own work, not the agent. As soon as you decide that you are going to hand over responsibility for your future to someone else you are in trouble. 

There are some people that feel the achievement is that they have gotten an agent and now they don’t have to do anything because the agent would do all the work. That’s foolish thing to think. And it would only be frustrating for you, not because you might not be working, but because you don’t have a sense of empowerment. The successful people in this profession are the people that constantly reinvent themselves. My most successful clients are by far the most hard working people. 

Have you started mostly with actors and after you shifted towards writers and directors? 

I started working in actors agency. Everyone had a different system of working. There were 5 agents and no one had their own list we all shared everyone. I started off looking after actors but I wanted to know how things were put together. So I thought writers and directors would be best. A couple of our actors started to write things and I suppose I’d got a little bit lucky. One of them was Sanjeev Bhaskar. I remember him one day coming and saying “There is this show I’ve been asked to do and I am writing Goodness Gracious Me.” And I was like great, I will look after you as a writer. And the same with Kwame Kwei-Armah, he was a regular in Casualty and he was writing his first play when he was still in Casualty. 

I managed to get some very good early clients, who were writers. But I haven’t abandoned actors. I took on a young actor two years ago. That happened because the director of the short film sent me his film for representation and I didn’t take him on, but I took the lead. He blew my mind, he was 16 and I just tough I have to meet him. It felt like a natural thing. 

How often do you sign up a new talent? 

Now not very often. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t do it. If you see someone who you think is incredibly talented and you think you can help them then I would be foolish to just walk away. 

If you see someone so talented would you pass it to your colleagues in United? 

Yes. Absolutely. Since I’ve been here, there have been four or five actors that I thought they have been amazing and therefore pass them to my colleagues. 


"If you keep at it and don’t give up you will get where you want to go"

Do you have any advice on how to prepare for an interview with a talent agent? 

Do not try to be someone that you are not. Actors go out and they get ten headshots and there is nothing more annoying than if you have received a headshot in an email and you go oh... that’s an interesting face, maybe I meet them. You organise a meeting and you come and they don’t look anything like the picture. That’s really annoying and that must be annoying for casting directors as well. 

Is it happening now more with the technology and things like photoshop? 

Yes. And that’s the other thing I would say. Don’t get a lot of touch up photos. Please don’t do that thing when people want to show their versatility so they strike different poses. It happens more with men than women. 

So for you, it’s just one picture that you want to see? 

Yes. I can see all in one photograph. It’s one unadorned photograph as well. Half a top and a head. Don’t be over-elaborate with the jewelry if you are an actress. You don’t want anything to take your eyes off what you are looking at. Which are someone’s eyes and someones face. Ultimately what you are looking for if you can see their soul. 

What is the way for young film professionals to find the right agent? 

First of all. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. We are all going to live until we are a hundred or so and everyone feels like they have to be on the top of their game before their 30’s. I think that’s absolute madness. What is the rush? 

Don’t you think that it’s the society that pushes them to feel like that? 

Yes. But there is the threat of burning out. Unless you are really lucky. I understand that people are ambitious. But you don’t have to be rushed. It happens when it happens. If you do good things and you have the patience, good things will happen to you as well. 

How do you avoid burnout? 

Be serious about the work and don’t chase fame. Coming from a family where I’ve been surrounded by that from an early age, I know what kind of impact that can have. Just learn your craft properly. Take your time and do things that feel right. Don’t do anything for money either. For me, that is a general principle in life anyway. Every time I’ve done something purely for money it’s always been very unsatisfying. 

What about the people who were lucky to have success very early on and then their career went a bit down? 

There are so many different reasons for that. Things can go wrong because it’s a little bit too much and overwhelming and they burn out in the haze of drugs and booze. Or for some people when they get the celebrity status they realise that they don’t like it. 

If you want to have this career and you see it as a long term thing, do the jobs that make sense and that will only improve you as an actor. If you keep at it and don’t give up you will get where you want to go. Some people have the tenacity that drives it through. You’ve got to balance tenacity with having talent. There are some people who are very tenacious but they have no talent whatsoever and you want to scream at them and say stop, please! Just find something else. But it’s still harder if you are an actress rather then actor. 

Why is it harder for actresses? 

It’s been great over the last couple of years and it feels like suddenly we might be waking up to the fact that 51% of the population are women and there are female stories out there. It used to be like that. Just after the World War Two in Hollywood, there was the great era of Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth. They made great stories about women and people watch them again and again. 

But there is still no doubt that if you are an actress and you want to get to the top of your profession the best moment to do that is between the ages 18 and 30. Once you get past 30 in the industry it slowly starts to change. We are still living in that age where a man in their fifties are silver foxes and women in their 50s somehow have lost their sexual power. 

I hope it’s changing because it’s just nonsense. Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule. But this breaks my heart that if you are an actress and you come at it a little bit late you’ve possibly missed your moment. 

You’ve been in this business long time. What makes you happy about the job? How do you keep yourself motivated? 

It’s the creative thing, it’s what makes me the happiest. I still love film and television, sometimes I love theatre, a lot of time I don’t. But I like having my emotional buttons pushed and I think it’s along with music, it is so important and it’s the thing in this crazy world that joins us together, and for me, that is so important. 

We always have to remind ourselves that we are connected in some way and drama, music, and dance are the ways to do that. It makes it civilized and I absolutely love that. I love being part of that process in whatever capacity of seeing a project starts with an idea, growing into a script then being made and performed and when it turns out well the pride that you feel at the end of that process is amazing. 

What are you looking for in the Mandy Monologue Competition entries? 

Stillness. When I was talking about the young actor earlier, the reason why I took him on is that at the end of the short film the camera holds on his face for a minute without him opening his mouth, and all you can do is just imagine what is going through his head and it is so amazing. 

It shows you that the power isn’t always in the words that you are saying but the way your body is positioned. 

I always think when you are doing monologues the temptation is to rush and to speed up. Don’t be frightened of letting that moment happen. 

**** Sean Gascoine is on our panel of expert judges for the Mandy Monologue Competition 2019. Submit your monologue and have your monologue judged by top industry experts! ****


Comments

Susan Barham

12-04-2019

Very helpful. but how do clients get their own work (to quote) at age 80-having embarked in this great profession aged 77 (agents and Mandy accepted)? Few opportunities for us oldies, despite tenacity and huge enthusiasim (plus talent of cause!)

Chris Allison

11-04-2019

A very honest account of the reality.
I think it is a shame that in many instances the individuals who are chosen to feature in many creative productions of all sorts are not truly representative of the diverse society we live in.
Those who are different from the 'ideal' are often missed even if they are very talented.
Perhaps in the future....???

Scarlett Barrett

11-04-2019

Really interesting and thought provoking! Thank you!

Christopher Martin

11-04-2019

Well the only true is, the 50% is what you want to be in this world the other 50% is only work.
But some of them just being lucky from their families. So what about us..?
The invisible ones. I just invest my self. In the end with or without agent and manager I will make it happened. Advices always are for free. But in this circle of the meantime, time to time, the years goes by so fast. Feel me...? Even a worm wanna fly like a dove in the end becomes butterfly.
B.R.
Christopher Martin

Paris Jade Guest

11-04-2019

Great advice, could not be more true, Paris Jade Guest.