How to know what to ask an agent at interview

The first and most important thing to remember when you meet an agent - and if you wish to be represented by them - is that, as an actor, YOU are employing the agent. Never lose sight of this fact. Time and time again, one comes across actors who place agents on some sort of revered pedestal. Think about it: would agents have a profession if it weren't for actors? (Incidentally, but no less significantly, the same maxim applies to casting directors.) The answer is, of course, no. Both are satellite industries that have sprouted around actors' talent.

Keep this thought in your head but don't allow yourself to become arrogant or superior. Just keep that awareness when it sometimes seems that the tables have turned and that the agent attempts to occupy the higher status. There is no need for this posturing which is all too often evident. An agent / actor partnership should always be on equal terms.

So, when you meet an agent with the possibility of representation, keep this in mind. You need representation for the sake of credibility in the industry and to find good quality work and the agent needs to make money out of you. Sorry to be cynical but that's actually the deal. The information and contacts that a good agent has are valuable to you in just the same way that your ability, as a professional actor, are crucial to an agent. It's a mutual appreciation society.

Do your research before meeting the agent, if that's possible. It's easy to google names; find out who they represent; whether you recognise any faces on their books; the quality of the work the actors have been doing, for example. Then you will be equipped to ask the right questions which will then indicate, to you, whether the agent is right for you. If you discover that the actors' credits are full of low-paid Fringe work, that certainly indicates that the actors are finding their own employment. Warning bells should be ringing. How much clout does this particular agent possess?

So, now that you are meeting an agent, what do you need to discover? First of all, what sort of attitude are you picking up from this person? Do you like him / her? Are you being treated with respect, as an equal? Where are you meeting? This is more significant than you might think. If you're not meeting in the agent's office (during a normal working day), why not? The agent's office will tell you about how successful the partnership might be. Look around and see what clues there are to your potential future with this person's representation. Are there visible signs of a thriving business?

You need to discuss what percentages the agent deducts for finding you work. This varies and you must keep abreast of trends and developments in the field. Ask other actors. Sometimes, the percentages differ according to whether the actor's work is in theatre, television, commercials or film. It might be that the agent takes 10% for stage work and 15% - 20% for screen work. Sometimes, there is a flat 12.5% taken across the board, regardless of the genres of work. You also need to find out what happens when you find your own acting jobs. Does the agent expect a percentage of those, too? Very debateable, this aspect of the business. Some actors reach agreements with their agents that work they find themselves remains their own affair, with no monies due to the agent at all. Others consider that the agent should be due a percentage because of the ongoing, background representation and the fact that the job takes them out of normal circulation for other work that the agent might come up with, meantime. You need to strike a happy agreement on this significant aspect to avoid mutual resentment building in the future.

How many years has this agent been working? Have they come from a larger agency and set up on their own, for example? How many contacts have they built up in the business? We all know that a great deal of success in this industry is based on 'who you know'. It's quite true: casting directors, directors and producers have their favourites; their 'stables' from which they can cherry-pick. If a production company has a great relationship with a particular agent, why go elsewhere? Find out who the agent has a special relationship with, their connections within the business. Ask if the agent networks professionally.

If you are meeting the agent in his / her office, and if a telephone call comes through which the agent has to take, listen to how the agent deals with people. Do you like what you hear? Is that the person you want to be working on your behalf?

If there are aspects of work that you, as an actor, are not interested in (i.e. pantomime, corporate work etc), see how your preferences are received by the agent. Don't be afraid to spell out your ambitions, strengths, likes and dislikes, things you will and won't do. It's far better to state such things at an early stage than clash about them later. State how you feel about nudity roles, SA (supporting artist, 'extra') work, touring, corporate work, for example. The agent needs to understand and appreciate your stance on such matters from the outset. Do not adjust your beliefs to suit the agent: it will only lead to discomfort and possible acrimony later.

Ask the agent about his / her ambitions, as an agent with his / her own career and for you, as a potential client. If representation is in the offing, will the agent represent you or will you be represented by an assistant? Does either matter to you? Does it make any difference? What are the agent's strengths and weaknesses? It's fine to ask. You are interviewing EACH OTHER.

Find out what the agent's expectations are of you, in your professional partnership. Do you need to drop into the office regularly (if there is one)? Will a regular phone call suffice? How much contact do you need to have?

Do not EVER pay a signing-up fee with any agent. This is totally unnecessary and wrong. If you asked to do so, walk away. If you decide that this is the agent for you - and, of course, the agent wishes to represent you as a client - read the ensuing contract very, very closely. The Terms and Conditions are important. Go through each clause very carefully. Sign only when you agree to everything contained therein and feel free to question anything unclear. To be honest, Ts and Cs are fairly standard; certainly with the bigger, established agencies, but be attentive, nonetheless. Once your signature is at the bottom of a form, you are legally bound to what is hoped will be a happy and mutually beneficial relationship. Good luck.