What are the personality characteristics that help you do this job well?
A good agent must be tenacious and willing to exhibit a certain amount of codependence with an artist. My clients can tell you I am notorious about arguing and fighting for an opportunity. I will get in my car, drive to their house and try to convince their wife that a role they may or may not choose is right or wrong. I care. Their success means more to me then just my paycheck or my reputation. I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had much attrition, but it is pretty common in this industry.
For someone at a large agency who represents mainly African American clients, what are some challenges you’ve encountered??
Sometimes my black clients get stuck playing the same roles. My job is to help them mix up their roles in the same way that Caucasian actors do, so that they exercise their talent and don’t get too used to playing the same characters. That is something that artists themselves don’t even think about. But I think about it because these guys look like my father and I have a different level of interest with them.
I represent a man named Michael Kenneth Williams who played Omar on “The Wire.” Michael is very dark and he has a scar that bisects his face. I think if he were represented by [a white agent], every time you saw him he would be playing characters like Omar, a drug dealer. Instead he is replacing the Oscar winning actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in the Todd Solondz film, “Life During Wartime.” He is being treated as an artist and an actor; not as a color.
How diverse is the talent agent business?
There are hundreds of agents in Los Angeles, New York, and London. I can name all of the black agents on one hand and have fingers left over. In order for minorities to be portrayed in different ways on television and the big screen there has to be more minority agents. Most black men on TV are carrying a gun because they are either the cop or the drug dealer. To broaden [those roles] you need someone at the table who says no.
What can be done to help increase the numbers of black agents in the industry?
Becoming an agent requires an apprenticeship. To be successful as an agent you need a mentor. Someone already is in the mix has to be willing to let you sit in their office while they show you everything that they know how to do–from negotiating deals to signing clients. There aren’t enough people out there who are mentoring black assistants.
If more celebrity actors and actresses walked into their agencies and said there need to be more black assistants, there would be more black assistants. Actors need to step up and make their power known.