One of the best pieces of acting advice I ever received happened in an agent’s office. I had been in New York just a few months when I managed to get an appointment with J. Michael Bloom. At the time, although I didn’t know it when his office called to arrange the appointment, he ran the biggest commercial agency in New York.
Prior to seeing him I had been in one other agent’s office – five, people, three decks crowded into a ten by twelve foot room – so I wasn’t prepared for what awaited me. His office was at 400 Madison Avenue. In the elevator on the way up to see him I noticed the Bloom Agency took up the entire 19th floor. And the 20th as well.
I checked in with the receptionist certain that my appointment must be with some underling. After waiting a few minutes I was ushered into J. Michael’s office. We barely had a chance to say hello when people began bursting into the room. “I’ve got Gray advertising on the line. They’re offering $50,000. Should I ask for $75,000.00?” “The Dove spot is up for renewal. I think we should ask for a $10,000 holding fee and double scale on the residuals.” “The Tide people really like her. I’m going to ask for $60,000.00. That okay?”
The intimidation factor grew exponentially; I was working off-Broadway making $137.50 a week. In-between interruptions J. Michael tried to engage me by asking long leading questions. I was so freaked out all I could do was nod or shake my head. We talked, or rather he talked, for an hour. I realized I was blowing my opportunity so I asked him if I could come back next week and read copy for him. Waiting in the lobby I had seen some other actors preparing to read copy. He graciously said yes and I made an appointment to come back.
One thing led to another – he had schedule conflicts, the show I was in closed. I got cast in another show – an English play, The Winslow Boy, playing John Wathersone – and it was a couple months before I got back in to see J. Michael.
I was a little less intimidated this time but only slightly. Again, a slew of agents barged into his office to get advice on various issues, most of them involving sums of money I could only dream of. When things finally settled down I did my reading. Or, rather I started to do my reading. Three lines into the copy he stopped me. “John,” he said. “If I want an Englishman, I’ll get an Englishman.” In my defense, I had been rehearsing The Winslow Boy for three weeks.
So I re-grouped and did what I thought (at the time) a good actor should do. I read the same piece of copy as if I was a Brooklyn cab driver. I only got two lines out this time before he stopped me. “John, if I want a Brooklyn cab driver, I’ll get a Brooklyn cab driver. What I want is you.”
Terror shot through me and I thought, “Oh, god. Anything but that.” Because up to that point I thought acting was about escaping and becoming someone else. I didn’t realize acting was about reaching deep inside yourself and discovering the aspects of the character that already exist in you. I thought acting was working from the outside in, not the inside out.
I’m not sure what J. Michael saw in me but he gave me the name of a commercial acting coach and told me to check in with him after I worked with her. I was grateful but when I left that day I vowed I would not step foot back in his office unless I was invited.
Two years later, after booking a lot of jobs his clients had been up for, he called.
I’ve had a rich and rewarding career and it all started that day in J. Michael’s office.
“What I want is you.” That’s what every agent, what every casting director, what every director wants – they want you. And the sooner you can give them YOU the sooner you go to work.