One of the questions I get asked frequently relates to something that most actors face in their interviews with agents and casting directors.
Here’s how a typical letter reads; I met with an agent yesterday and the first thing she said was “Tell me about yourself.” So I told her what my credits were, where I went to school, people I knew in the business and so on. She didn’t really listen. She said she’d let me know. I already know. She’s not interested. What did I do wrong?”
Q: What do I say when they say, ‘Tell me about yourself?’
Me: Whatever you do, do not recite your resume, where you went to school, and so on. Always keep in mind the kind of work you want to do … story telling.
In the case of an agent, you are interviewing a prospective salesperson for your business. It’s your job to convince a thoroughly professional salesperson (an agent) that representing your product (you) is going to produce a lot of income.
The agent’s income depends on finding, representing and selling the best storytellers he can find. An agent learns quickly how to spot the ‘comers’ and ignore the ‘wannabes.’
The deciding factor is simple: “Is this actor a good story teller?”
An observable reality is that an agent can’t tell if you are a good storyteller unless she sees you telling a story. That opening gambit, “tell me about yourself” is an agent’s way of saying, ‘tell me a story.’ If you don’t comply with this request, agents become like five year olds; ‘tell me a story, tell me a story, tell me a story.’
These repetitive requests come in the guise of, “I see you went to Carnegie Tech.” “So, you’re from Connecticut.” “Oh, you worked with Burt Reynolds.”
When you hear this kind of thing it’s just the agent trying to get the ‘test drive’ started. They want you to tell them a story.
Okay, now that you know what’s really going on, it’s time to discover what your response should be the next time you hear those words, “Tell me about yourself.”
What you should do is … TELL A STORY.
Go through your real life experiences and start creating narratives about yourself. If you have to bend the truth a bit to keep the interest up, then so be it. Fiction is our business. (Don’t make up credits or relationships.)
For instance, let us suppose that you have only one credit in a community theater production of “Sally Of The Sawdust” and you only had two lines as Cannonball Bill. The beginning of your story might be something along these lines:
“Well, I made my first entrance on to a stage in an unusual way – I was shot from a cannon.” (This is what we in the fiction business call a “grabber.”)
Now spin out a story where there’s a little suspense, a little joke, a little pay-off of some kind;
“One night we had an understudy who was supposed to say one line after I got shot onto the stage. He was supposed to say. ‘Hark I hear the cannon roar!’ He was pretty nervous because he’d never been on stage before. Anyway, when I got shot out of the cannon with a large bang, the understudy was startled and he said, ‘What the hell was that?’”
Don’t forget the drama! This is a scene you are painting for the agent. Play it.
Tell a story. A beginning. (The grabber) A middle. (An interesting thing happened) And then the end.
Tell a story that keeps the agent interested in the outcome and you’ll go a long ways toward convincing the agent that you are a ‘comer.’
By the way, when I say “create a narrative,” I’m not talking about lying – I’m talking about taking the stories in your own experiences and making them memorable. Dramatic! Hilarious! Exciting! Suspenseful!
Now practice telling your stories in such a way that the agent can’t wait to hear the next line. Believe me, once you “hook” an agent with a well-told story, you will get what you came for … representation. In other words, sell the salesman.
The same advice goes for casting directors. They are the personnel department of the company you hope to work for. The same idea applies.
Tell a story.
1. Get several good stories in your repertoire.
2. Practice telling them.
This is basic, bottom-line preparation. If you don’t have stories to tell, you are going to suffer through a lot of needless rejection.
So the next time you hear, “Tell me about yourself.” you know all you have to do is be prepared to tell a story. Make it a good story, practice telling it, listen for the cue line and go. Your positive results will soar.
One more thing … you can observe how other actors and performers “tell stories, by tuning in to the celebrity interview shows. Some are good at it and some are not so good. (I’m sure you’ll see the difference.) But they’re all trying … to ‘tell me a story.’