Aaron Marcus has been a full-time actor for over 30 years. He has been cast in over 1,200 acting and modeling jobs to date. You have seen him on the TV shows, Gotham, his recurring role on House of Cards, Do No Harm, Law & Order, Rectify, Halt and Catch Fire, The Wire, West Wing, as well as film projects such as Project Almanac, Philomena, Eugene and A Modest Suggestion. Aaron’s new book “How to Become a Successful Actor and Model,” is considered by many to be the most important book on this topic, and can be ordered on Aaron’s site, www.howtoactandmodel.org.
Aaron has given his seminar: Book the Job over 600 times spanning 3 continents.
He also offers private online mentoring programs: http://howtoactandmodel.org/coaching as well as monthly online workshops. You can visit his site and receive 3 free amazing videos. Emily Correa: So for today’s interview for INNOVA X, I am here with Aaron Marcus, America’s top acting and commercial modeling career coach! He’s been in the entertainment business for over three decades and in his long career, has worked in over 1200 TV and radio commercials, corporate films, feature films, television and print ads, you name it! Aaron is also the author of How to Become a Successful Actor and Model, and is the founder of howtoactandmodel.org.
And for me, pursuing acting in my teen years and reading articles by him, looking up to him, it’s a big honor to interview you! Welcome Aaron!
Aaron Marcus: Great to be here!
Emily: Thank you. The goal of this interview is to provide the realities of the acting industry to our readers and advice on how to truly make it in this complex industry that is the modern acting industry. So, my first question for you is what do you attribute to your amazing success in the acting and commercial modeling world?
Aaron: That’s a great question. I would say it’s a combination of things. It’s a combination of being really prepared, taking classes, having the right materials, having a strong headshot, resume. And even for people who are just getting started, there are ways of putting together a resume that might not necessarily impress lots of people, but it can be put in the right format, so that when people look at it, they can still be considered for auditions and jobs. And most importantly, working really hard at promoting yourself and finding the right representation. I don’t believe in luck. I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe that you can put yourself to be in the right place in the right time for things to happen. And then, you have to have the skills to make it happen.
Emily: I completely agree. And I saw that you actually got into the industry in 1984. In your college student years, it seemed like you already had a passion for acting and commercial modeling… Can you tell me how the industry was then and how it has changed to now?
Aaron: Sure! Well, just to let you know, the acting and modeling really was not a passion for me at all. I was planning on being a physical therapist. I just needed a part-time job while I was a college student. It had to be a job that was flexible because I was a full-time college student. It had to be something that paid a pretty good amount because I knew that I wouldn't have a whole lot of time to devote to whatever job it was. And three, it had to be something that I liked doing.
So, I happened to meet an actor, and he was telling me about what he did. I thought, “Wow! This sounds like fun!” So, I found a local agent. She had me read for her. I had no idea what I was doing. And I guess I had some innate abilities that at least got me in the door. And so, that’s really how I got started. It wasn’t this burning passion at all. It was just that I needed a job. What I did was do the acting and modeling on a part-time basis for two years while I was in school. This was right before I got married. My fiancé thought she was going to marry a guy who was applying to physical therapy schools.
And I mentioned to her, “You know what? I’m going to try acting and modeling full-time” because I was loving doing the work. It was so much fun for me. So, I decided I wanted to give myself a year just to see what it was like, to see what it was like to do it on a full-time basis—could I continue to get work, could I make enough to make a living off of, and whether I could live with the unknown of being a freelancer, being self-employed. So, that’s really how I got started. And that’s what I’ve been doing full-time since 1986. So, as far as the changes in the industry, it is completely different in some ways; in some ways, it’s exactly the same. Good acting is good acting. Being a great commercial model, it’s the same thing whether it was 30 years ago or today—or doing voiceover work or narrations. Some of the changes—and there are some major changes—things like TV commercials, years ago, famous actors would never consider doing a television commercial. It was beneath them. Movie stars simply wouldn't be caught dead doing a TV commercial.
Today, it’s much harder for regular actors to book national TV spots.
Emily: You’re totally right. I remember 10- 15 years ago when I was a teen and taking my classes, commercials were about regular people. Regular actors, and it was way more open for them to pursue. But then I started to see more and more movie and tv stars in commercials, and I saw an effect in the number of commercials that were available for non-union or even unknown actors..
Aaron: Yes, it’s harder today because you have so many famous people who are getting hired to be in those spots! That’s one of the differences. Some of the other differences that I’m thinking of also pertain to relationships. Years ago, actors and models had really close connections with their agents in the sense of they would talk with them on the phone, they would come to their office. The first agency that I worked with, the commercial modeling agency that I worked with in New York...unfortunately, they’re no longer around—they had a separate part of their office just for the models to hang out in.
We would go in there. We were waiting to be told, “Oh, we’ve got a go-see,” which is an audition for a model, and we would just head on out and go there. Today, it’s much more impersonal. Even trying to get representation, it’s a very different world. You can’t just knock on an agent’s door and walk in and show them your materials. You can’t slide your headshot and composite sheet under the door like you used to be able to. Now, you upload it onto a website, and you hope that somebody sees it.
Now, when I’m doing private mentoring sessions, I do teach some other ways to find agents because I don’t think that uploading photos is the only way that you should do things. The last thing that I could think of is that the technology has changed so much. Years ago, I was somewhat limited as to where I could audition. I live on the East Coast, and every once in awhile, I could do an audition maybe in Chicago or in Michigan. I would videotape and put it on a VHS tape and overnight the audition to people. Today, almost all of my auditions for the Atlanta, Louisiana market, etc it’s all done in my home office. I shoot the auditions at home, upload it, send it off…
Emily: That’s amazing because when I was pursuing acting, I wished that was possible. Auditioning regularly was such a waste of time and ineffective. What you are doing sounds way easier…
Aaron: It’s so much easier, and it’s less expensive. The only thing is, typically—at least for me—I still will have to go to that market if there’s a callback. Sometimes, I’ve gotten book directly from an audition, but typically, I still have to get to the casting director’s office with a director for a callback. But it opens up so many doors for you.
Emily: Yeah, that’s right I agree! I would love to share my own experience with that...I started pursuing acting at the age of 16, and I started to do all these different scholarships in Boston for theatre programs. I even went to a school of the arts. But this is like more than 10 years ago that I was doing this process. And it was so difficult because technology wasn’t where it was at now at all. There was no Facebook. Social media wasn’t around. There weren’t any Iphones. You obviously had to show up for casting. And so, I ended up pursuing acting on and off for 10 years until the recession hit and I couldn’t move out of my market of Boston for the big times supposedly in NYC. But I had no support at all, or mentorship that guided me. I went the path of Business Psychology…which ironically still led me to get a coaching license..which I thought would be for corporate coaching..but it led me to coach artists and creatives years later. So, I love that you’re saying how things change because I have seen it with you! I had that agent in Boston that was kinda on a personal basis with me. Then digital submissions came around. And it’s all kind of complex because things are more impersonal with the agent now like you’re saying. But at the same time, it’s actually alot easier to build your marketing as an actor, but that would make it more competitive though, right?
Aaron: Yeah, it does. But it’s funny. Sometimes, people will say to me, “Why would I want to give out so much information about the industry to other actors and other models because I’m going to be creating more competition for myself?” And there are people who have had private online mentoring sessions with me who I will see at an audition or at a go-see. And I guess the way that I view it is that—and this isn’t just for me, this is for everybody. We do not compete with anybody else in this world. And I realize that, yes, there are people who are in my category. There are people who have similar looks to me, and we’re going to be auditioning together. But I truly believe that I’m not competing with anybody. And I’m not saying it because I think that I’m so great. I’m saying that because everybody brings something unique and different to the table. Everybody has had different experiences in their lives that shapes their audition, that changes the way they go about preparing for the audition and how they do it. So, I guess my feeling is if the job is right for me, then I will book it. If the job is right for somebody else, they’re going to book it. And I also feel that having that kind of attitude of not competing with anybody just takes some of the pressure off at auditions as well.
Emily: Absolutely! That’s the kind of mindset that actors need, it makes them resilient and find purpose in all the hustle of pursuing acting, truly.
Aaron: It’s easy to feel competitive with people when you’re sitting in a room, and you look across, and you go, “Wait a minute! I’ve seen that guy on TV shows. I’ve seen this guy in movies. And I’m reading for the same part!” All of a sudden, you start freaking out. The fact of the matter is maybe they don’t want somebody who is so well-known for this particular job. But you know, something you mentioned I thought was really interesting as far as some of the new technology and ways of promoting yourself. Even with finding agents, years ago, it was much more difficult to even just find out who the agents were. You would have to buy publications and start searching. So, one of the things on my website, I have a link, and you can find over 400 agents throughout the United States.
Emily: Wow! Thank you. Gotta go there hence I pursue the game again!
Aaron:You’re very welcome. I know it’s hard for people to either get started, I know it’s hard for people to jump to the next level, or maybe they want to start working in a different market. The funny thing is even though this stuff is available for people, what it still comes down to is you still need to learn how to prepare before you’re meeting with an agent, you still need to know what kind of questions do you want to ask to make sure that this agent is right for you. So, you could have all the technology and all the contacts in the world, you still need to get the information in order to really take care of yourself and make sure that you’re really working with the right people. And one other thing that just hit me. Yes, things can be much more impersonal, but we also have the option to make things more personal if we chose to. I mean, I can tell you, sometimes, it’s hard if I’m on hold for a job—especially if it’s a big job. And sometimes, agents will just send a text, “You’ve been released.”
And sometimes, that’s a little hard to take. It would be so much easier and it would feel nicer for me if somebody would just call me, “Hey, I just wanted to let you know I’ve got some bad news. They decided to go elsewhere with it… they cut the part,” whatever it is. But there are a few agents—and I work with a lot of agents in a lot of markets—but there are a few agents where I have developed really good and close relationships with. So I guess it’s like being in a large classroom at a university. People say, “Well, there are 300 people in this class. It’s very impersonal.” Well, if you want to, you can still make it pretty personal with your instructor or your professor. It’s up to you. But in general, I would still stand with it has become more of an impersonal industry.
Emily: And from what you’re saying as well, I see how it’s so important for an actor to realize that they’re a business too because there are other elements than just the art. And so can you tell me what are some business strategies an actor should commit to in order to really brand themselves, to really get to that side of their career? It’s not just going to be about talent. They need to stay organized. They need to have a team…
Aaron: And these are all such great questions. And for each one of these, I’ve done entire workshops on, so I realize I’m giving you a short version.
Emily: Fantastic! I guess I’m ahead here a bit! This conversation is very enlightening!
Aaron: For instance, as far as branding goes, it’s funny, a lot of times, actors will talk about, “I don’t want to be pigeonholed. I don’t want people to only see me in this way.” Well, the fact of the matter is I think just the opposite. I think it’s really good to be pigeonholed as long as you keep getting hired.
Emily: I have always agreed with that. Of course we want to play every type of character because we are “so good”, play both comedy and drama, but come on. It’s too confusing for agents, casting and the audience. I read long ago that type casting is great, but once you have a footing and regular work in the industry, you can just flip your typecast, surprise the audience and expand your range. Much better strategy.
Aaron: Well I will say this; everybody has a certain look. Everybody is viewed in a certain way by various people. What I think is really essential for all actors and commercial models to figure out is “How are you viewed?” So, if I were to walk into a party with complete strangers, I can tell you exactly how they are going to view me. And it doesn’t mean that I am this person, but the way that I’m going to be viewed is I’m a nice guy, I’m somebody that you trust, I’m somebody who’s successful, I’m somebody that you can share personal information with. I just have that sense about me.
And the way that I take that information and translate it into the acting and modeling world is that I know—and not to say there aren’t exceptions to the rule because I have been booked for jobs that are very, very different from this. But the majority of the jobs that I get, I’m the nice doctor. I’m the lawyer, your family lawyer. I’m your real estate agent. I’m the nice politician that really helps the community. I just listed a couple of things, but those are the kinds of areas that I find myself getting the majority of my work in.
Emily: Yeah, and you have over 1200 bookings, so it absolutely works for you!
Aaron:Yea, and with that information, I know how to put together a headshot that will say it in the photo. And once again, these are things that I spend a lot of time with when I’m working with people privately, just going step by step, so that way, the actor or a model can create either commercial photos or a headshot that sells them. And so when you’re talking about a business, absolutely! When you’re talking about branding, absolutely! You need to figure that out because if you let your ego get in the way, and if you have the woman next-door kind of look, and you’re trying to do some kind of beauty shot for your headshot, you’re not going to get any work. So, it’s up to the individual to decide, “Do you want to just do beauty kind of shots or do you want to get booked.”
Now, maybe beauty shots are appropriate for you. But if they’re not, then you need to let your ego go by the wayside and put together shots that are going to sell you well. So, that way, when people, when casting directors, when agents, when directors see that photo, they immediately think, “Oh, I’d like to bring that person to read for this kind of character.” So, yeah, this is a business. And your business card, which is your headshot, is the most important one. So you do need to treat this as a business. You need a great—actually, the best way to put it, you need an effective headshot, resume. If you’re interested in commercial print work (which a lot of actors are), you need strong commercial shots, not just smiley shots, then you change wardrobe into a different background, but it’s the same smiley shot.
There’s a whole list of ingredients that you need to put into in order to create strong commercial photos. You need to know when to say no. You need to know when to turn down jobs, when it’s not in your best interest. And sometimes, today—another change in the industry—I find that in the commercial modeling world, there are more and more ads that are being shot where they want to use the ads in perpetuity. And basically, being able to use your face with a certain product forever could be problematic. And I’m not saying that you should never take them on. I have done a couple of them, but I’ve also turned down quite a few of them. If you do an ad, let’s just say it’s for a fast food restaurant or some kind of health care system, you might be cut out of working for any competitor for the rest of your life. And that’s something a lot of actors and models do not think about.
So yes you need to run this like a business, you need to know when to say no. And even things like you don’t feel comfortable promoting the commercial or supporting the spot, let’s say a political commercial, it's really important to say no. I know that’s hard for a talent to do. You need to run things like a smart business. I highly recommend even if you have an agent, don’t sit by the phone and wait for auditions to come to you. I like to be proactive.
Emily: I completely agree, that is why I’m doing this book and you are on your second book and built years of workshops, you have to create your initiatives in the industry to really stand out as an expert.
Aaron: And you have a good point. There are actors who created and starred in their own projects. Like Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. They created Good Will Hunting. That project launched their careers. I think it’s a great idea to go out and not just wait and make things happen.