BACK STAGE WEST
June 05, 2003
by Rob Kendt
Agents never come to the theatre in Los Angeles, right? John Lyons of the Austin Agency does--indeed, it's where he's found most of the clients in his roster, including young Damien Midkiff, a pale, lanky actor from New Orleans who appeared in Sharon and Billy at the Open Fist Theatre in fall 2000 and landed both Lyons as his agent and Michael Kaliski of Omniquest as his manager.
"He's pretty astonishing," raved Lyons of Midkiff, currently appearing at the Stella Adler Theatre in Syzygy Theatre's production of Trestle at Pope Lick Creek. "He has such artistic maturity for a 21 year old it's scary. He's very clear about what he's doing, but it's not the over-eagerness you see in some young actors that has to do with ambition; it's a single-mindedness about what he's doing as an actor. It's too much for some people."
Lyons and Kaliski have been knocking down doors for Midkiff, whose unconventional, almost albino looks may mark him for disturbed characters and geek roles. It hasn't been easy, but there's been enough buzz, according to Lyons, that director Mimi Leder (John Doe, Deep Impact) has considered him for roles "numerous times," and casting directors have "loved him so much, they started calling around to other CDs saying, 'You've got to see this kid.'" At press time Midkiff was in consideration for a major role in Lars Von Trier's new Manderlay, scheduled to shoot this summer.
When Midkiff arrived in L.A. in 1999 after studying in New York, he figured he would continue to do plays, even as he sought film and TV work, "because what else would I do? Sit on my butt and do nothing while I wait for people to cast me?" When he got in a play, he sent out postcards to agents after combing the lists provided by Screen Actors Guild and in Ross Reports. He didn't do repeated mass mailings, though: His strategy was to "target a few and keep sending them rather than sending 1,000."
When Lyons dropped off his card after Sharon and Billy, Midkiff was impressed by Lyons' passion for the theatre. As soon as Midkiff signed, he had four auditions in the first week. The work hasn't stayed at that level since, but Midkiff remains loyal: "I call [Lyons] the actor's agent. He really works closely with you. I think you have to go with your instinct about the person; my instinct told me he'd work really hard for me, and I could talk to him."
Midkiff's advice for actors? Don't obsess on things you can't control, like your look or your type or the politics of the audition room. "What you can do is work hard, and work hard on yourself. I've found the desperation starts to leave. Now when I meet with a director it feels like a rehearsal, not an audition." He advised actors doing theatre "to do things for the right reasons, then invite people."
Said Lyons of his young charge: "He's going to have a career, but it's not going to be handed to him. He'll get it the hard way, by earning it."
Proof that strong college ties can be your salvation is Laurel Green, a thirtysomething actor best known for originating roles in several plays by the popular local playwright Justin Tanner, most of them at Hollywood's Cast Theatre in the early and mid-1990s. Green and Tanner originally met at Los Angeles City College and have been close ever since, with Green functioning as Tanner's muse for such long-running hits as Zombie Attack!, Pot Mom, Bitter Women, and Teen Girl. Her exposure in those plays--all of them comedies, but most with dark edges and finely shaded characters--won her fans in many agencies and casting offices, which nabbed her roles on Murphy Brown and Home Improvement.
But after Green took a break from acting to deal with a family tragedy a few years back, she had some trouble reentering the business. Green's longtime agent-turned-manager, Jim Weissenbach, had stayed with her during her hiatus but was preoccupied with theatrical producing. She appeared in Hot Property, another Tanner play, at the Evidence Room last year, and in his contribution to the late-night madness of The Strip (still ongoing), but she took a lot of agency meetings that ended with no deal.
"What I was finding was that some of the mid-sized or boutique agencies I thought I would be right for me were hard to get into," Green recounted. "A lot of them said, 'We will not take anyone who isn't already on a series or isn't a name.' " And, Green said, her type might be tough to place: "I'm a Caucasian comedic woman in my 30s. I'm not a geek, but I'm not a bathing beauty. I fall between the cracks."
It was the Tanner association, yet again, that broke the ice: Casting director Jeff Greenberg ran into the playwright at a theatre opening, and the chance meeting reminded Greenberg of Green, whom he tracked down for a co-star on Frasier. And that led her to page, yet again, through her well-worn copy of The Agencies guide. She stopped on the listing for Angel City Talent, where agent Mimi Mayer had formerly repped her commercially. "I always liked [Mimi], so I called her, and she said, 'I was just thinking, Whatever happened to Laurel Green?' "
Green met with Mayer and they hit it off again. "She seemed to get me," said Green of Mayer. "She would say things to me like, 'You play really gullible characters.' She knows what I'm good at, what my strengths are. I used to get sent out for roles looking for a 'Janeane Garofalo type.' But I'm much softer, I've got big, sad eyes, I'm not caustic, I'm kind of neurotic. I'm not Janeane Garofalo. [Mimi] has a good idea of where I fit in."
Once signed with Angel City, Green didn't kick back and wait for the phone to ring. She got new headshots and sent out postcards to all the casting directors around town--and, to Mayer's amazement, got a job that way--and put herself "all over" the Internet, including on nowcasting.com and lacasting.com, which she said has increased her commercial bookings (she's repped commercially by Sutton/Barth/Vennari). "All the money I made on Frasier is basically gone," she said of these marketing expenses. She and Mayer are hoping these steps will do the trick, not only for comedic work but for one-hour dramas. It's been quiet so far, but Mayer's eyeing the fall season.
"It hasn't been extremely easy to walk back in and go, 'Here I am,'" said Mayer, who tends to rep character actors (Pamela Gordon is also a client). "But [Laurel's] terrific and people really love her. When TV season picks up, I hope things will pick up."
Either way, it's clear that Green is willing to work as hard as her representation to make it happen. Apologizing in advance for the pun, she said, "I'm not resting on my laurels."