Actors toolbox interview with The BWH Agency

1st February 2019

Agent Lisa Willoughby at The BWH Agency

Logo for The BWH agency

Lisa Willoughby is a partner at The BWH Agency Ltd along with Andrew Braidford, Joe Hutton and Bill Petrie.  Based in London’s West End, The BWH agency represents actors such as Last of the Summer Wine Actors Mike Grady and many more in all areas of the entertainment industry worldwide.

Vincenzo } Hi Lisa. Thanks for taking part in my Vincenzo Photography BLOG a snap shot with. Being an agent must be a tough yet rewarding job? Has the business changed much since you first became an agent?

Lisa Willoughby}  It is a pleasure, Vincenzo. Being an agent is certainly a varied job and can be many things on any one day.  Ultimately it is very rewarding yes and I love it.  I have been working in this field for almost 17 years now and the industry has changed immensely in some areas and not at all in others.  Working conditions and fees for actors have certainly deteriorated.  Traditions are being eroded and knowledge is disappearing. Everything changes though and one has to go with it whilst fighting as much as we can to retain what we can.

Vincenzo} Is being an agent a tough job?

Lisa Willoughby}  It certainly can be tough yes.  It is hard work and requires a lot of time and commitment and can be challenging and disappointing.  It can also require a lot of sacrifices.  For example: if one is at the theatre 3 or 4 times a week, or taking conference calls at 1 or 2 in the morning, that doesn’t leave much time to see your family and friends!  However, it is also incredibly rewarding and can be a lot of fun.  Some people work down mines, fight in wars, put their hands on people’s chests to keep them alive.  I am grateful every day that I do something that I love so it’s not that tough really.

Vincenzo} How did The BWH agency form?

Lisa Willoughby} Ultimately, we are an amalgamation from another agency.  However, the roots began when my colleague Bill decided some years ago that he wanted to build something that would support him once acting gave him up.

Vincenzo} What is your daily agency routine. Describe a typical work day in your current position.

Lisa Willoughby}  My day begins around 8 am when I first check my emails. Our official office hours are from 10 – 6 but there is almost always someone there long before and after that.  Once in the office, I will deal with the most pressing items first.  That can be anything from finalising a deal to giving out an appointment.  The day is very fluid dependent upon what happens.  At some point in every day we will try and find time to be pro-active so will chase projects or push a client for a particular role.  No two days are the same.

Vincenzo} At what point did you decide you wanted to be an agent?

Lisa Willoughby}  I have always worked in the industry.  When I left school I got a job in Box Office.  My first theatre was The Victoria Palace and I absolutely loved it.  It’s where Billy Elliot is on now.  Then it was High Society.  From there I worked my way around the business to broaden my knowledge.  I came from the suburbs where there wasn’t much theatre-related activity so knew nothing about it.  My jobs included doing wardrobe, the front of house, administration, site crew/stage management and eventually I became an agent’s assistant.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Vincenzo} What type of actors do you like to represent?

Lisa Willoughby}  Really good ones!  I like an actor whom as well as being immensely talented, does not need me to be their mum or therapist.  I am neither.

Vincenzo} What’s the best thing about being an agent?

Lisa Willoughby}  Telling a client that they got the job, achieving a really good deal and being thanked.

Vincenzo} What’s the worst thing about being an agent?

Lisa Willoughby}  Having to cancel appointments.  It is so frustrating when you fight to get someone a meeting and then they tell you that they can’t go.  It is totally frustrating.

Vincenzo} Before being an agent did you have any other interesting jobs?

Lisa Willoughby}  Please see above.  I’ve also worked in a pub and my long term Saturday job was as a Dry Cleaner.  Agenting wins every time!

Vincenzo} The BWH agency must get lots of representation requests on a daily basis, What is a good way to get your attention?

Lisa Willoughby}  We do get a vast amount of submissions.  The best wrong way to get our attention is to address your accompanying letter to All Agents at United or similar.  It happens far too often and does not elicit a good response.  Personally, I find a well-worded letter with a good quality headshot and your CV does the trick just fine.  I certainly don’t need gimmicks like a tea bag to have a cuppa with or sweets or promises of alcohol.  My preference is for the hard copy.  Emails are erased at the touch of a button and if I have 200 emails in my in box they are easily lost.

Vincenzo} What is that you for in an actors CV and actors head shot?

Lisa Willoughby} That varies as everybody has a different level of experience so the expectation differs. Clear information, professional credits, well-known directors or companies can all help to hold our attention. Photographs need to be of a good quality.  Something taken by your mate in your front room isn’t enough.  You may be wonderful but it doesn’t give the impression that you are serious about the work.  I also don’t need to see your underwear!

Vincenzo} In terms of actors headshots, are we getting closer to using more colour 10x8s? and do you think colour photographs are a distraction and should actors applying for representation stick to black and white?

Lisa Willoughby}  It does seem that we are using colour more and more now although my preference is still for black and white.  I like the traditional.  Colour are great for commercials though and I am ultimately more interested in the quality of the shot and the likeness to it’s subject.

Vincenzo} When did you last check out an actors profile in The Spotlight book? Has The Spotlight link made your job easier and why?

Lisa Willoughby}  I haven’t looked at the spotlight book for I can’t remember how long.  Everything is done on the link.  It has made the job far more efficient.  I now spend almost no time printing C.V.’s and collating photographs which leaves me with more time to be pro-active.

Vincenzo} When sending an actor out on a casting is it best to give a little hint of what the casting director might be looking for? or do you leave this to the actors to do a little research and READ the script before hand?

Lisa Willoughby}  If a client is given a script before a casting the least we expect is for them to read it.  Ideally, I would like them to be off book particularly if the reading is to a camera.  I always give as much information as I possibly can.  That can sometimes be very detailed character breakdown as well as an outline of the project, and sometimes almost nothing at all.  Regardless of what I provide, it is the actors job to do their research thoroughly.  Information is power. You may not need to use it but know it anyway.

Vincenzo} Are there any helpful hints and advice that you can give out to our readers about representation interviews with agents like BWH?

Lisa Willoughby}  Most importantly be yourself.  Don’t be nervous.  How you are with us is a good indicator of how you might present in a casting.  Remember that if you are in our office then we have chosen to meet you and want you to be there.  Be honest.  It’s never a good idea to disrespect your existing agent.  How you talk about other people might be how you talk will talk about us.  Have some questions of your own to ask.

Vincenzo} Reality television casting programmes that are searching for acting talent like Superstar, I’ll Do anything, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? will show a series of auditions with the winner being offered the starring role for the musical’s entire first run. Is this a good thing or has it made your job less of a joy? How has this impacted?

Lisa Willoughby} I feel torn about the reality TV audition programmes.  Showcasing talent is always a good thing I think although I find the dumbing down and spin really frustrating.  I neither need nor want a sob story about X who is a builder who can’t get a break when in reality they have been working in musical theatre for years.  The mediocrity aggravates me and yet I am grateful and glad to see people who have never been to the theatre doing just that.  Those programmes draw huge audiences whom after watching them actually spend the money and go to see live performances.  So for every 1 person who wins the competition, there are then another 20 or so professionals who get to work for a year because the show is successful.  That has to be a good thing.  Times have changed.  We are ruled by money and popularity encourages people to spend.  That is a fact.  I can’t change it.  These programmes have not made my job any less of a joy.  It was a bit stressful when I had a potential front runner to play Jesus and couldn’t get him out of his existing contract no matter how hard I tried or how creative I got.  That’s a timing issue though and nothing to do with the medium!

and finally…

Star Sign?  Sagittarius

Favourite holiday destination?  Coastal Lighthouse Cottage, Bull Point, Devon (no internet, no phone service, perfect.)

What music are you currently listening to?  The Proclaimers – Sunshine on Leith and the odd show tune is sung by a client!

If you won an award (best agent, Oscar or BAFTA) Where would you leave it?  In my dreams…..

Thanks so much for taking part, Lisa. Very interesting and cool information of which I’m sure our readers will benefit.