Mike Lyons, director of both the commercial and fitness divisions of BMG in New York City, has worked as a talent and model agent for over 30 years. He is also hilarious- and hilariously self-deprecating. “I had hair when I started,” he laments at the beginning of our conversation. What follows is a FaceTime interview with someone who tells it as only an industry veteran can – while never taking himself too seriously.
You have had an amazing career, working as an agent for over 30 years. Are there any career highlights you’d like to share?
Well I discovered Ashton Kutcher. I discovered Jennifer Garner and Vin Diesel. I should have kept them, I’d be a rich man right now.
Brett Azar, one of my top guys now, has done the last few Terminator movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger. So that’s been a big deal. I think the highlight is still being in the business 30 years. How many people can say that, you know?
Very true. So what brought you to BMG?
Well, I’m getting older. I’m 35 right now.
[Laughs] What’s your secret?
I don’t know. Put gray in your beard. The reason I ended up with BMG is because I’m probably going to retire in three or four years, but I wanted to have someplace for my models and actors to be after I retired. I just didn’t want to retire and then say, “Oh, well, you’re on your own.” I’ve had some actors that have been with me for over 20 years. So I wanted them to have representation after I retired.
You sound like a great agent. You want to make sure everyone’s going to be taken care of.
Absolutely. That was my big thing.
So like you just said, you started off the careers of huge stars like Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Garner. Can you tell when a client has the potential to make it at that level and if yes, what is it about them?
Well that’s a really good question and I call it the It factor- when you see it, you know it. There’s an energy about them, a personality. An agent is looking for a total package- a great face, a great body, energy, confidence, personality. Great bodies don’t mean they have to necessarily be in shape. It has to do with their whole persona. There’s definitely an It factor, there’s an energy, something about them that glows, that intrigues you enough to take the next step to bring them into a first meeting and then to bring them back to meet the rest of the team. But it’s really an It factor. When you see it, you know it.
Since you head the commercial division, what does it take for an actor to be successful in the world of commercials?
Well, with commercials, it’s all about being – it sounds horrible because we all want to stand out in the business – but being as generic as possible [laughs]. Because you want to be somebody that sells to everybody, not just to one niche group. If you only sell to one niche group, then you’re only going to book one commercial once in a while. Be somebody that every race can identify with, every age group can identify with. It’s all about a real, upbeat, smiley personality without being over the top. It’s about being real versus not being real. It’s more like acting like yourself, bringing the best of yourself forward.
Being your best self while being approachable?
Oh you have to be very approachable. Because you gotta be believable, right? It’s gotta be real as opposed to a forced believability. In my career I’ve seen some of the worst smiles in the world, people almost trying to be pushy. You can’t push a product. I would buy the product because I know that person uses that product.
Right. It has to be natural, not forced.
With commercials it’s just about a really good honest way of presenting yourself.
You also do commercial print. For actors that might not be so familiar with that world but are interested, what are some important things for them to know?
All commercial print is, is acting in front of the still camera. If you can smile and walk around in front of a real camera, it’s taking that same smile and being able to pull it up in a picture. So learn how to take a good selfie, that’s really important. Practice in front of the mirror. Get some feedback from friends, family, your agents, anybody who’s in the business and see if it looks real. Also with any actor or model, it’s about leaving your drama at the door at a casting. Every actor and model has gone through highs and lows where sometimes you haven’t booked 20 auditions or more, and you go to an audition saying, “Okay, I gotta book this. I have to do this.” You take that bad energy with you, it doesn’t work. You just have to be memorable and you’re memorable by being yourself. Please and thank you goes a long way to a casting director. Commercial print is easy, but it’s not, because you have to be someone who really identifies with the product.
You are also the director of the fitness division. For those not familiar with the world of fitness (myself included), what kind of projects do your clients book in this division? Is this division mostly for models or actors as well?
It’s for actors as well because there’s a lot of infomercials and commercials out there. Products that we work with include Nike, Champion, Under Armour. We do all of the athletic clothing lines for Kohl’s and JC Penney and companies like that. A lot of infomercials and a lot of commercials are sports-related. And we’re always one season ahead. Usually by now we’re already starting football commercials. Sometimes the business is a little bit slower at times in the mainstream world. But sports is never slow because there’s always a season or something else. Like we’re supposed to have the Olympics this summer. I usually kill for summer Olympics, book millions of dollars worth of commercials. But I’ve got to wait till next summer to do that. But we’re definitely in a healthy lifestyle thing right now in our history. So there’s always commercials, even Lululemon. We’ll do print ads and commercials. With Gap Fit we do commercials and print. So there’s always a need for healthy looking people. By fitness it doesn’t mean big buff women and men, but somebody who looks like they work out. It looks like they do yoga. Looks like they do CrossFit or cross country running, looks like they play soccer. And they have to have the skills too. Because you can look like that for a print ad, but for commercials you actually have to play the sport. You don’t have to be like an Olympic soccer player, but have enough skills to look like you know what you’re doing. Even during the coronavirus, we’re doing commercials from home. I’ve booked over 30 commercials of people doing commercials from home in the past several months. It’s been wonderful.
That’s great to know that there’s still some work out there.
Yeah. There’s a lot of commercials. People doing gym stuff or home things. They’ll actually send a camera crew to the person’s house.
For all the unrepresented people that are reading this- is now a good time to submit for representation? Or is it best to wait until the quarantine ends and the industry gets back to normal?
Wait till the office is open. We’re on our home computers right now. Plus we don’t even get enough work for the people who we represent. I’m interested in seeing you in person in addition to seeing your pictures. But we won’t reopen until at least July 6th right now.
Oh, really? That is when New York is supposed to open back up?
Well, that’s when our phase is supposed to open back up, but who knows that might be pushed back anyway. But yeah, that’s the earliest it will open. And I’m not going to start looking at new people for weeks after that. So I would say, look at August as a time to start submitting. Cause I won’t remember you.
Speaking of submissions, when the time does come, what can people do to increase their chances for a positive response? And this is an across the board question for all your divisions.
You’d be shocked how many people don’t put pictures in their submissions. They need a headshot, resume and video clips. For fitness it’s all pictures and you need body shots as well. I need athletic shots. Shirtless for guys, shorts/workout tops for women. For actors, it’s all about headshots, resumes and a brief clip. Don’t send me a 20 minute reel. I’m gonna look at a minute. Try to send two clips if you can- a dramatic clip and a comedic clip.
That’s for commercial representation. How about commercial print or do they go together?
They kind of go together. Everyone that does commercial print does commercials. It’s a one unit thing.
So they don’t necessarily need a reel for commercials. They just need clips?
Yeah. If you have a reel, that’s fine. But there a lot of commercial people, if you’re starting out, you don’t have that. Even if you put together a one minute monologue or a 30 second monologue, just so I could hear the voice and see how you speak in front of the camera. But yeah, no more than a minute. If they’re into animation, we could put up an animation clip on there as well. If you’re an actor in New York and you don’t have clips up on your Actors Access and your Casting Networks, you shouldn’t be doing this. It’s all about the videos today, even more than the headshots right now.
Now hasn’t been the easiest time with the industry so slowed down, but if there’s one positive thing we can take from this current time what would it be?
This is a business of passion, patience, persistence and practice- the four Ps.
I love that.
If you’re in this business, you have that. If you don’t you won’t survive. But I think it’s really important to keep up with your craft. So find ways to learn. A lot of casting directors are doing Zoom classes, private coaching. Now most people can’t work out in the gym so they’re working out their muscles at home. You have to work out your acting muscles at home also. That’s my piece of advice, keep working on your craft. Make self-tapes, have friends look at them and see what you can improve. You have to stay active in this business. That’s the way to do it. Keep working on your craft.
Mr. Lyons may joke that he has less hair than when he started, but does that really matter when you’ve got over three decades in the business and also discovered Ashton Kutcher? So make sure you have those four Ps, get those clips together if you don’t already, and keep those acting muscles flexing.