The Ugly Scout Answers Your Questions

Last week, we solicited your questions for Simon Rogers, the owner of the talent and modeling agency UglyNY.

In his answers below, Rogers discusses, among other topics, why George Clooney probably earns more than William H. Macy and why finding ugly talent is harder than it seems. You’ll find more photos of his clients throughout this post. (You will be forgiven if, like me, you thought Lou Valentine was David Cross.) My favorite question is the one about whether “ugly” models are digitally (or otherwise) enhanced the way beautiful models are.

Thanks to all of you for the questions and to Rogers for his answers.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONGinger Rich

Question

Do you go out and find the “ugly people” yourself or do they come to you?

Answer

When the agency opened, we held “open casting calls” and advertised for prospective talent, but as time has gone on we receive many hundreds of applications per week from people wanting to be included on our roster, so the need for those open calls has dwindled. However, I (and others in the office) routinely stop people on the street if we think they have that “something special.”

Also, sometimes we get calls for people that we don’t have, or don’t have enough of (“We need 12 elderly Korean couples who can dance well,” for example), in which case we go out and find them. So, in answer to your question, both.

Question

I am not trying to be rude, but why do these companies use your services? I mean if they are looking for “real” people, couldn’t they walk outside or go to a place where their target market gathers (assuming that they have easy access to it) and cut out the middleman by just offering the job to people with the look they are after?

Answer

There are several reasons:

  1. It’s a hell of a lot simpler and faster to find a specialist to do the work for you (therefore often cheaper in the long run); it’s the same reason you don’t make your own clothes.
  2. Finding those “real” people isn’t nearly as easy as you would imagine.
  3. Those found also need to fit other criteria: able to act and behave responsibly, be O.K. in front of the camera, be good with people, be able to subjugate themselves to what someone else wants them to do for the duration of the job, get there on time, shave their legs, not act all crazy-pants, know when to shut up, etc, etc. If that all seems easy, look at how your family behaved last Christmas.
INSERT DESCRIPTIONAsher Suss

Question

Terrence Exodus [whose photo was shown in the previous post] is one of a kind. If I needed someone who looked like him for a shoot, I suspect I’d have to pay whatever he asked for; if that is so, why are “real people” paid so much less than more typical models?

Answer

They are not necessarily paid less; Terrence has done some very well-paid jobs.

However, it’s supply and demand. It might be worth paying him $4,000 because he looks like he does, but for $5,000 they may try to find somebody else (like most people, especially right now, clients have a budget for each particular project).

Conversely, we may be able to get him more because nobody else fits the bill as well as he does. It depends on the particular job. Having said that, Christy Turlington‘s day rate is (deservedly) huge, because of who she has become, how she looks, and the fact that she is a proven money spinner.

George Clooney earns more than William H. Macy for the same reason.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONPai Sen Wang

Question

Who came up with the name “Ugly,” and were there other reasons it stuck besides shock value?

Answer

The name has been used by our sister agency in London for 40 years. Ugly is a polarizing word, and it means many different things to different people.

For us that irony is key, and the ability of the word itself to stop people in their tracks so that they re-evaluate how they perceive beauty and attraction — or not — is part and parcel of our existence as a business. Having said that, lets not be disingenuous here; of course it has some shock value too.

Question

We all know that modeling “beauty” is often false: makeup, airbrushing, digital enhancement, and plastic surgery. Is modeling “ugliness” also engineered: doctored either physically or technologically to enhance the ugliness?

Answer

No, never once in the time that we have been open has that happened. Our talent is hired because they look the way they do and they are what they are! No need for enhancement.

INSERT DESCRIPTIONLou Valentine

Question

It was only a couple months ago that I read a recent study (sorry, no link, but it was on the British Psychological Society website) which showed that using “real world” people rather than models, while noble, negatively affected people’s urges to purchase a pitched product. Your thoughts?

Answer

Tell that to Apple, Dove, Verizon, Pfizer, JVC, and the myriad other companies who have cottoned on to the ideas that people like to see themselves reflected in advertising, and have seen their bottom lines increase as a result.

It depends entirely on what the “product” is, and who it’s aimed at. There will always be a place for the traditionally beautiful in life, and that is as it should be; but in taking the blinkers off and opening themselves up to how most people really look, creative teams across the world are giving themselves whole new seams to mine, and are able to think way more outside the box when it comes to positioning their clients.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I think the British Psychological Society needs to get out more.

Question

Have you gotten any negative responses from “character actors” — i.e., the actors called in to play villains, crooks, and other non-beautiful roles? It seems like you might be encroaching on their territory slightly.

Answer

Absolutely none. Zero.

Question

For top models, the best of the best get on billboards, get campaigns with Gucci-type brands, and get on the cover of Elle and Vogue magazines. What types of gigs do the best-of-the-best “ugly models” get?

Answer

Pretty much exactly the same things. We have had models booked for all of those things … except the covers of high-fashion magazines like Vogue. But that eats at me. I need to call up Anna Wintour right now!

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  1. Chris says:

    I love the idea of UglyNY. Looking forward to the day Vogue stops being so selectively arrogant, and opens their front cover to a ‘real’ person.
    In which case, I will simply take my hat off to the power of agencies like UglyNY.

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  2. Daniel Reeves says:

    Wow! Simon Rogers is very intelligent and articulate. Great interview. Thank you.

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  3. Leilani Karp says:

    Cool! Except that all models pictured are beautiful in their own way. Look at those eyelashes on Mr. Suss. If Ms. Rich would smile, she could sell cookies. Even America’s Top Model search now includes a burn survivor, so some disfiguring medical condition isn’t a preclusion to modelling. I’m not sure that I would want to see real leprosy as an inducement to buy a skin cream, but if ‘ugly’ means a healthy and normal person of any age, fantastic!

    So now what are we going to say when we mean the old version of ‘ugly?’

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  4. Chris Thomas says:

    look at the cover of Conde Nast’s new Love magazine. Maybe times are a changing?

    Or maybe it is the same shock value that Simon talks about…

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  5. David says:

    I just looked at the UglyNY site and there are some, non ugly models on there. Also, I would not say that the people on there are UGLY, they are just not the “stereo-typical beautiful people” that we associate with the advertising world. So while the call themselves UglyNY, I think a better name would be REAL!

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  6. Nadav Zohar says:

    Thanks for taking my question about the name of the company!

    I’m still curious about something, though: none of the talent agencies I’ve been involved with hire “beautiful” people exclusively–they all do exactly what UglyNY does, which is take on whatever talent is in demand, from ugly to beautiful and everything in between. So I’d still like to know, What makes your agency different?

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  7. Dr. Dude says:

    You’ll find plenty of ugly at the food court of a suburban megamall. The models on their site, however, range from beautiful to interesting, but I didn’t see any ugly men or women. Maybe my standards are too low?

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  8. Kenny Gasperson says:

    Man, that Kenny Gasperson guy on their website is a total stud.

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