How I got into modelling

In the grocery business it is referred to as ‘facing up’. The process is simple. You work aisle to aisle moving a couple of rows of product from the back of the shelf to the front, labels forward. It presents better, makes things easier to find, and makes the stock levels look adequate even when they aren’t. It is also incredibly boring, and you do this nearly every time you work. I was coming up on my six year anniversary at IGA and conservative estimates would suggest that this was the one thousandth time I’d faced the place up. But this time was different because I was doing it alone, and I began to cry. Not a sobbing, uncontrollable round of tears, but just a light stream I couldn’t seem to stop. I was twenty one years old, directionless and empty. This couldn’t be all that life had to offer me, was it? I was suddenly awash with feelings of regret and anxiety and mild panic. I went home from that shift determined to make change in my life. I wrote a letter of resignation the next morning and exactly six years after I began working at the store I walked out of it for the last time. I didn’t know what I was going to do next, but I knew what I wasn’t going to do: be unhappy. This was a pattern of behaviour that would repeat itself at various times throughout my life, the tears, the dread, the panic followed by the drastic life upheaval.

One of the questions I get asked most often on my various channels is how I got into modelling, or if I have any tips for someone to get into modelling. There is no easy answer to that question. Instead, I’m going to use this blog post to tell my story, and hopefully you can take your answers to those questions from within. Becoming a successful (to any degree) model is a very complicated journey of timing, luck, self discovery and confidence. A curious mixture of things you can control and things you cannot. This is the story of how I got to where I am today, and it also serves as the blueprint for where I am going.

So I am twenty one years old and I haven’t a clue what to do with my life. I’m bouncing around between part time jobs trying to figure things out and absolutely nothing was sticking. Going back to school was a no fly zone for me (never much liked it) and the idea of having a career wasn’t on my radar. I was a kid. The one constant in my life was going to the gym and with my new found freedom and quest for happiness, my workouts had taken on a drastically different tone. I was training harder and more frequently and I whipped myself into really good shape. I decided to celebrate that by looking for a professional photographer to take some photos of me, and my sister who was herself a trained actress and stage performer suggested a man by the name of Pierre Gautreau in Toronto Canada. So I booked a shoot. Now, this is back in the film days where you couldn’t see the results instantly. So I had to wait for proofs (which at the time came as an envelope of little 3×5 colour and black and white prints of the photos). When I picked them up I was shocked, I looked pretty good. Pierre was a great photographer and I really was in pretty good shape. But now what?

Images courtesy of Pierre Gautreau

I began earnestly researching the modelling industry, and specifically the scene in Toronto. I learned about something called ‘open call days’ where modelling agencies have set periods where people can walk in off the street to be evaluated, and to my surprise most of the big agencies in the city had them all on the same day (I was given this information by a woman named Anita Gatto, who worked at a modelling agency in my hometown and looked at my pics and told me to ‘just go to Toronto’. To this day that remains one of the great confidence boosting moments in my life). So I packed my envelope of photos and headed into the big city to try my luck. My research had led me to conclude that I was actually outside of the height range of most male models (I was too tall) but I figured I would start with the biggest agencies first to try and at least get some feedback with the inevitable rejections. I went to Elite Model Management on Richmond street, and the plan was to go to Ford immediately afterwards.

After waiting a short period of time I was called in by a really nice woman named Chandra (she went on to become the director of Ford Models in Los Angeles) who cut straight to the point. I was a good looking guy but I was probably too tall. Somewhat unfazed I told her that I had expected to hear that, and I had just gotten some photos done on a whim to see how I’d look on camera. She asked if I had the photos with me, which I did, and then requested to take a look a them.

Her tone changed. Suddenly she was asking me who took the photos, if I still looked like that now, and if she could take a few polaroids of me without my shirt on. She called in one of the other agents. He spoke to her as an aside and then suddenly I had an agency to represent me. I was given a book (modelling slang for your portfolio), I had another photo shoot scheduled (with a photographer named Richard Sibbald) and the comp cards were ordered.

Image courtesy of Richard Sibbald

And then… nothing.

I would make the long trek downtown for casting after casting and there were no takers. I was too tall. I was nervous on camera. My teeth were crooked. I wasn’t the right look. This happened again and again.

Eventually, I was sent somewhere far outside of the downtown core to meet with a potential client. It was to a very corporate place called the Grafton House to meet with representatives from Grafton Fraser. I guess they liked me because I booked my first ever job. This first job pretty much also became my last job, and it would be nearly 15 years until I returned to Grafton Fraser again. But I’ll get to that.

We shot on location at a place called Pioneer Village. I had a wife in the photos and she was one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen in person. We were told to change in the big moving van that had carried all the gear to the shoot and I was absolutely shocked when she changed right in front of me. I was so embarrassed and I remember her laughing at me and asking if it was my first shoot which I confirmed. In hindsight this is very funny to me considering the many hours I’ve spent changing in front of strangers since then. The shoot went well but I was never comfortable. I hated my teeth. I wasn’t confident. I still didn’t know who I was.

Image courtesy of Grafton Fraser/George Richards

But the photos turned out pretty good! And they appeared in a catalogue and on giant posters in malls and I was absolutely thrilled to see myself like that. I wish I had savoured it more, because as previously mentioned, it was the last shoot I did for for a very, very long time.

Actually, it was the second to last. I booked one more job for Microsoft Canada where I was stuffed into a Mazda Miata, sat on a phone book and pushed my head against the convertible soft top as hard as I possibly could. The ad was for their online classified car buying service and it was accompanied by the tagline ’Need a bigger car?’ Toughest four hundred bucks I’ve ever made. I couldn’t turn my head for days.

My final contact with Elite was when they called me to ask what my hands looked like as they might be able to find me some hand modelling work. I politely asked them to remove me from the roster and stop sending me out on castings. I threw in the towel.

It is very important for me to lay out this story for you in its entirety because I often feel that far too many people think that the path to success in the modelling business is instantaneous. For some, it absolutely is. For most, success beyond a job or two never comes (and don’t get me wrong, even a single booking is tremendous success by any measure, and if you’ve ever booked a job in the industry you should beam with pride) and for everyone else in between the path can be long, difficult and uncertain.

Let’s fast forward a few more years and I was once again directionless. I was bartending in a club, and working part time counter-help at a nutritional supplement store near my parents home where I still lived. One day, an old friend (whom I had actually replaced as the counter help when he moved on) wandered into the supplement store and point blank asked me what the hell had happened to me. What he meant was that I had prided myself in being in such killer shape and I was now soft and lifeless (his words). He told me he worked for a big supplement company and they were looking for new athletes to do before and after transformations, and I definitely currently qualified as a before (ouch). One thing lead to another and I was now a fitness model, shooting in gyms, filming Hydroxycut commercials and filling my parents garage with free supplements.

Those years proved very fruitful in the sense that I once again learned a lesson about what I can achieve when I give myself the gift of fitness and health. It wasn’t about looking perfect. It was about pushing myself to see how far I could go. It was about the mental sharpness that came with being in control of myself like that. And the lessons I learned in the fitness modelling days are something I carry with me presently in all aspects of my life. I don’t regret a second of it. However the lifestyle got old quickly and I wasn’t content with making fitness a full time job so I walked away from that business, and I walked away at the perfect time because slowly but surely the money was drying up, and people began going to extreme measures for no pay beyond free supplements and protein powder, and the entire industry (fitness) was slowly shifting to that model. No thanks.

The above covers most of my history of dipping my toes in and out of the modelling world. I thought it was important to establish the history when telling the story, because I believe those flash-in-the-pan moments were an essential part of figuring out who I was, and laid critical groundwork for my relative success in the industry today, and getting a lot of work as a big and tall model.

How I got back into modelling now is actually quite complicated and as the rest of this story lays itself out, I hope you can appreciate how much of this was merely timing and circumstance.

In late July of 2015 I was out in the woods mountain biking and I came to a wide open field and for reasons I cannot explain I simply stopped my progress, and stood on the ground over top of my bike. I stood there and looked around for over forty five minutes, and in that time I again began to cry. I had reached a crossroads once again, where I needed to make decisions about how much life had to offer me, what was I willing to wait on, and what I was going to go out and take for myself. I road home from that ride and begun planning my exit strategy from a job that I loved and had held for 13 years (remember that bartending job I had? I was now the general manager of that company, a story for a future blog post). I was not only saying goodbye to a long career in a crazy and often exciting industry but to some degree I was saying goodbye to employers who were, and remain some of my best friends. My soul searching led to the conclusion that there could be no ‘exit strategy’ and that I merely had to leap. And so I submitted an incredibly succinct letter of resignation and two weeks later I walked out the doors for the last time.

To nothing. No plans. No prospects. Just the ‘open road’ and the will to succeed. My only goal was to aggressively pursue only that which makes me happy for the rest of my life. And I set out on many projects, the main one of which was to build a photography studio in my friend Albert’s warehouse (rest in peace my friend, you showed blind faith and generosity when I desperately needed it, something everyone needs at some point in their lives) and also got back to web design. I had middling success. Then one day the following January a recruiter from the Bachelorette Canada messaged me on Facebook, and well, again, that is a lengthier story for another time but I think if you are reading this right now you already know what happened next.

Fast forward again to the fall of 2016. My season of the Bachelorette had begun airing and I was receiving a bit of attention. And with that came the first contact with a modelling agent. He was kind and said all the right things, and I went down and met him in person and it was a great experience. I was handed a contract which I did not sign, as something told me to hold back. Sure enough, a week later one of my friends messaged me to let me know that I should expect to be contacted by another agency in Toronto which her cousin worked at. That is when (nearly simultaneously) both Tara and Andrea from B&M Models Toronto reached out to me and a meeting was set. I informed them that I had agreed in principle to be represented by someone else already, but that I had not signed anything yet. They in turn offered me a contract which I took with me, and started doing my research. I reached out to as many people I could think of to inquire about them, and the feedback was universally positive. The feedback also often contained a word that the agents themselves had repeatedly said during our initial meeting: family. B&M felt like home to me, and I requested one more meeting and they answered all of my questions satisfactorily and then some. I officially signed my contract while I was away in Vancouver filming the ‘Men Tell All’ episode of the Bachelorette and immediately upon returning to Ontario we got to work. I shot my first campaign for Grafton Fraser, (well the first in a over a decade haha) and filmed a legendary Harlequin Romance commercial that went viral, and we were off to the races.

In future posts I will address more of what happened next. I hope however that this write up gives you a pretty good idea of my journey to where I am today. I also really hope that it lays out the fact that more many of us, the path is not linear, not obvious. A lot must happen to find success in this business, much of which I’ve described above, much of it circumstance, and much of it other factors which I’ll touch on in future posts, such as the industry changing to adopt more body sizes and shapes, the right people trusting you with their brand, etc. etc.