The only time I feel kinship with male porn stars is when I have to cry on camera. It is the actor-version of a porn star having to ‘get it up’. You can’t fake it….and there is no fluffer for tears.
In real life, I love a good cry….and seem to cry at the drop of a hat. Tears help me through the loss, hurt, and the slings and arrows that each of us have to wade through in life. But I can also find myself crying over news stories, commercials, books, weddings, births, beautiful songs, breathtaking choreography, particularly anything that is unexpected compassion…stories involving animals or children… people overcoming adversity or rising to a challenge, people being their very best selves… Let’s just say there are a lot of things that resonate with me and can bring me to tears. I’ve learned there are topics and conversations I have to avoid, because they immediately pull me down to a level of emotion I can have a hard time crawling out of.
The beauty and the horror of the world can overwhelm, and yes, it can feel so good to let go. To dive into big emotions and let those waves wash over you. But having to cry ‘on cue’ is another animal entirely….it gives me massive compassion for guys with erectile dysfunction. Your “tool” works on any normal day – but under pressure you can experience performance anxiety. You can find yourself sobbing during rehearsal, then with cameras rolling, with the sun going down and needing to get this shot RIGHT NOW, and with dozens of eyes on you silently screaming ‘cry!’, you may find your self dry as a (…yes, I had to do it …pun somewhat intended) bone, and you suddenly wish there was a form of Viagra to produce tears. That is where the training kicks in.
Acting is hard to describe to ‘civilians’. It is manufacturing truth. But it is TRUTH. At the dawn of movie history acting was dismissively described as ‘shaming’ or ‘posturing’. But acting that connects with the audience is committing so fully to what is happening in the scene that you are blurring the line between you and your character – really living that experience, being fully in the NOW.
Your goal is to be so ‘in the moment’ that all emotion floods naturally, and you can’t make a wrong move. It’s not about TRYING (that never works, and just looks like you are TRYING- which is painful)… it’s about BEING. In the midst of the chaos on set, that can be more of a challenge than you can imagine. The pressure to deliver results and to deliver them this second can be terrifying. If only there was a little blue pill.
Apparently this is a fear I was meant to face, as almost every job I’ve had for the last two years has asked/required me to cry. I’ve had my daughter kidnapped, my lover murdered, was kidnapped myself, forced to kill someone to save my children, I’ve been beaten up, had loved ones killed before my eyes, been emotionally unstable, raped and tortured. Whew.…it’s been a brutal couple years. (Btw, universe, let’s try some lighter fare for a while!)
Not long ago, I had a writer friend excitedly call me to discuss an idea for my character in a project we were working on together. His idea was that in every episode of the season, my character would burst into tears which he commented “will be easy for you because you cry on cue”. Though the idea was actually hilarious for the character, I thought about punching him in the balls. I have no idea how to cry on cue…though I wish I could. It is instead often a stressful and misery-making task, that leaves you emotionally drained and often in a funk all day. Yes, there are those rare, mysterious birds who are able to drop tears at a moment’s notice…some special ‘muscle’ they have control over, like the random people who can wiggle their ears or arch either eyebrow….but they are few and far between. I’ve only known one actress who could truly cry on cue and she booked a lot of jobs because of it. I was surprised when she admitted she always believed she was a fairly bad actor because she never felt the emotion, she just had the ability to control her tear ducts.
There are behavioral psychologists who study emotion and how our bodies function, and it is fascinating to hear them talk about studying actors during performance. That the best actors truly transform themselves and their most intimate body functions follow obediently along… they sweat, pulse races, pupils will dilate, faces will flush and tiny muscles that are impossible to manipulate on cue…will nevertheless be stimulated when one is truly crossing the line between their life and the life of the character.
Reminds you of the elusiveness and the purity of good acting. It is also the reminder of the respect you must have for the character between action and cut. You can’t be flooded with your own life, your own junk (unless it is helpful). You have to be so engaged with the life of the character that you experience it all and it feeds your performance. I remember an acting coach talking about watching an audition for the role of a woman who had just lost her husband. The audition had a distracted quality. When asked, the actress admitted she was unfocused, that she had car trouble on the way to the audition, that she had missed an important call and had other things on her mind. The director stopped her…. while all of that was undoubtedly true, he made a point that I’ve never forgotten. During that 5 minutes, none of her sundry issues should have mattered… everything was about having enough respect for the character to be fully in that moment living and breathing her life. And a woman who has just lost her husband, doesn’t care about the car trouble, or the missed phone call, or the rent that is due…. so in those 5 minutes, neither should you.
Don’t tell me I have to cry. Don’t write in the script that the character is uncontrollably sobbing and expect that to be gospel. Maybe it’s ego – but demand something of me and I’ll instantly want to refuse. Just tell me to be in the moment…trust that as the actor you’ve hired, I’ve done my work and I know my character and whatever should happen WILL happen. Acting should be like real life – which isn’t always predictable – sometimes you keep it together when your world is falling apart other days the tiniest thing makes you fall to pieces. I find it far more interesting to watch someone fight to not cry. Just like playing drunk is about fighting to look sober.
So…it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to…at least I hope I will…I plan to. I’m really gonna try. But if an actor-version of Viagra does come along, sign me up for a sample.
All the post is very deep and involving in meaning and the first thing that can be felt is the “work on the work” It’s inspiring and commendable your seach to reach always higher levels and standards. And the love for your job . Let me copy and paste a couple of your lines: “That the best actors truly transform themselves and their most intimate body functions follow obediently along. … You have to be so engaged with the life of the character that you experience it all and it feeds your performance.” Well, during the lessons of psicology I attended, they used actors (not a specific one but in general) as example about the same observation You wrote before. The target of those part of lessons was to train us to recognize if some patients pretend to be in worse conditions than the real ones or, and that would be even worse, viceversa, or just to learn how to deal with real and strong emotions maybe giving some bad or also good news to relatieves. I am not a psicologist and my experience was made “on the line in er… it’s understandable and ironic your analogy and your modesty but to me You master the tecnique of experiencing a character life. By saying this I don’t mean to belittle the difficulties but quite the opposite ( and I won’t make jokes about the usefulness of viagra in other situations in life but that’s another sort of performance anxiety 🙂 ) As Livia I would have never asked You “what time is it” cause even your eyes had that fierce expression of a Roman warrior, or when You fell down from that balcony in your er episode I had goose bumps for the fear, pain and despair You arrived to communicate. The first reaction was “call an ambulance, fast!” and recently in Venice your eyes have the light of love or playful mistery according to the scenes, for what I saw in the reel. Also your voice changes. “Aren’t you afraid of me? (Livia)” , “Let me fight (Maris)” or just one word “Recharged” when back in time in Alpha protocol You kill the last alien, give to each performance the mark of how You became the character. No doubts it improves with practice like every job. This was not meant to be just a compliment by a fan (useless in this situation) but that is from an objective point of view what I and believe me most people, watching You on the screen, if really seeing, think. Lenghty, don’t get angry.
Not meant to be unrespectful: it can be a real problem from a male point of view.
great blog really funny, and insightful.