Crybaby

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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. 

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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Grrrrrrr.

Just read this article:   Where have all the women gone in movies? By Rebecca Keegan

Not great news.  Some excerpts:

Despite the success of recent female-driven movies such as“Bridesmaids” and the “Hunger Games” and “Twilight” series, female representation in popular movies is at its lowest level in five years, according to a study being released Monday by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Among the 100 highest-grossing movies at the U.S. box office in 2012, the study reported, 28.4% of speaking characters were female. That’s a drop from 32.8% three years ago, and a number that has stayed relatively stagnant despite increased research attention to the topic and several high-profile box-office successes starring women.

When they are on-screen, 31.6% of women are shown wearing sexually revealing clothing, the highest percentage in the five years the USC researchers have been studying the issue.

For teen girls, the number who are provocatively dressed is even higher: 56.6% of teen girl characters in 2012 movies wore sexy clothes, an increase of 20% since 2009.

Full LA Times article here.

Bits & Bobs

Some bits of wisdom I felt like sharing:
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According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary the word “amateur” comes to us from the Latin word amator”meaning “lover” or amare”which means “to love.” “To love,” when you are young and relatively innocent is, of course, quite easy. You are filled with nothing but great expectations and very little real experience to temper those dreams. Grown-up love (the kind that lasts, anyway) involves loving not just the dream, but also the reality. I try to instill in my students that most careers are a wonderful mash-up of the good, the bad and the ugly. Glorious victories. Shitty disappointments. Rapturous praise. Rotten tomatoes. Enduring friendships. Freaks and Fiends. Lavish attention. Followed by periods of complete and utter invisibility. During my first “professional” gig, I stupidly asked an elderly character actor why we had to do eight shows a week. To me, it seemed like a lot to ask. He smiled thinly and replied, “We do eight shows a week, my boy, on the off-chance that we might get one of them right.” Turns out he was correct about that. More often than not, that “one” – that happy attempt that goes well – does seem to make up for everything that proceeded it. Whenever we did a performance that went better than expected, I remember the old character actor used to clap his hands together and exclaim, “All is forgiven!” Being young, I had no clue what he meant by that, but it now strikes me the most elegant and concise definition of love I have ever heard.
     – From the hilarious and brilliant David Dean Bottrell http://partsandlabor.blogspot.com/2009/03/amateur-night.html

“An actor knows that this thing we call life is nothing more than a series of moments strung together in a mystical chain…. The actor therefore trains himself to pay attention to ALL moments… to live mindfully, beholden only to his sense of truth, without anticipation, without fear. The moments bind together, forming an endless wave which the actor rides like a tiger, never knowing where the tiger will turn next– never caring, if the truth be told. For the actor knows that there is never an outcome and never an ending. There is only the ride.” -William Esper

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The Bakery

There are two kinds of people in ‘the industry’.  The first category:  the people who are convinced they are starving because you are stealing their piece of the pie.  They are certain this is the only pie that exists, and that pie is obviously a finite resource.   They will hoard their pie and hide their pie.  They will hold tight to the recipe in fear that you could somehow duplicate their pie.  They won’t tell you where they buy sugar or who taught them how to get that perfect flakey crust.   They might event tamper with your oven or try to convince you that you are diabetic and simply not made to enjoy this delicious confection.   They will talk about how making a pie is impossible, and now that they have found the pie NO ONE will take it from them(!!).

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On the other hand are the people who understand that we live in a bakery.

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They know the secret.   You can always make more pie.

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They function with generosity and inclusion and (surprise, surprise)…they are the most successful.  They understand we are surrounded by the best ingredients, state of the art equipment, the perfect oven and we are each bakers…or know bakers…and we can share baking tips and recipes and learn from each other…we could even create pies that no one has ever thought of before.   And not just pie….now we can make cakes and cookies, muffins and chocolate croissants!  It can be dessert-apalooza up in here.

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Happy Baking.

Hmmmmmm

I found this interesting:

“This is the difficult truth of the artistic situation, particularly in the performing arts: Our choices define us and decide our fates. This is both a criticism and a confession: I have made my poor choices, and I strongly accept that I deserved what I got. There is a belief, calcified into holy writ, that one must work; one must generate interest and heat in one’s career. This attitude leads people to keep working, even when they know that the play or the film is bad; the director is a moron; their costar is a simpleton. The childlike belief is that all work is good, because it leads to more work. However, in the process of continually or regularly doing poor plays with bad people, you become this thing: Your DNA is altered by virtue of the work you have run through your body and your mind. Far more than your resume is stamped. But what are people to do? Rent must be paid. One has to eat. I have known visual artists who work as typists or retail clerks. Perhaps more actors should do this rather than the bad plays, but who am I to judge them? I’ve believed that I could alter or save bad work, and I was wrong, and my DNA bears the scars of the bad work. More talents than you can imagine remain undeveloped or become discarded because they were put into circulation merely to work and to be seen and to buy groceries when they should have been placed in the service of good work. But how do we alter this? There’s your question. And I can’t answer it.” Arthur Penn/Interview with James Grissom/2006. From the forthcoming “Artistic Suicide.”

F*ck Yeah!

*Shamelessly stolen from by friend Robin:
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