Do you have a hard time crying on command? More likely than not, you’re making one of the following mistakes. But before we get into those mistakes, let’s talk about a problem with our thinking.
We say “I have to cry” or “I want to cry at this part of the scene.” But remember that your job as an actor is to create life, not perform, and planning an action you’re going to do at a specific moment is not creating life. So what should you do when you’re preparing and the writer says, “Now she begins to cry”?
Don’t panic! A note like that doesn’t mean not crying will result in losing the job and it also doesn’t mean that you should just put your head down, cover your face, and make a crying noise. This is simply the writer telling you the depth of pain the character is feeling at this moment in the story.
Yes, it’s your job to experience something at that moment in the scene that allows the audience to see the pain the character is feeling, but it’s not necessarily “crying.” Instead of thinking in terms of “doing an action,” think in terms of “a feeling to experience.” Casting directors, directors, producers, and audiences would much rather see pain without crying than no pain with crying.
Mistake #1: Wrong Substitution
As we’re learning who or what to use for substitutions, we often try to use things in our life that seem to make the most sense. But sometimes, it might not actually be the substitution that works best for you. In the scene, if your character is heartbroken from a breakup, you might try substituting a past fling who broke your heart.
But what if your body isn’t able to connect to that memory the way you thought it would. Keep trying. Maybe your childhood pet passed away or your parents broke hard news to you as a kid. Is one of those memories more powerful? Look for a substitution that’s honest and works within the circumstances laid out by the writer. Remember that no one has to know who or what you are using to get there emotionally.
Mistake #2: Lack of Specificity
Sometimes when we engage our imagination, we’re not specific in what we see or we ignore engaging our other senses altogether. Yes, sight is the most used sense during imagination but you have others—don’t forget to use them. When creating a scenario in your head, see as many details as you can, smell what’s there, feel what you can touch, allow your taste buds to roam, hear as much as you can. The more specific you can be, the easier it will be to create that reality and authentically feel.
Mistake #3: Lack of Focus
I see a lot of actors who can’t reach the depths they want due to a lack of focus. You don’t have to meditate in a sauna to be focused, but you do need to be in an area where you can drown out sounds, movements, and other distractions. The goal is to be so regular at this that you can focus anywhere.
Think of the movie “For the Love of the Game.” There’s a moment when Kevin Costner is on the mound about to pitch and he hears all the sounds and screaming fans around him. In an instant, he tunes them all out and it’s just him and the catcher. That’s what we should be able to do with our trigger work.
Mistake #4: Be Easy on Yourself
This is probably the most common mistake for green actors. We want to reach certain depths of pain or the heights of elation so badly that we add pressure to ourselves to make it happen. We try to cry. Then we try harder and harder. And we fail, over and over again, all the while telling ourselves, “I’ll never be able to do this” and “Well, if I can’t do this, I’ll never make it as an actor.” All this does is suffocate your abilities.
Remember that the goal should never be “to cry” but to honestly feel the depths of pain your character is feeling. Be easy on yourself—it’s a process. You can’t do 50 pull-ups before you can do five. So continue trying new substitutions. Be specific. Focus. Be easy on yourself. You’ve got this.
*This post was originally published on Nov. 13, 2018. It has since been updated.
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