Kellie Martin on Patti LuPone’s Advice About Crying on Cue

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Photo Source: Raquel Aparicio

My first kiss was onscreen. My character learned to drive before I did, so when they asked me to hit the mark with that giant Lincoln, I hit the camera instead. Being an actor gives an interesting perspective on life. And in my case, an interesting preview.

I can’t remember life before I was an actor. In fact, I was an actor before I knew what it was to be an actor. At 7, I just wanted to be Laura Ingalls and was surprised to learn it wasn’t an option. But my aunt worked for Michael Landon and he wrote me a little part on “Father Murphy.” My first job! I played Flossie. I said a few lines, smirked for the camera a bit, and I was hooked. I had the coolest extracurricular activity ever: I got to pretend, and people paid me for it!

Growing up, my friends played soccer or did gymnastics after school; I went on auditions with my mom. This was where I fiercely eyed my competition. These girls were my friends, of course, but I was pretty focused on winning the role. Being a lucky kid with a stable family that lived in the ‘burbs, I really hadn’t had much negative life experience to draw on, so my imagination carried me along, and I learned to use the actor’s “what-if”: what if you were a runaway or blind or had just won the lottery? I was the “what-if” queen until I became a teenager and “what-ifs” became “now-whats.”

My acting teacher always reminded me the most interesting actors live deep and full lives. As an artist, you reflect the world around you. To do that, you must dive in, take risks, fall on your face, win, and sometimes lose a great deal.

When I was 13, working with Patti LuPone on “Life Goes On,” I asked how she could cry on cue. She told me, “Honey, I’ve got a suitcase full of sorrows.” Is there any other job that invites you to bring your emotional baggage to work? Where else are you encouraged to vehemently express your anger, celebrate with elation, drown in sorrow, and be certain those around you feel it, too? For me, acting always has been a great place to express my feelings. How else would I have gotten through my parents’ divorce at 15? My character, Becca, got to slam doors and yell at her parents—for completely different, storyline-appropriate reasons—and I got to leave all that anger on the soundstage.

Through the characters I’ve played, I’ve been able to get engaged and married; have babies, many husbands, and a wife; be a widow, a physicist, a prosecutor, owner of a bookstore, and a medical student. It’s like a preview of sorts, and a chance to live challenges and joys and decide what I want for my life. How these fictional life experiences inform my actual life experience, I will never really know. Having been an actor for 34 years, I’m just thankful I can bring my “suitcase full of sorrows” to work.

Martin was nominated for an Emmy for her role on “Life Goes On.” She’s currently starring on TBS’ new comedy “The Guest Book.”

Ready for your own previews of what life could be? Apply to casting calls on Backstage.