Do you recognize those song lyrics? You might be too young… it’s a sixties song, after all. Lesley Gore sang it many years ago, and I always found the lyrics intriguing. I mean, who the hell wants to cry at a party? Doesn’t that sound a bit narcissistic? I’m sorry if Judy is wearing Johnny’s ring, but can’t you go somewhere private and not ruin everyone else’s fiesta with your tears?
And what if it’s NOT your party? Can you still cry IF you want to? Answer: No. When it’s someone else’s party you must play by their rules, and I discovered it’s not always so easy. As actors, we are taught to let our emotions be accessible at all times. In life, we are taught to keep them under control. I’m sure we’ve all heard our moms say, “Don’t make a scene.” How ironic that scenes are what we play as actors, while in real life, we avoid them like the plague. And in my specific case, scenes were something I often played in both—whether I wanted to or not. Growing up with a hot-tempered Italian father (who I absolutely adore so please understand that), scenes were something that flared up without warning. He mellowed, as most people do, with age, but the memories of his volatile mood swings are not something a child ever forgets… even when said child is now a much older grown-up.
Hence, my somewhat callous sounding words earlier about crying at a party. Public spectacles are not something I relish. Thus, when it came to expressing vulnerability in my life, I learned to keep it in at all costs. And as my acting teacher, Matthew Corozine, would say, “Great for your life, terrible for your acting.” Vulnerability is an essential ingredient in acting… it keeps an audience sympathetic and engaged in the story. And thanks to the aforementioned acting teacher, I have learned to unlock that side of myself, which has coincidentally helped me in my life as well. There are situations where you NEED to and SHOULD be vulnerable. It’s how we connect as human beings. But it still doesn’t necessarily make it easy to do.
So when I found myself recently playing a character in a film where crying was her go-to emotion, it was a definite challenge for me. The crying was literally written throughout the entire script… no way to avoid it. But I relished the opportunity to play such a unique character—an ultra conservative Christian mother whose world has fallen apart upon discovering her daughter makes porn and her son masturbates to it. Yup. Not in my normal wheelhouse of acting roles. This woman is devastated, rightfully so, and didn’t hold back that devastation. The role felt like it was a gift, given how hard I’ve worked at showing vulnerability in my life as well as my art. Crying is this weird thing… I resist it, but once I do it, I actually kind of LIKE it. It feels good to let those kind of feelings come to the surface; it’s cathartic. Hence the expression “I had a good cry.” However, it is quite an experience to try doing it on command and for a long period of time, i.e. eight hours of filming!
What I discovered was how challenging it can be to keep that kind of emotional life going throughout the stops and starts of making a film. And how you have to find ways to keep clicking back into those painful feelings once the camera starts rolling again. (For the record, watching the ending of “Marley and Me” works wonders.) By the end of the first day of filming, I was exhausted and had a splitting headache!
And who knows how it will all look when the film is edited and “in the can” as they used to say in the old days. Inevitably, I am sure I will find flaws in my performance even where there are none. I am never satisfied with my work; I always feel it could be better. But as my coach Tessa Faye tells me, sometimes when we are the hardest on ourselves is when we are doing our best work. And we may think it’s not good enough, but to the rest of the world, it is exactly what they wanted. Here’s to hoping, at the very least, my performance is exactly what my director wanted!