In film or television, it’s almost always better for an actor to choose NOT to cry than to actually cry.
We had talked on our podcast how, when actors choose NOT to cry, it engages the audience. Seeing someone doing their best to contain their emotions will often illicit that same bottled-up emotion from the viewer.
And that’s the number one goal of any film maker… engaging the audience’s emotions.
Granted, there can be circumstances where the correct choice is to have the character burst into tears, but for the most part, more often than not, the most powerful choice is to choose to hold back the water works.
Check for yourself.
Watch television or film and count how many times actors, during emotional scenes, chose whether to cry or not. You will find the percentage greatly in the not-crying category.
One of the actors that has mastered this technique is Jennifer Love Hewitt in the Ghost Whisperer television series.
Now, I’m not here to discuss the moral or theological issues one could pose about the spiritual concepts proposed by the series. I’m simply using Hewitt’s mastery of the non-crying technique as a learning opportunity.
At the end of almost every single episode, where the ghosts and the living make amends, Hewitt’s character must fight back the emotion of the moment and she does so with amazing consistency.
Film acting, as opposed to theater acting, is all in the eyes. The actor must feel the emotion instead of showing the emotion. In cinema, the doorway to that raw emotion is through the eyes.
Hewitt, as well as many of the other characters that emote during the show, will allow the feelings to find expression in the eyes. Their eyes may even water, but they will not cry. They will hold the tears at bay and work to contain their feelings.
Again, the end effect for the audience is to join them in their emotional struggle and that engagement is the key to any successful moment in television or film.
So, if you’re an actor or film maker, take care to manage your emotions so that you may ramp up the audience’s. You’ll be glad you did.