Most actors can cry on cue
How do I play a sad scene?
It is commonly said that comedy is the premier class in acting. Heiner Lauterbach would not fundamentally contradict this either. It is usually more difficult to make people laugh than to make them cry. Nevertheless, these sad scenes also want to be played well and offer at least as much potential for embarrassment as the funny ones. Do actors need to be able to cry at the push of a button? How do actors prepare for a sad scene? Heiner Lauterbach exclusively reveals his techniques to you in this article.
How do you recognize fake crying?
The counterpart of the actor slipping on the banana peel is the one who cries wrongly in the drama. You can tell that very well in different things. First and foremost, I claim that the viewer can feel it when something is merely asserted on the screen and when the feeling is not real.
You can usually see it in the eyes. First of all in the eyes and also in the tears. With pretended grief either no tears flow at all, or artificial tears. Both are bad. There may be people who cry without tears, but they are damn rare. In any case, I haven't seen them yet.
And artificial tears, which are usually applied by the makeup artist with glycerine, also look artificial. They shine more and stick statically to the face instead of making their way over the cheeks.
Scenes that pretend feelings are always undercut several times in order to disguise the process of painting on tears. Good, heavily played tragic moments, in which crying develops organically, remain uncut with good directors and editors. Just to let the viewer take part in this process in peace. When faced with the choice - does my character cry or not in the next scene and I'm not sure, if in doubt, I decide not to cry. Sometimes I downright refuse it, even if the director would prefer it. The audience should cry, not necessarily the performer.
My technique: how do I play crying?
I've cried a lot at work. On stage and in front of the camera. I want to say a thousand times. It's not difficult at all, either. On the contrary. It's actually pretty easy. First of all, it is even more important here than usual in acting to stay with yourself. Think of nothing, absolutely nothing other than yourself and your situation. Listen carefully to what the other person is saying, even the tenth time, or keep observing what is going on, like the first time. And then respond to it. Like in life. Just let it all happen. And then - if the scene is spelled correctly - you start crying.
Or - and now comes the real trick - you don't start crying, but keep feeling everything. Your sadness, your indignation, your anger or whatever almost made you cry. Then it wasn't meant to be today. In normal life, too, we humans react differently. One day we would cry and the other day if we had exactly the same thing, we wouldn't.
As long as you don't let that stress you and your performance, everything is fine. It might sound paradoxical, but the secret to crying is that we shouldn't be forcing it.
How do I prepare for a sad scene?
In principle, I treat crying the same way I treat laughing professionally. I let it happen. The play, or the script, has to provide these moments. When a director asks me before a scene how I want to “put it on”, whether I'm going to cry or have a laughing fit, I often say, “I don't know yet. Let us surprise."
I mean that very seriously. I never learn my text with all the emotion. I never play it for myself at home or wherever, one-on-one, as I plan to do in the film or on stage. I always let myself be surprised until the first serious rehearsal. And in this, I am not infrequently surprised in which, previously unexpected direction this scene suddenly takes off.
Sometimes I'm really unprepared for my own reaction. Surprised by my dismay, anger, sadness or whatever. That's why I never know beforehand whether I'll cry. Or laugh. I just know - give me a reason for both and I'll do it. Otherwise not.
But I would never work with false tears, i.e. with glycerine. And I would never cry artificially either, without tears. It's not difficult either. Any actor, no matter how untalented, can do it to some extent. I would only strongly advise against it. Trust your own interpretation of the scene. Nowhere is it written that a person who has just learned that their partner has had a fatal accident must start crying. The nice thing is - almost any interpretation is conceivable if you present it believably and confidently.
Imagine the following situation ...
The doorbell rings. A woman opens. The policeman who rang the doorbell informs the woman that her child has been killed in an accident. The woman collapses.
Actually a clear case. There is not much room for interpretation. Well, the cop will be reasonably predictable. Unless he's an idiot or drunk, he won't pat the woman on the shoulder with a grin and say "her little one has given up the spoon". The portrayal of the woman offers a lot of leeway. Because it is so emotional and therefore unpredictable. For example, after a while in which she said nothing, just stared at the policeman blankly, she could say: “I have to get the laundry out of the dryer.” And just let the policeman stand.
A suggestion that I, as a director, would definitely see to be implemented. Because it's unexpected. Surprised. Makes you curious and because it is not boring. Of course, you have to be careful in such moments not to lose focus. That you don't become gimmicky. Mannered. Silly. Admittedly - such productions are often a tightrope walk. A blade running. You sit on this razor-sharp razor blade and do this ride. Right and left the abyss. Dilettantism on the right and artificially exaggerated elicitation on the left. Both cruel. But in the middle on this very fine line - that is where the genius is often found.
How do actors cry in a movie?
There are two other, unfortunately very common, methods among actors to let tears flow.
Immediately before setting, you have menthol blown into your eyes, which then begin to water and redden. Naturally, this only works in front of the camera. That was never an option for me. The make-up artist fumbling with me until the last second would only have disturbed my concentration and would have been detrimental to the performance and the credibility of my portrayal.
Other actors simply imagine bad events within their family or friends. Also not an option for me. And for two reasons. I don't want to have to imagine something like that. I would also feel shabby to whoever I would let slip in my mind's eye. So for ethical reasons, if you will.
Besides, honestly, an actor who needs that is doing something wrong in my opinion. As if, as the head of a freight forwarding company, I were to hire a truck driver who informed me immediately before starting work that until now he had only driven trucks on the game console. He would have led me to believe that he could do something that he actually couldn't.
No, I think we are paid to convey emotions. For that we have to go through it. Let's trust it. And let's trust in ourselves and our abilities.
Your Heiner Lauterbach
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