When I was a teenager, I worked on a show that was about a family. As with real families, my fictional family on "Life Goes On" had its ups and downs, and as part of the fictional downers, the actors were often called to cry on cue. This absolutely terrified me, because I was a pretty happy kid who didn't have much to cry about.
My mom, who was a constant fixture at work with me until I was 18 years old, did an amazing job filtering out all the things a kid didn't need to see or hear on film sets. So, acting was just a fun, breezy, extracurricular activity for me. Thankfully, I had managed to avoid the cruel directors who would goad child actors into imagining their dog getting hit by a car in hopes that they could squeeze out a tear or two right after "action."
This anxiety about crying on cue haunted me until the fateful moment arrived as my character, Becca, watched her brother, Corky (played by Chris Burke, an actor with Downs Syndrome), deliver a speech to their high school. At rehearsal, I overheard the director telling the camera operator that there would be a camera push-in to a close up on Kellie, where she'll be overwhelmed with pride for her brother and will "cry, cry, cry." What?!
Fully expecting the "imagine your dog just got hit by a car" scenario, I braced myself and pictured Curly Joe lying on the road, a big ball of motionless fur. But really, Curly Joe was alive and well at my house. Dang. What should I do?
Blink, Kellie, blink hard, I told myself. No tears. I looked straight into my key light and stared until I felt like I might black out. And, still, my eyes remained dry.
It was over, and I guess I looked full of emotion, if not welled up with tears. We moved onto the next shot. I felt like a failure. I decided that if I was going to stick to this acting thing, I needed to get serious about crying.
For training on how to convey this type of intense emotion, I looked no further than the actress who played my mom on the show. Ladies and gentlemen, Patti LuPone, is a damn good crier.
Being the eager young actress that I was, I had to know how she did it. Was it that she was Sicilian? Was it Julliard?
Me: "Patti, how do you do it? How do you cry on cue?"
Patti: "Honey, I got a suitcase full of sorrows."
That was it! I had to get myself a suitcase full of sorrows and then all my problems would be solved!
Since then I have lived a lot and, for better and for worse, I have acquired my very own suitcase full of sorrows I have a well of life experience to draw on when I'm called upon to cry on cue. This is great if you're an artist, not always so great when you're a mom.
Around my 7-year-old daughter, I often find myself working overtime to keep my sorrows, hang-ups and fears away from her. Just because I'm nervous on an airplane doesn't mean she shouldn't enjoy every single bump of turbulence. She doesn't need to see the photographs from the latest tragedy on the cover of my New York Times. She is a beautiful clean slate and shouldn't have to carry my or the rest of the world's burdens.
That being said, I've worked hard to instill empathy in my daughter as well as encourage her to fully embrace and express her feelings. Whenever I come home from time away working on location, she runs at me with reckless abandon -- joyful in every cell of her body. When we see a dead bee or grasshopper, our day stops for a moment while she takes the time she needs to mourn the loss of one of nature's creatures. My kid really loves bugs. And, if she were a child actor who needed to cry on cue, the director would tell her to imagine her snail getting hit by a car. I am certain that epic waterworks would follow.
As she grows up, I know I will share more of my experiences with her -- let her know about my joys and, of course, my suitcase full of sorrows -- but all of this in due time.
For now, I hope that delight is the intense emotion most often felt by my child and that her attempts at crying on cue will continue to be a wished for talent that she can use to manipulate her parents.