So let’s say that you’re on the set, and the director, or the text, wants you in a highly emotional state (like crying). How would you go about getting there?
Usually, you would go into your emotional memory bank and bring up something that moves you to tears: i.e. a death of a loved one, a bad breakup, a time you hurt someone. You would remember the day, the time, the person, what was said, how they looked, where you were, what you saw, heard, felt, etc. Whether you labeled it as such or not, you would be doing a classic Lee Strasberg sense memory. I remind actors all the time that most of us go into sense memory when we fantasize. We don’t thing of general woman or man, we think of how someone looks, or smells, or sounds or feels. Men and women have been using sensory work to ‘get off’ for thousands of years before Lee Strasberg hit the scene.
Or…. You would imagine something happening that would break your heart in two. A classic Stella Adler ‘what if…” exercise. Which one is better? It depends. It depends on the day, your concentration, how much time you have, your given emotional state, etc. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Perhaps you’re so frightened with having to bring up the emotion, that your fear of being a bad and phony actor makes you cry.
The important thing is to know your instrument well enough to know how to proceed. I urge you to take some time every now and again to sow the field of your emotions and make tears and sobbing your friend. Don’t wait till you’re on the set and hope that it happens. Sometimes it does. Sometimes, even with practice it doesn’t. The important thing is not to fake or push it. The important thing is not let us see you trying to cry. We never try to cry (except in the exercise I just urged you to do), we usually try NOT to cry.
In closing, we really don’t want to go for the emotion itself. Emotions tend to come in waves. Sometimes sadness is mixed with grief, is mixed with guilt, is mixed with humor. Rarely is an emotion, stagnant – black and white. Sowing and seeding the field for the emotion to grow is the best way to approach it. Only God can make a tree. And only you know how to best get yourself in the mood.