- In this episode of “Good & Bad Acting,” Atlanta acting coach Jonna Johnson reviews 10 classic crying scenes.
- Johnson deconstructs the hits and misses of crying scenes across a range of genres, from heartbreaking dramas like “The Basketball Diaries” and “Fences” to horror classics like “The Blair Witch Project” and Jordan Peele‘s groundbreaking “Get Out.”
- Throughout the episode, Johnson highlights the acting skills that help Hollywood stars authentically cry on camera.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
– When you said that you would always love me you were just d—ing around?
Jonna Johnson: She’s found a really good way for us as audience members to find humour in her pain. Hi, there. I’m coach Jonna Johnson. I have been teaching for 11 years in the film and television industry, and today I’m gonna be critiquing crying scenes.
Missy: You didn’t call anyone?
Chris: No. Missy: Why not?
Jonna: From the beginning of his overboil of emotions here, we’re seeing in his facial expression the circumstances of being trapped, having to bring up a lot of suppressed history. She’s asking him questions, and he’s responding with his face to try to deviate from going deeper into that conversation.
Missy: You’re so scared. [Chris inhales and whimpers]
Jonna: If we were to do the silent-film test, I would have thought somebody may have had a physical gun to his head. The silent-film test that I like to always observe is if we can shut the sound off completely, can we still feel that emotion behind the cry? If that’s not something that can be done, the emotional backing behind that moment isn’t strong enough. There is not only the physical fear, there’s also an internal factor that’s being manipulated here. His physicalities express that.
She’s so calm, and he’s not, that she’s got complete will over him, that even the clicking clenches him. [spoon clinking] [fingers tapping] So, if you notice that he does these inhales.
[Chris inhales and whimpers] So we see him fight moment to moment to try to find or regain some sort of control, which is what we see in his facial expressions that continue to build up until the very end.
Missy: Sink into the floor.
Chris: Wait, wait, wait, wait.
Missy: Sink. Harry: None of that matters, Peter.
Jonna: We see this kinda ugly cry build up, and it goes from the transition of this, like, his chin does this whole quiver thing, and his lips kind of in the corner does this bit of quiver thing. [dramatic music] But in his eyes, I think there’s a bit of a vacancy there, where I think it’s all about the facial features. His trying to hold this, like, pain, sometimes those things can be a distraction to the audience. If he doesn’t feel the motive of a person that he truly cares for to survive, and it’s not something that he is very strongly attached to, then it’s not gonna translate. And I think for this particular scene, we lose it in the eyes because it was forced. If we were to watch this with none of the sad music, for me it looks like he was told no, and he didn’t like that. Kind of a tantrum. It doesn’t match the circumstance and the weight of losing an actual friend. [dramatic music]
So, when you said that you would always love me you were just d—ing around?
Jonna: She’s found a really good way for us as audience members to find humour in her pain. We’re in a restaurant, where everybody is kind of in their own intimate conversations. It’s very romantic. It plays very well with all this high-pitched screeching and screaming that she’s doing.
Warner: And he just got engaged to a Vanderbilt, for Christ’s sake!
Jonna: Making all these different noises.
[Elle whimpering] To draw the attention, to make him uncomfortable. If you take the same situation but place them in, let’s say, a football stadium, nobody around her probably would be affected. Her partner there probably wouldn’t be as affected either. The actress does a really great job here contrasting against his particular image, this prestige reputation that he tries to upkeep.
Let me in. ‘
Jonna: Doing the silent-film test, cutting everything off, we see desperation, we feel desperation. The physicalities in his performance stood out beautifully. The slumping and sliding and stuff just kinda naturally came back to back with that.
Jim: I need some money real bad.
Jonna: And you don’t have to have seen the whole film to know that he’s strung out on something or he’s made some bad choices. If you notice the variations of his tone and the inflections.
Jim: I’ll do anything. I’ll be a good boy.
Jonna: Just the dryness, the dehydration coming from that he hasn’t probably been eating, hasn’t been drinking. You see that we reach a point in the scene where whoever’s on the other side of the door at this point, whether they’re there or they’re not, he’s kinda coming to terms with the circumstances that he’s put himself in, being at the rock bottom. Leonardo did a really good job expressing that in his face.
[dynamic music] Boo-hoo!
Jonna: I actually was extremely captivated by that buildup for this particular movie. Like, we get to go on this sequence of events of watching him kinda break down. His choice in expressing and vocalizing the word “boo-hoo” normally would be absurd, but it works with a scene like this because everything else around him and leading up to is absurd. And it’s like probably what he recognises as supposed to be a normalized expression.
Jonna: Like, the norm, for us to hear people “boo-hoo,” it’s always very sad or very low tone. But his was very pent up and expressed very high-pitched vocally, “boo-hoo!” It actually draws me into someone whose mental state is not coherent with what we are accustomed to. He’s speaking volumes with his body language. The dishevelment, the weight that’s bearing on him. His shoulders are hunched over and kinda up. So he utilises a lot of the silent-film tactics where everything physically has to be overdone and pushed, expression-wise. You have to kind of overcompensate to express even more. He does a really good job with making those physicalities and those exaggerations his own.
Peter: Me vampire! Vampire, you idiot, Nosferatu!
Heather: I just want to apologise to Mike’s mum, and Josh’s mum, and my mum.
Jonna: I think that she did a really good job based off her circumstances of what’s unknown around her. We could hear the terror in her voice, the fear that’s coming and trembling through her vocals.
Heather: I am so, so sorry.
Jonna: The camera is as close up as can possibly be. We can see the pupil of her eye. We as an audience member are able to see the fear and feel the fear through her eyes, projected not just in a tear form, but also the way that she’s looking around. If you notice the sharpness of her sight.
[Heather crying] What is that?
Jonna: We see the snot kinda come from her, trickle from her nose. So that means that there was this buildup internally that she was able to allow just to happen involuntarily. This particular scene definitely passes the silent-film test. We’re watching it go from a teardrop, to snot, to the piercing, that piercing of the eyes really tight, of not wanting to look at the terror that’s a possibility of her surroundings.
She’s in a sense cornered in this dark space. She draws us into that moment with her. And as an actor, that’s all you can ask for from your audience.
[Heather crying and gasping] I’m gonna die out here.
Ramona: Why would you do that?
Destiny: For Lily.
Jonna: So, Constance Wu’s character in this scene is revealing to Jennifer Lopez’s character that she did take the plea bargain deal so that her daughter didn’t have to grow up without a mother. And Jennifer Lopez’s character actually does sympathise, being a single mother. I definitely think the silent-film tactic works very well with this. Turning the volume down and watching the expressions on both of their faces. That’s a moment where that anger turns into an understanding. Her chin quivering, her face changing and smoothing out just a little bit. The moment that Jennifer Lopez is walking away, but then she turns back around. It’s like the cry on her end comes from a place of, even if I wanted to do away with you, I couldn’t leave you. So she’s able to express that in that transitional moment there.
I gave 18 years of my life to stand in the same spot as you!
Jonna: This moment is a breaking point for her. All of that buildup is coming out. Grotesquely, of course, in the form of snot before tears come, which I thought was really interesting.
Rose: Don’t you think I ever wanted other things? Don’t you think I had dreams and hopes? What about my life? What about me?
Jonna: If I were to cut off all of the sound, I just would see this very broken individual. But there didn’t leave room for him to figure out where he could fit in. I also feel that she’s hearing herself out loud, and she’s having to come to terms with things that she hasn’t expressed and that she’s been suppressing down.
Rose: I gave everything I had to try and erase a doubt that you wasn’t the â€”
Jonna: At the end of this scene, she switches her motive a bit. It’s like she’s in her own mindset. And she takes us there by completely shifting, and it’s like she’s reminiscing.
Rose: The finest man in the world, and wherever you was going, I was gonna be there with you because you was my husband.
Jonna: She’s looking down, she’s not making eye contact, and she’s not making that connection with him. This is a moment of reminiscing within herself of what she went through. And we were able to get a glimpse of just how far she went to keep the marriage, to keep the relationship with him. And everything I’ve worked for in my entire life is going! It’s all going.
Jonna: The circumstances of her illness, absolute uncontrolled circumstance that she’s having to accept. She does a really great job showing us that uncertainty in the way that she’s vocalizing her dialogue and stumbling over what she’s saying.
Alice: No, I know what I’m feeling! I know what it’s feeling, and, and, it feels like my brain is f—ing dying.
Jonna: You know, her motive is, “I need an ally.” So at first it’s more pleading my case. We see that in the eyes. She’s in a position where really her forehead is front. So she’s here, and then she retracts. And then her mouth starts to do this whole murmuring thing as she’s delivering the dialogue.
Alice: And everything I’ve worked for in my entire life is going! It’s all going, going, going.
Jonna: And she lets that build up to now, she’s sinking in, surrendering, to allowing him to help her through this. He’s understanding. So this is that great kind of beat and action. When Julianne Moore does an amazing job of taking a beat to allow herself to have a thought-process change. This scene definitely does very well with the silent-film test, because without the dialogue, we can feel that transition there. We know that when it goes back to her shot and then she completely melts into him that he has done something on his end to invite her in.
[Alice crying] Hey, Stella!
Jonna: They just finished with a huge fight, and the yell paired with the cry was her lure, and luring her out to show his power guided by this bit of lust, she felt that. And we were able to see that resonate with her.
Stanley: Hey, Stella! Jonna: So while he’s this very wild personality, he was distraught without her. With the power behind his tone, we can hear the traces of uncertainty, also apology, the hints of desperation.
Stanley: Hey, Stella!
Jonna: And the anguish in his tone, we hear that for miles. [slow jazzy music]
Jonna: I do think that the silent-film test passes on this. The combining of the two at the end, he’s melting into her. So while he is so naturally “take charge,” we see how both the actors end up. She is towering over him. He’s kind of nestled into her.
Hi, I’m Meredith, and I’m the producer for the series “Good and Bad Acting.” Let us know in the comments what other types of scenes you’d like to see acting coaches break down. And don’t forget to hit subscribe.
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