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Updated: Jun 26

by Faith Hibbs-Clark

Have you ever been so moved by an actor's performance that it felt like reality? Chances are, their captivating portrayal was powered by the subtleties of body language. Non-verbal cues account for as much as 85% of communication, making body language an indispensable tool for actors. In this article, we explore how understanding and utilizing body language can elevate an actor's performance to the next level.

Believe in your performance: that's a golden rule for any actor. Words can only take you so far. Body language, on the other hand, is an actor's secret weapon for delivering a believable performance that captures the audience's heart. In this blog, we will delve into why body language is crucial in acting and how you can use it to create a compelling performance.

"Acting is the art of storytelling, and body language is its lifeblood." says Michael Fassbender, a German-Irish actor known for his roles in films such as "Inglourious Basterds", "X-Men: First Class", and "Steve Jobs".

When an actor communicates genuinely through body language, the audience connects more strongly with the character. An actor's facial expressions, posture, gestures, and movements all speak volumes in conveying emotions, making their performance more convincing. In a world where only 9% of communication is the meaning of words, mastering the fundamentals of body language is of utmost importance for any actor.

What is Body Language?

In simple terms, body language is any communication done without using words. It can include facial expressions, hand gestures, posture, or gaze. Our brains process visual information much faster than verbal information, and our bodies constantly send signals about how we feel in any given situation. By utilizing these signals in your performance work, you have the potential to create incredibly authentic characters that viewers will connect with on an emotional level.

As I always say, "All acting is a lie!" - In the CMFA "Acting Science Method" I call it the ENTERTAINMENT LIE, but the trick is making that lie a believable lie.

So how do actors go about doing this? The key is drawing from your own body language indicators and not mimicking others - after all, no two people express themselves in precisely the same way! That being said, there are some basics that every actor should be aware of when performing.

The Science of it

It is often said that our actions can reveal more about the emotional journeys we take than our words alone. In character development, this notion holds true; the choices we make define us far more than mere utterances. Nonverbal communication plays a more crucial role than spoken words in human interaction. As an actor, expressions, hand gestures, and postures are equally, if not more, significant than lines from the script. What is left unsaid often conveys more than what is said. Therefore, as performers, your body language and nonverbal cues carry enormous weight in expressing the intended message and emotion.

How Body Language Contributes to Performance Work Through Reverse-engineering

Body language can be used to control what the brain is feeling and make it easier for performers to believe in the role they are playing. While many actors may look outside of themselves for inspiration—studying other people’s body language or mimicking others' mannerisms—it’s important that each actor finds their own way of expressing feelings through body language. The best performance work happens when an actor draws from their own body language when creating a character's movements or behavior.

In fact, body language can do even more because it has the power to influence our own brain chemistry and behavior; studies have shown that by adopting certain poses and facial expressions, you can actually induce physical changes in your own brain – such as releasing endorphins chemicals into your LImbic system – which can help you better embody the character you are playing.

Actors must also be conscious of how their body language impacts their overall performance. For example, if an actor needs to portray a sense of sadness, they may need to adjust their posture and facial expressions accordingly. They may also need to think about how much physical space they take up in order to convey certain emotions like fear or intimidation. All these adjustments help create a more believable character that resonates with the audience.

The Power of Authenticity

When utilizing body language to enhance your acting performance, it’s important to remember that authenticity is key. Rather than mimicking another actor’s movements or trying to force yourself into a certain pose, draw from your own personal experiences and feelings when crafting your character’s physical presence onstage or on camera. Taking the time to really understand how various emotions manifest themselves within your own body will help you communicate those feelings more accurately and believably onscreen in character.

Body language plays an integral role in any actor’s performance work - but it takes practice and dedication in order to master this skill set. By taking the time to understand how different emotions manifest themselves within their own bodies, actors can learn how best to express these emotions through their physicality - creating more believable performances that move audiences around the world. For more information on using body language for professional acting work, visit today!

In conclusion, mastering body language is just one part of the "Acting Science" that is essential for any professional actor who wants to bring a character's story alive on camera in a believable way. By understanding how body movements affect emotion and overall performance work, actors can ensure that every scene resonates with truth and authenticity—and ultimately helps them create characters that their audience will truly connect with.

To learn more, join me for the next 8-week Film Auditioning Workshop & support program starting July 8th (Saturdays 10-12 noon Pacific Time) or if you have already taken this class, sign up now for our next PRACTICE CLASS always the first Tuesday of each month.


About Faith Hibbs-Clark

Faith is a body language expert who specialized in deception detection before becoming a casting director and working in the film industry for over 25 years. She is the founder of the Communication Method for Actors, LLC & the creator of the Acting Science Method.

Updated: Jun 26

By Faith Hibbs-Clark, CMFA Founder

As a casting director and body language expert, I've always been fascinated by the power of emotions and how they can shape your performances in auditions and on screen. One skill that many actors struggle with is the ability to cry on cue in a believable way.

I once had an actor audition for a day player role that was named in the script as "CRYING MAN,"

but when he came into the audition, he couldn't muster a tear to save his life. After the audition, he defensively told me that he just doesn't cry and gave a list of reasons from his childhood that it just wasn't easy for him. After listening to him go on and on for over 10 minutes, I finally stopped him. I told him I completely understood the psychology of what he was telling me but that the role is literally called "CRYING MAN" in the script and, as such, required him to shed a tear. "Ohhhhh," he said as if he had had an epiphany moment: he then left and came back with tears running down his face. "What did you do?" I gasped, "I rubbed Vicks Vapor Rub under my eyes." He did his audition, and although his face was stained with tears, his performance lacked the genuine emotion that was necessary to carry the scene. Needless to say, he didn't book the job. This actor had activated "reflex" tears which are the type of tears that come from irritants in our eyes like when we cut unions, or in this case, rub Vicks Vapor rub under the eyes.

In this blog post, I'll compare acting methods and show you how CMFA's Acting Science" differs.


The Stanislavski System

The Stanislavski System was developed by Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislavski. It is an acting method that encourages actors to draw upon their own experiences and emotions to bring authenticity and depth to a scene. One of the key components of the Stanislavski System is Emotional Memory (also known as Affective Memory), which involves actors recalling personal memories and experiences that evoke similar emotions to those of their character.

The Stanislavski System, though widely popular, has its limitations. Relying on personal memories to evoke emotions can be problematic for several reasons:

  1. Scattered memory storage: Our brain stores memories in multiple areas, making it difficult to fully relive a memory to a believable extent. Accessing all these areas simultaneously is like trying to access blockchain technology – designed to be secure and inaccessible for human survival.

  2. Desensitization to trauma: Over time, our brain desensitizes to traumatic experiences as a coping mechanism. This means that even if you could access a particular memory, its emotional impact might diminish over time, leading to inconsistent performances.

  3. Emotional exhaustion: Continuously accessing and reliving your personal traumatic experiences can take a toll on your mental health, leading to emotional exhaustion and burnout.

  4. Limited emotional range: Relying solely on your own experiences may limit your emotional range, as you may not have experienced all the emotions required for various roles. This could hinder your ability to portray characters authentically.

  5. Lack of universality: Since each person's life experiences are unique, using personal memories may not always resonate with the audience or convey the intended emotion effectively.

However, dragging up old memories from your past not only doesn't work, it can be quite traumatizing.

Method Acting

In preparation for a scene where his character had been awake for several days, Dustin Hoffman, a Method actor, reportedly stayed up all night to appear genuinely exhausted. When Lawrence Olivier noticed Hoffman's disheveled state, he asked him why he looked so tired. Hoffman explained that he had stayed up all night to get into character. That's when Olivier responded with the now-famous line, "My dear boy, that's why they call it acting."

Dustin Hoffman was trained in Method Acting, which is an acting technique derived from the teachings of Lee Strasberg, who was heavily influenced by Stanislavski's work. Method Acting emphasizes using personal experiences and emotions to create authentic performances, similar to the Emotional Memory aspect of the Stanislavski System. However, Method Acting takes this idea further by encouraging actors to fully immerse themselves in their characters' lives and experiences, both on and off stage or set.

While Method Acting, as practiced by Dustin Hoffman and others, has produced some remarkable performances, there are potential drawbacks and limitations from a scientific perspective:

  1. Psychological well-being: Fully immersing oneself in a character, particularly one with traumatic experiences or mental health issues, can blur the lines between the actor's own emotions and the character's emotions. This may lead to negative psychological effects on the actor, such as increased stress, anxiety, or even depression.

  2. Emotional exhaustion: Continuously immersing yourself in a real-life experience for the sake of a role can be mentally and emotionally draining for actors. Over time, this may lead to burnout, reducing the effectiveness of the Method Acting approach.

  3. Neurological implications: Method Acting immersion aspect can evoke intense emotions, which can result in changes to your brain function and structure. For example, immersing yourself in a traumatic situation can strengthen neural connections associated with your own painful memories, potentially exacerbating the emotional impact of those experiences on you.

It is important to note that these potential drawbacks do not negate the successes and powerful performances achieved through Method Acting. However, they highlight the need for you to be aware of the potential risks and consider employing various acting techniques to maintain a healthy balance in your craft.


The Meisner Method

Sanford Meisner, the creator of the Meisner Technique, emphasized honest and genuine emotions in acting. He believed that an actor should not force crying on cue but rather focus on truly experiencing the emotions the character is going through. According to Meisner, if an actor is genuinely connected to their character's feelings, the tears will come naturally when needed.

The Meisner Technique is based on a series of exercises called repetition exercises, which aim to help actors develop an emotional connection with their scene partners and respond truthfully in the moment. However, I would argue that this method may not always work from a scientific perspective for the following reasons:

  1. Lack of repeatability: Since the Meisner Technique relies heavily on actors being "in the moment," it might be challenging to consistently reproduce the same emotional response, especially in long-running performances or when shooting multiple takes in film and television.

  2. Individual differences: Every actor has different emotional experiences and ways of processing emotions. The Meisner Technique might not be equally effective for all actors, as some individuals may struggle to connect with their emotions or their scene partner's emotions as easily as others. From a scientific perspective, these individual differences can be attributed to variations in brain structure and function, as well as hormonal and neurotransmitter levels. For instance, the amygdala, a key brain region involved in processing emotions, can vary in size and connectivity among individuals, influencing how easily they connect with their own and others' emotions. Similarly, the levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which play crucial roles in regulating mood and emotional responses, can also differ between individuals.

  3. Emotional authenticity vs. character portrayal: While the Meisner Technique encourages actors to experience genuine emotions, this approach might not always align with the specific emotional responses required by a particular character. However, portraying a character's emotions might demand a different set of neural activations and cognitive processes.

It's important to note that the Meisner Technique has been successful for many actors, and its effectiveness can vary depending on the individual actor and the specific circumstances.


The Acting Science Method

In this science-based method, I harness the power of body language and other behavioral science concepts to focus on what is communicated in your audition.

For instance, you may need to engage your mirror neuron system, a network of brain cells that helps you understand and empathize with others' emotions and actions in order to cry on cue. This employs what I call "body language coding," which will trigger mirror neurons in your brain to make you feel the emotion for real. This can then flood your limbic system with natural reactions consistent with the body language trigger. Body language coding utilizes different aspects of nonverbal communication, such as hand gestures, body posture, or proxemics (the study of personal space), to trigger mirror neurons in the brain allowing your brain to believe the emotions are real.

In my Acting Science Method, Crying on cue is as simple as knowing what body language will trigger this natural reaction.

This is one of the many fascinating aspects of crying on cue that you will learn in this month's special topics class. You will not only be able to learn about it, you will be able to try it for yourself under my guidance.

All of the acting methods discussed in this article have produced amazing performances. Still, it is important that you explore various techniques and approaches to find what works best for you in delivering authentic and versatile performances that can help you cry on cue when needed.

By Faith Hibbs-Clark

As an actor, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to cry on cue. This can be a difficult task, especially if you want it to look genuine and not overly dramatic. To help you master this skill, it's important to understand the science of tears and why certain methods just don't cut it!

The Complex Nature of Tears

Tears are often associated with sadness, but they are actually a complex response to various emotions and brain functions. There are three types of tears:

  1. Basal tears: These are constantly produced to keep our eyes lubricated.

  2. Reflex tears: These are produced as a response to irritants, like dust or smoke.

  3. Emotional tears: These are the tears we shed when we experience strong emotions, such as sadness, joy, pain, or frustration.

Emotional tears contain hormones and natural painkillers, which is why crying can sometimes make us feel better. They are triggered by the Limbic system, which is responsible for regulating our emotions. When we experience strong emotions, our brain sends signals to the tear glands, telling them to produce tears.

Spotting the difference between an emotional tear and basal or reflex tears can be a subtle but crucial aspect in determining the authenticity of an actor's performance. Emotional tears tend to be more viscous (thick, sticky consistency) and have a higher protein content than basal or reflex tears. While it may be challenging to identify these differences visually, emotional tears often manifest alongside other indicators of genuine emotion, such as facial expressions, vocal tone, and body language. Emotional tears are typically accompanied by reddening of the eyes, swelling, and a more pronounced quivering of the lower eyelid. In contrast, basal and reflex tears usually lack these accompanying emotional cues. They may appear more transparent and less substantial, primarily serving their purpose of lubricating or protecting the eyes from irritants. Paying attention to these subtle differences and the overall emotional context can help distinguish between believable and fake tears from an actor.

Showing Emotions Without Tears

Before diving into how to "cry on cue," let's remember that emotions can be expressed in many different ways. As an actor, you should explore various techniques to convey emotions without relying solely on tears. Facial expressions, body language, and vocal tone can all be powerful tools for communicating a broad range of emotions.

Methods Actors Use to Cry That Don't Work

Actors have developed all kinds of ineffective ways to cry on cue. As a casting director for 25-plus years, believe me when I say I have seen it all! I once had an actor clasp a thumb tack in his hand to cause him enough pain to trigger tears. When I told him to stop, he replied defensively, "My acting coach told me to do that." I told him to get a new acting coach.

1) Using physical pain: Some actors resort to inflicting physical pain on themselves in order to make themselves cry.

Why it doesn't work: Using physical pain to induce tears may not be an effective method for producing genuine emotional tears because the brain processes pain and emotions through different neural pathways. While physical pain can activate the release of stress hormones and trigger a reflexive tear response, it does not engage the limbic system, which is responsible for regulating emotions and generating emotional tears. As a result, the tears produced through physical pain may lack the emotional authenticity needed for a convincing performance. Furthermore, resorting to self-inflicted pain can have negative consequences on your physical and mental well-being, making it an unsustainable and potentially harmful approach to eliciting tears.

But even less extreme methods fall short when it comes to crying on cue. Here are two more techniques that don't work and the science for why they are not that effective.

2) Recalling personal memories: By thinking about a sad or emotional event from your past, you can trigger genuine tears.

Why it doesn't work: Recalling personal memories to trigger genuine tears may not always work due to the brain's ability to adapt and process emotions over time. As we experience and cope with emotional events, our brain creates new neural pathways, allowing us to regulate and manage our emotional responses more effectively. This means that revisiting a past sad memory might not evoke the same intensity of emotion as it once did, making it difficult for you to consistently generate tears on cue using this method. Furthermore, the brain can distinguish between real-life situations and acting scenarios, which may hinder the emotional response when attempting to recall personal memories in an artificial context.

3. Using physical triggers: Some actors use tricks like yawning, looking at bright lights, or even using menthol-based products to stimulate tear production.

Why it doesn't work: Using physical triggers to stimulate tear production may not be effective in producing genuine emotional tears because these methods primarily induce reflex tears, which are different from emotional tears in terms of composition and purpose. Reflex tears are a response to irritants or external stimuli, whereas emotional tears are triggered by the limbic system, which regulates our emotions. Since the brain can differentiate between these types of tears, relying on physical triggers may result in tears that lack the emotional weight and authenticity required for a convincing performance. Additionally, these methods might cause discomfort or irritation, which could distract you from fully immersing yourself in your character's emotional state.

Crocodile Tears Won't Cut I

Emotional tears form as a result of a complex response that physical triggers or forced memories can't easily replicate and may result in an actor forming fake-looking "Crocodile tears."

Crocodile tears is a term derived from the ancient belief that crocodiles wept while consuming their prey and refers to insincere or feigned emotional displays in humans. The science behind crocodile tears can be traced to the involuntary activation of the facial nerve (cranial nerve VII), which controls tear production and facial expressions. In certain situations, such as when a person is trying to manipulate others or mask their true emotions, the brain may send mixed signals to the facial nerve, resulting in an incongruent emotional display, such as shedding tears without genuine sadness. In psychology, crocodile tears symbolize emotional deception and highlight the complex interplay between the brain, emotions, and social interactions.

In conclusion, understanding the science of tears and why other "cry on cue" methods don't work is the first step in learning to cry on cue without looking fake or overly dramatic.

Want to learn a safe yet effective neuroscience approach to crying on cue?

CALL TO ACTION: Don't miss out on this month's special topic class: "Science of Crying on Cue." Join us for a 2.5-hour live online workshop where you'll discover a safe, scientifically proven method to generate tears and cry on cue effectively. Delve into a range of emotionally charged scripts and learn how to convey those emotions in a believable and captivating manner. Enhance your acting skills and elevate your performances by mastering the art of authentic emotional expression. Sign up now and unlock your full potential as an actor with the "Acting Science" method!


About Faith Hibbs-Clark

Faith is a body language expert who specialized in deception detection before becoming a casting director and working in the film industry for over 25 years. She is the creator and founder of the Communication Method for Actors, LLC.

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