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When Making Faces Makes Money

Letting Go of Inhibitions

“Don’t make that face or it’ll freeze that way!” – everyone’s mom

Yeah, well, most moms used to say that, but I’m a mom and I don’t believe I’ve ever helped pass that story on to the next generation of gullible kids. Besides, I’ve found that making faces can make oneself some pretty decent money.

Recently, I was delighted to be booked for a job that required both voice over and on-camera work. I love VO and film/TV work equally – they’re my “twins” and, like any good mom, I don’t play favorites. It was great fun to first create my character with just my voice, and then react with some pretty expressive faces for the close-up photography that will accompany the audio. My character was a rather moody individual, vascillating from bossy and stubborn to maternal (with a rather saccharine edge) to cruel and intolerant. Throw in some manipulative behavior and the desire to coddle an adult child, and you can correctly presume that she was fun to play.

While I have my moments as a real mom, the character I played was a bit of a departure from my everyday self. But that’s why it’s called acting. It’s about letting go of your personal ego to inhabit a different character and peer out at the world through her eyes. You need to develop a good sense of the character, her background and hopes and desires, disappointments, and all that made her who she is, right on up to the moment that the scene takes place. If the script doesn’t tell you outright or reveal it during the course of the story, then it’s up to the actor to create the history, psychological makeup, foibles and fumbles, and incorporate it into the character. And be ready to change it once you’re on set, should the director (or writer) make some adjustments on the spot.

Sometimes, I wonder if kids and older people have an easier time creating these character stories and inhabiting their imagined personas. On both ends of the age spectrum, I’ve noticed that there’s more of a willingness to play and less worry about appearances. I’ve seen this especially among women who are moving into and through the second half of their lives. Personally, I feel like I’m truly at more ease with myself, accepting who I am as a person, acknowledging both my strengths and limitations. There’s less concern about looking a certain way or fitting in with your peer group. You’re more comfortable expressing yourself as an individual, and you certainly don’t worry as much about what people think as you have before.

Most of all, after years of hard work in a career or building a family, there’s a desire to have more fun, and to more fully experience life and all its choices. Maybe that’s because you’re also aware that the years ahead are more finite than you’d like to believe. Always a scary thought. Followed by the realization that for some number of those years, you may not have the physical or mental ability to live life as fully as you can right now.

Perhaps because of all that, it’s easier to channel your inner child more freely and to just let go of your inhibitions. Maybe it’s nature’s way of preparing you to eventually enter your “second childhood” (another scary thought!). But I think it’s just the willingness to play again. And creating and inhabiting a character on stage, on TV, or on film is great fun. That inner child of mine gets a big kick out of making faces to express a silly point. A poignant look is worth a hundred lines of dialogue. And the right expression can tell a life story in a brief moment.

I recall a business client telling me many years ago that he could always spot an employee of a certain big name corporation that had a very conservative, button-down reputation. Something about walking around like they had a stick up their nether region. I had to stifle a laugh, because I had previously been with that company, but it wouldn’t have helped me to tell him that. And there was some truth to what he said. What’s more interesting is that I’ve run into some of my former colleagues from time to time, and it seems that they’ve almost all mellowed considerably. A few have completely departed from their starched-shirt persona and seem like totally different people, working in artistic fields and looking nothing like their younger selves. They’ve relaxed into themselves, just as I have, and we’re all looking for different ways to play and live our lives.

It just goes to show you that people do change over time, hopefully for the better, and sometimes in unpredictable ways. We’re not static and if we give ourselves permission, we can discover different aspects of ourselves and reveal them in play.

“You can’t judge a book by its cover.” – yup, everyone’s mom again

The moral of the story: listen to your mother. Once in a while, she’ll actually pass on advice that still holds true today.


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