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Is Staging a Tear an Improper Act?

Jennifer Connelly, without tears, in a scene from 'Blood Diamond.' i i

Jennifer Connelly, without tears, in a scene from Blood Diamond. Warner Bros. hide caption

itoggle caption Warner Bros.
Jennifer Connelly, without tears, in a scene from 'Blood Diamond.'

Jennifer Connelly, without tears, in a scene from Blood Diamond.

Warner Bros.

This week The Times of London reports that a tear shed by Jennifer Connelly in the film Blood Diamond is not a tear. It is a digital visual effect added in post-production.

Now Jennifer Connelly is an outstanding actor, who can probably cry without technical assistance. But the director, Ed Zwick, reportedly just wanted to see what a tear would do for the scene. Adding a tear is cheaper than re-shooting.

Special effects artists can make planets collide, and dinosaurs stride the Earth; and now, they can slide a tear down Jennifer Connelly's cheek.

The Times says that special effects people are increasingly being instructed to go beyond cosmetic adjustments, like blotting out wrinkles, to add tears, smiles, or looks of passion or fear into finished performances. Some film people are reportedly horrified.

An unnamed filmmaker tells The Times: "Acting is all about honesty, but something like this makes what you see on screen a dishonest moment. Everyone feels a bit dirty about it."

Now directors using tricks to put tears on actors' faces is an old story. The most famous and hideous is when young Jackie Cooper was made to cry for a scene by being told that his puppy had just died.

Whenever our staff wants me to put particular emotion into a reading, they tell me we've run out of coffee.

To hear a filmmaker say, "Acting is all about honesty," probably makes most of the world — I'm tempted to say "real world" — go "harrumph."

Daniel Craig isn't James Bond. Forrest Whitaker isn't Idi Amin. Helen Mirren is not the Queen of England (though she is a Dame). Don't let Patrick Dempsey take out your pancreas, no matter how cute he is. Among all these artful and expensively executed fantasies, what's the fuss about a tear?

Are film people so richly rewarded for making fraud seem real that they've fooled themselves into thinking their craft is about honesty?

But maybe people in the real world forget how much acting they put into their everyday lives. Saying "thank you" to people who are curt or discourteous; helping a small child shriek at a monster in a closet; or showing courage and cheer when we are hurt. To call these acting exercises frauds or deceptions seems a little harsh.

These days, composers can peform whole symphonies without musicians. Maybe filmmakers can soon make movies without actors — and without their egos, insecurities, and paychecks. Many actors may emote onstage not despite, but because, they can be shy or cold off of it. The same can be said for lots of other artists.

But it's also true for the audience: movies, and books, plays, music and sports, let us try on and express emotions. It helps us feel things we didn't know were inside of us, and when we do? Yes. It feels like truth.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small