Tonight was one of the most unsettling nights of my life. I just drove the thirty minutes home from the set of Hand of Glory with my car radio turned off because my spirit would not allow anything but cold silence, which is the only sound that could reflect my mood. This, thanks to a talented young actress named Heather Dorff.
God has gifted all of us with certain talents and abilities. To some, He has given the ability to make people laugh, to others He has given the ability to effortlessly understand numbers and how they work, to others He has bestowed the ability to reach the human heart or to give selflessly of themselves. To Heather Dorff, God has given the talent and ability to become someone else… and believably so.
I’ve been an actor all of my life, but I’m most-often used for more comedic roles due to my natural comedic ability and timing, and the fact that I look like a reject from a John Candy lookalike convention. I actually enjoy the more dramatic, darker roles more, and have done quite a bit of that type of work as a voice actor. But onscreen… well, I just don’t fit the preconceived image that directors are typically searching for in those kinds of projects. However, Stuart Wahlin, the writer and director for Hand of Glory saw my audition and apparently saw something in me that most other directors had not seen – and blessed me with the co-starring role of “Joseph” in the film, opposite Heather Dorff, who plays “Karen”. I’m excited about this role because it gives me the opportunity to play a character completely contrary to my natural tendencies and leanings. I’ve yet to film those darker scenes, but the closer we get to them the more anxious I am becoming.
Heather, on the other hand, is in the middle of her dramatic scenes – tonight being the most intense of them. Without giving away any of the film’s plot, I will say there is a scene where “Karen” is supposed to be crying uncontrollably. Heather told us that she’s performed crying scenes in the past, so I expected to see something believable. What I experienced, however, was so real that I’m still disturbed by it.
Our set has been jovial up until tonight. Even in the more dramatic scenes we had lots of smiles between takes, jokes about our performances, poking fun at each other and the two cats that seem to always be under our feet. In one scene I’m supposed to step in and console “Karen” as she is crying – and Heather was very believable. Heather actually brought out the “Joseph” in me tonight, and every time I hugged her as she cried on my shoulder, I felt my arms tighten that much more around her, hoping she’d know how much I truly cared about her (both as “Joseph” as well as her friend, Darren). I began tearing up myself, but I’m sure the camera didn’t catch it… this was Heather’s moment.
When I thought it was all over, I saw Heather standing next to the air conditioner, her eyes still puffy, still in character knowing she had another crying scene to do – this one, alone. Suddenly, it began. She said, “If you want me to cry, you’d better film it now” and instantly time stood still. The normally slapstick, sarcastic conversations ceased as we watched this young woman fall apart at the seams. She began sobbing as if she’d just lost a loving husband of forty years. She was inconsolable. The only sound in the room was the sound of Heather gasping for breath as she continued to sob, tears pouring like rain through her mascara, bottle in her hand for added effect. The director never said “action”. He didn’t need to – Heather just lost it.
I wanted to excuse myself from the room because it was so uncomfortable. It felt like hours. All my life, the fairer sex has come to me for a shoulder to cry on. Ever since high school I’ve been the guy every girl in class would go to if she needed a hug and someone to give her a listening ear. I felt helpless tonight. Powerless. Sitting there watching a beautiful girl come apart right in front of me and not being allowed to step in to tell her everything was going to be okay.
Suddenly, I heard “cut”. I don’t know how, but somehow in all of the turmoil, our cameraman, Justin Romine, was able to set up his camera and get it all on film. When it was all over, Heather gathered herself, sat down, and told us she’d never done that before. Perhaps not, but after such an intense demonstration and outpouring of solid emotion, I can guarantee it won’t be the last time she’s called upon to do it.
I’ve done a lot of acting over the past three decades of my life, but never before have I felt this kind of impact.
Heather used to be a talented actress. She used to be good actress.
Tonight, I saw the birth of a great actress.