How to Play Dead in the Movies

November 25, 2005 (PRLEAP.COM) Entertainment News
Moviegoers pay rapt attention to Tom Cruise and Angelina Jolie, yet barely notice the equally talented actors who play dead people in their movies.

Worse yet, Hollywood actors who specialize in recently deceased characters guard their secrets as closely as magicians and spies, for the field is small and those at the top fear new competition.

One performer willing to share tricks of the trade with hopefuls is actor/filmmaker Sondra Lowell, whose book, How to Play Dead in the Movies: Your Career as a Corpse, is due out next spring.

“Don’t worry,” says the portrayer of dead people, “it’s easier than you think.”

Sondra should know. She has just completed filming her latest dead person role for writer/director Martin Hynes’ The Go-Getter, playing the dying/dead mother of Lou Pucci of Thumbsucker fame. On top of that, Sondra directed an actor playing dead in her own soon-to-be completed independent feature,

“The main thing you have to remember, especially if you want a long career in this field,” advises Sondra, “is to hold your breath. Practice as you watch TV or drive (short distances only). Singing provides excellent training, especially the ends of songs, when you have to hold a long note. Underwater swimming promotes even quicker learning, because breathing too soon underwater makes you sure to be more careful next time, if there is a next time.”

Sometimes, admits the expert, even she cannot hold her breath for the length of the shot: “Shallow breathing is acceptable if you learn to do it without visibly moving your chest.” Chapter 5 of How to Play Dead in the Movies covers how to achieve this in depth, including yogic breathing techniques such as Kapalabhati Pranayama.

Other chapters deal with such practical matters as getting the right headshots for dead roles and how to stand out, in a good way, at auditions. “Your competition often thinks lying still is enough. Do your ‘moment before’ exercises from Chapter 7 to infuse your character with that extra level of depth,” states Chapter 9.

Sondra tells new actors hoping to enter this lucrative field not to let the technical requirements dissuade them from pursuing their dream: “When you are interviewing for the job, ask the director if you will be shot from various angles. If the answer is yes, go for it. You will have ample opportunity to hide your breaths. And if you can’t, remind the production team they can fix it in post.”

Asked what it was like to play the mother of new star Lou Pucci, consummate pro Sondra replied, “I don’t know. I was dead.”

Sondra’s blog and podcasts at teach how to make films in the Film Sleepy genre, movies that put people to sleep. Sign up for a free subscription at and other fine RSS feeds.

Recognized as the 1,097,341st top reviewer on, Sondra shares more ways to achieve fame and fortune in that site’s Get Famous on at;

Avoid the 5 Biggest Mistakes of First Time Filmmakers at;

Tap Dance the News at