How to Break Bones Acting

left hand x-rayDuring filming of “Marathon Man,” Sir Laurence Olivier noticed young Strasbergian Method actor Dustin Hoffman looking less than stellar and asked why. Hoffman said he stayed up all night because his character stays up all night.

Laurence Olivier replied in jest,

“Why not try acting? It’s much easier!”


1) Commit to character.
2) Play the scene.

The highlight of the whole experience has been answering the same question hundreds of times: “How’d you break your hand?”

“By punching a wall in jail.”

The reactions are priceless.


Bone broken by actingAt the beginning of April, two weeks after returning from a successful tour with the National Theatre for Children, I was downtown Minneapolis at the Hennepin County Jail acting in deescalation training scenarios for the Barbara Schneider Foundation. It was the second day of training and on this particular day I was playing a bipolar man wielding a weapon (a pen) in the middle of a manic episode.

The goal of the scenario is for the participating nurses and sheriff’s deputies to use active listening skills to deescalate the situation, calm the inmate/patient, obtain a potential diagnosis to better treat the inmate/patient all while assessing safety concerns for the individual in crisis and the nurses/deputies.

If the participants in the scenario are doing well the actor will calm down and the scenario will reach it’s natural successful conclusion. However, if the participants in the scenario aren’t taking the role-play seriously and are indifferent, argumentative, confrontational, not listening and/or their body language is standoffish the actor escalates the scenario.

In this scenario the goal is to deescalate and get the inmate to relinquish the weapon. However, both deputies in the scenario escalated the scene. My character became agitated, suspicious, and felt like these two deputies were closing in on him.

The only way the character could maintain a feeling of dominance in the scene was to demonstrate how serious he was about wanting to be left alone. The character screamed at the deputies and with the adrenaline of the moment surging through his veins full-force punched a brick wall crushing the fifth metatarsal in his hand.

When the training day was over, I noticed my left hand had swollen up so incredibly I couldn’t put my bicycling gloves on. Rather than seek medical attention at an emergency room, which I should’ve done, I went to my favorite watering hole to visit Dr. McGillicuddy hoping to be prescribed a cure for what ailed me.

It wasn’t until the next day at Young Actors Theater Company when my co-worker Shelley said I had to go to the hospital. And that she was taking me. She and I spent the next five hours at HCMC’s emergency room. Because, yep — I broke my hand.

As much as breaking my hand sucked I’m proud of my commitment to character. Also, I’ve never participated in a fight or considered myself a violent person, but I can’t help feel a little “tougher” after this experience.

As dorky as this sounds, I’ve never had a cast or a broken bone, so the following are images documenting the experience. Some of these images are gross. Just FYI.

Bruised and broken Bruised and broken Bruised and broken

During my recovery I pondered: if you’re not suffering for your art, is it art? Are you an artist if you haven’t suffered? What do YOU think?


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