In the acting world, there are a number of things every actor wants to master, some more difficult than others. Learning lines is a perennial challenge for some actors, and many have tried valiantly not to break in a comedy scene only to be overcome with laughter. However, there’s one acting challenge that’s almost like the holy grail of acting prowess: crying on command. If you’re looking for tips and techniques on how to cry, we’re here to provide a few reliable ways to help you learn how to cry on command.
Physical Tricks & Acting Hacks to Cry on Cue Fast
There are two ways to approach crying on command. The ideal way is to cry from genuine emotion, relying on craft and immersion in the scene to truly feel the character’s emotions and bring out real, honest tears. Sometimes, though, emotion just isn’t cutting it – and that’s when it can help to know physical tricks to cry on the spot. There are several techniques for how actors cry, but if you’re coming up on a crying scene and just aren’t feeling it, here are a few simple acting hacks you can use to cry on cue:
Many actors don’t think of this, but hydration is crucial if you ever want to summon tears on the spot. If your body is dehydrated, it won’t bother wasting water to make yourself cry, so drinking water – a lot of water – is a prerequisite to ever successfully crying on cue.
2. Try Everything but the Tears.
Even if your eyes feel dry as a desert, while you’re in the scene, it’s important to recreate every other bodily response that someone would experience while crying. Make a crying facial expression, alter your breathing pattern to match an actual crier’s uneven and heavy breathing, add whimpering noises… any mechanical thing someone would do while crying. You can even exercise a little before the scene to make your breathing heavier and realistic. When practiced on a regular basis, some actors find they can generate tears on the spot. But, this falls more under the category of discipline. Practice in front of a mirror to get a good look at what you actually look like when you cry. Remember to use a quavering voice, perhaps a trembling lower lip.
3. The Staring Method.
Another way to reliably produce tears is to refrain from blinking. While it can be tricky to resist, most people will automatically generate tears after about 30 seconds without blinking, and you can take advantage of this in a scene. Deliver your lines and act as you normally would, but make sure you don’t blink. 30 seconds in, you should start to feel tears form – and no one will know the difference.
Have you ever experienced a surreal moment in which you weren’t sure if someone was laughing or crying? Strangely enough, sometimes it’s hard to tell. Try laughing while you conceal your face with your hands or by looking away. You can use your hands to rub your eyes too. Just make sure that when you remove your hands or turn back around that you’re not smiling at all. Believe it or not, you might discover how to cry instantly by simply laughing.
5. Keep Calm and Yawn On.
Sometimes yawning alone can give your eyes and face the doleful appearance needed to perform emotional scenes, especially if you yawn repeatedly. You’ll be surprised that your means of how to cry can come from what you do when you wake up every morning!
6. The Menthol Method.
Here’s a trick frequently used when professional actors make themselves cry. Menthol tear sticks and menthol tear-producing sprays are products designed specifically to generate tears and are often used by film and TV actors. Simply apply them lightly under the eyes, and the residue will let off menthol vapors that make your eyes water. Just be careful not to use too much and not to get any in your eyes.
7. Chop Onions (Seriously).
Everyone knows what it feels like to cry while cutting onions, and it turns out that this is a great trick you can use to make yourself cry on cue. Specifically, use the portion of the onion near the end with the hairlike strands: this is the most tear-producing part. Chop it off and inhale from the freshly cut side of it, making sure to let some of the vapors get into your eyes. Just remember this will affect anyone near the onion, so only use it with other actors in the scene trying to cry!
8. Pluck a Hair Out of Your Nose.
Sometimes your method of how to cry needs to get a bit more creative. Michael Landon who played Charles Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie was required to cry often, and it’s said that this was his go-to method to get teared up. Although be careful, as relying on this one too frequently could leave you without a nose hair to pluck!
How to Cry on Cue from Genuine Emotion
The physical tricks above are helpful in a pinch, but as an actor, the real prize is learning to cry “for real” on command, producing genuine tears from truly felt emotions. This is a much more difficult proposition, and professional actors spend years training and practicing to have such direct access to their emotions in this way. But whether you’re a veteran or a novice, it’s possible to cry for real on command. Here are a few techniques on how to cry to help you do it.
1. Never Force It.
First things first: before you start trying to cry, it’s important to stop trying to cry. That may sound counterintuitive, but if you start from the perspective of “I need to cry, how can I make myself cry,” chances are you’ve shot yourself in the foot already. Let go of the pressure and instead of focusing on the end result, focus on the emotional truth of the moment. There are many techniques for how actors cry, but when you try to make yourself cry by attempting to force a “fake cry,” it simply won’t work.
2. Fully Immerse Yourself in the Character.
Perhaps the most common “how to cry” technique in character results from an actor fully engrossing him or herself in the role. When actors actively experience and genuinely empathize with their character’s palette of emotions, tears can “naturally” come at the desired moment. But while deep involvement in a storyline of pain, betrayal, or grief can be enough to trigger tears, many actors are hesitant to solely rely on this method. After all, how realistic is it to think you’ll be moved to tears every time you perform that scene? In times like these, you might want to consider using additional techniques to cry.
3. Use Old Memories of Loss or Heartbreak.
Feeling the character’s emotions is important, but you can also use experiences from your own life to help you cry on cue. Before the scene, try meditating on painful, emotionally-charged memories of loss, grief, heartbreak, or sadness. By vividly recalling the details of events that occurred in this tragic chapter of your life and digging into your memory banks for the sights, sounds, smells, and tactile senses that accompanied that loss, you can tap into your tears and almost cry instantly. One actor might focus on the day a beloved pet was euthanized; another might recall losing a loved one to cancer. With this technique, it’s important to keep in mind that a memory that makes you cry one day might not work quite as well the next. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a reserve of multiple sad memories to explore. Another danger is that you might not be able to turn the tears off when you’re on stage, and in a film shoot, you might risk bawling your eyes out on the first take, leaving yourself emotionally depleted on later takes.
4. Use Your Imagination.
Real-life events can be deeply helpful when trying to cry on command, but as actors, we can even use events that haven’t even happened! Try imagining a sorrowful event that could happen to you or to someone else. Using your imagination–and again, the more sensory details you visualize, the better–think of what it would be like if you suffered an enormous loss. What if you lost the most important person in your life? What if you lost something you’d dedicated your life to achieve? If that feels like too much for you, you can imagine the tragedy happening to your dear friend or family member instead. What if you or someone close to you was in an airplane, and the engine cut out? While dark, exploring these hypotheticals can bring up strongly felt emotions and lead to a real cry.
5. Try to Summon Happy Tears.
If you’re in a bind and can’t figure out how to cry, it can help to remember that whether they come from sadness or happiness, tears are tears. Think of a moving, compassionate memory or story and meditate on it – sometimes the tears come easiest when we focus on moments of profound kindness, gratitude, or mercy.
6. Get On the Emotional Rollercoaster.
Here’s a great emotional trick to make yourself cry: try oscillating rapidly from melancholy, painful experiences to joyous, comforting ones. You can heighten your emotional state by comparing the polarized internal responses. For example, if your character’s father is stricken with a disease and he passes, you can recall the good times that your character will miss the most: the dad’s welcoming hug and smile even when everyone else had abandoned your character. Then focus on the reality of death before you. This tunes you into the enormity of the loss, and you’ll be able to cry instantly.
7. Use a Trigger Object.
Sometimes deep emotions can be tapped into via the use of a personal object that stirs up your emotion. Whether it be the lovely feather you treasure because you found it just after your loved one died, or an object belonging to your character that stirs him or her, it may be just what you need to release a good cry fast.
8. Bring in the Media.
In acting, there’s nothing wrong with a little inspiration. Using a favorite sad song, a poignant movie scene, the heart-breaking chapter in a book, or a favorite emotional YouTube video can help trigger strong emotions and put you in the emotional state of mind to be ready to cry. One actress said that after seeing the opening sequence of the movie Up, from there on out, all it took was for her to hear the accompanying musical score to induce tears.
Remember, Crying Isn’t Everything
Any of these techniques to make yourself cry can be used in any combination. But remember that acting grieved, pained, or devastated is not limited to the moisture level in the eyes. Overall body language can profoundly communicate despair, as can the act of fighting the tears from coming out. After all, this shows the audience how hard you’re trying to not feel vulnerable–something everyone can relate to. Also keep in mind that there are many different kinds of tears, some of which originate from joy, physical pain, emotional devastation, frustrating defeat… the variety of human emotion is endless. Whether you’re able to cry on command or not, you still have the power to move audiences to cry if you’re committed to your performance.
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So there you have it – a collection of some of the best tried-and-true tactics that actors use to cry on command. We encourage you to give these a try during your next rehearsal, shoot, or audition, and if you’re currently on the hunt for a role, we can help.
This article was originally published on Casting Frontier.
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