An Actor’s Guide to Crying and Tears
If I asked you to produce tears within the next sixty seconds, could you do it? (Give it a try before you continue to read.)
Physically producing genuine tears is one of the most difficult challenges for actors, especially those who perform live on stage. Actors can use memories of intense experiences in order to elicit tears that spring from real emotions. However, some actors use other “tricks” to generate watery eyes.
- Memory Driven Tears:
If you are like most of us, you have probably had a good cry — maybe while watching a sad movie or maybe after a break-up. Of course, some tears are produced because of extreme grief or pain; and sometimes we cry when we experience profound moments of joy. Actors can recall these memories and produce “real” tears.
To cry “memory driven tears” an actor must be very in touch with his/her past. During the rehearsal process, say the lines after recalling the emotional experience. Choose the right memory for the right part. Find ways to connect the script’s lines with personal moments.
- Tap Into Your Fears:
Some actors don’t think about actual events in their life. Memories might not be enough for a successful crying jag. Instead, before and during the scene, the actor imagines tragic events that never actually happened — but if they did occur it would be devastating. I know several actors that perform their scene while imagining the loss of a beloved pet or family member. Others imagine what it would be like to find out that they have a terminal illness.
Both of the techniques discussed so far take a lot of imagination, emotional awaresness, and most of all diligent practice.
- Be In the Moment
Personally, this is the only method that works for me. “Being in the moment” means that an actor is so focused on what the character is going through that tears are produced out of empathy. In my experience, this has worked — but only when I am completely engrossed in the script. Playwrights such as Shakespeare, Miller, and a few others craft such eloquent and powerful scenes that I can’t help but be worked up.
- What Happens If There is No Emotional Connection?
Unfortunately, there is a problem with the “Be In The Moment” technique. It does not work in in every play. What if you have to cry, but you personally don’t “feel” it. Any actor who has performed in a rather dumb or poorly written play will find it nearly impossible to cry on cue. They can’t “be in the moment” unless they truly value the power of the play.
In That case, there are a few “tricks of the trade” which might help.
- The Staring Method:
No emotional connection? No memories or grief-stricken fears? Then try this:
Close your eyes. Rub them. (Don’t rub them too hard; you don’t want to hurt yourself.) Now, you are ready to perform. While delivering your lines, make certain that you do not blink. Just continue to stare. For most people who stare longer than 30 seconds, their eyes begin to water. Ta-da! Realistic tears!
- How do they cry on movies and television?
TV and film actors have the benefit of working with an entire crew of technicians and artists. Although some movie stars utilize some of the techniques mentioned above, many actors opt for an easier solution: menthol.
A menthol tear stick and menthol tear producers are tools of the film and theater trade. The stick version requires a sparse application under the eyes. The “tear producer” works as a spray. Both produce immediate results.
- Don’t Forget:
Crying is more than just tears.
However, keep in mind that tears are not the only means to convey extreme grief or misty-eyed happiness. To quote Ursula the sea-witch: “Don’t forget the importance of body language!”
Here’s Henry Thomas’s audition tape for the role of Elliot in E.T. The tears start to flow right at the 2:00 mark.