How to Cry on Film – enCAST

How to Cry on Film

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For many actors, crying on cue can be difficult. This article looks at a few ideas you can try out so you can cry at that exact moment when the director calls for it.

theatre vs cinema

In many ways, it’s easier to cry in theatre than cinema.

This is because you may well have spent an hour or more building to the big scene where your character breaks down. You have spent so much time immersing yourself into the character that when your character needs to cry you find that you automatically begin to cry.

Thus theatre actors will often push for emotional methods to cry on cue. They will talk about being in the moment, being the character, channelling their own memories

thinking of a moment in the past when they cried thinking of a moment in the future when they will cry

In rehearsals they might bring to mind the death of a loved one to begin to cry and with practice this can embed itself so deeply into the moment that when the play arrives there the tears will follow without hesitation.

However… when you are making a film it can be much harder.

It may well be that you’ve just arrived back on set after a good lunch or perhaps you’ve just finished shooting a really amusing scene and then suddenly the director tells you to sit by an empty hospital bed while they do a close up of your eyes and you need to let a single tear fall down your cheek.

How on earth can you do that?!

different actors

Of course different actors take different approaches. Whilst some actors find it almost impossible to cry, others can hardly stop crying. Richard E. Grant, for example, can well-up and cry buckets of tears at a moment’s notice as you can see in this video where he discusses crying with Jo Brand.

So not all these ideas will work for you. Instead, go through them, play with them, and find one which does work and practice it.

That last point is important – you can’t expect to be able to cry on cue unless you know how and have done it a dozen times so make sure you practice!

tips & tricks to cry on cue

keep hydrated

This is important. Crying is all about tears and you won’t produce tears if you’re thirsty! So make sure to drink plenty of water before the scene.

the crying face

Make sure you know your crying face. For many people this means their eyebrows lower, their eyes close, their lips thin, their mouths turn down, their head lowers… But you might be different.

Just adopting the physical state of crying can help get you in the mood for real tears so use this as a starting point and then try adding one of these to it…

blinking – or not

Although it might seem counter-intuitive (after all, blinking moistens the eye), blinking can help you cry. Just try this just before the scene:

  1. blink rapidly 20 or 30 times

  2. close your eyes and rub them very gently

  3. open your eyes and DON’T BLINK

After a few seconds you will find your eyes begin to sting very slightly but just keep going and before long a tear or two will fall.

artificial methods

Some actors will simply use a menthol stick (or even menthol lip balm) which is smeared just under the eye. (Of course not IN the eye!) This irritates the eye just enough for tears to form, especially if you don’t blink for a moment.

There are also eye drops you can use (especially good for a single tear falling down a cheek) or if you’re desperate, a chopped onion will do the same.

If it’s still not happening, try getting make-up to blow gently in your eye (and out of camera shot) with a menthol blower. Meanwhile for that “just cried” look, Vaseline under the eye is always good.

tongues down

Have you noticed that when you yawn your eyes can often water slightly at the same time?

Mostly your tongue sits relaxed in your mouth towards the front with the middle up against the roof of your mouth. Try to drop it down to the bottom of your mouth and take it back.

Many people find this kick starts a yawn which you need to suppress; this in turn can kick start a tear if you’re lucky.

don’t cry

But perhaps the greatest way to cry is not to cry.

Imagine you somewhere public when you get a phone call with some devastating news.

Many people – most people in fact – will try NOT to cry in this situation. They will try to hide the tears until they have a moment to be alone when they can let it out.

In fact, crying tends to be a distinctly private affair.

For the audience of a film, however, when we see someone who has just got some terrible news try to hide their tears and keep going, possibly with a smile, the effect is far more powerful than if the character simply begins to cry.

As an audience we want the character to cry. We want them to be able to scream and show their emotions to the world. And the more they keep their emotions hidden, the more the audience can feel their pain.

Crying, in other words, would break the tension of the situation so by simply trying to hide their tears, the actors will have a far greater effect than if they cried buckets.

As an example, take a look at this scene fromFour Weddings and a Funeral. No one is crying and it makes the scene far more powerful.

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