Tears convey what words can’t. An actor’s repertoire of skills is incomplete without the ability to cry on cue. An actor needs to be a master at drawing from the emotional well of his mind, and harnessing genuine feelings to create believable characters.
We all begin this life as criers. Yet as actors, genuinely crying onstage or on camera seems like an insurmountable challenge. A big roadblock is our mindset, that has defined tears to be a sign of weakness. In a world that is increasingly desensitizing itself, holding back our emotions, blocking them out or worse, burying them, has become the normal thing to do.
Over time, expressing raw emotions through crying becomes a very private affair, as most of us, do not want to expose our vulnerability. However, being an actor is about being open and vulnerable to feelings and connecting deeply with the world. Ergo, empathy and unabashed expression of genuine emotion are a necessary component of an actor’s training.
Here are some tips that might help you pull off the greatest crying scenes onstage or on-screen.
“Do not apologize for crying. Without this emotion, we are only robots.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert
Live the Emotion
Emotionally, you need to understand the rationale that has made this character helpless. Imagination and empathy for the circumstances of the character and being driven by the pathos of the moment, should naturally lead to the expression of tears. Ergo, living the emotion and deeply feeling it from inside, is the only way of making yourself cry.
Harness Your Emotional Memory
Almost every person has experienced moments of deep despair and agony, of deep longing and betrayal. These experiences are your fuel to draw from, as an actor. Draw parallels of the character’s life, with your own and connect enough so that crying becomes a genuine and natural expression. One deeply felt, sorrowful experience is all it takes to open the floodgates. In short, you have to ‘tear’ through your past.
A Phrase of Sorrow
One way of putting yourself into the frame of mind, where crying follows naturally, is to use a phrase that can trigger the pathos from within. It could be something like, ‘Nobody wants me.’, , ‘Am I not good enough for anybody?’ ‘Nobody cares.’ One thing to be careful about is to understand that you are invoking your past experiences and harnessing your emotions as part of your acting craft. Learn to switch off and detach from these emotions after the act.
Nuances and Body Language
The way you cry matters and all crying is not the same, as all situations are not the same. Crying after the death of a loved one, will not be the same as crying at a wedding. Understand these nuances. Watch your body language and posture onstage when crying. For example, when in these frames of mind, grief makes some people go into the fetal position. If you feel the emotion of grief or helplessness genuinely, the body language will automatically follow.
These were the genuine techniques that should help you cry on cue. With practice, try and develop your routine and emotional triggers that can easily get you into the frame of mind. If none of this works, there are artificial ways of inducing tears through the use of chemicals like glycerin, use of onions, and other ways like staring without blinking into bright lights. However, they are not really recommended, unless you are really desperate.
Dig deep and dive into the pool of your past experiences and emotions, and you should find what’s needed. Also, crying may not be the only way of expressing grief. There are other ways of expressing it through body language. Just silence and a profound emptiness conveyed through the expressions or actions, may also have the same effect. In the end, if the audience is left in tears after your performance, your job is accomplished. Acting is part technique and in parts, pure heart. Give it all you have got and the experience will leave you profoundly enriched.