How to Cry on Cue?

“It is required of me to break down whilst reading a monologue, and I am struggling with this proposal. If you could send me some tips on crying, I would appreciate it. Kind regards, Miss Tara”


“Breaking down” does not necessarily mean crying. Watch TV News. Watch people in horrifying situations. Not all of them cry. Fighting hard not to cry is a great deal more moving than crying. The best coach I had told me NOT to cry. Leave the crying up to the audience. Fight the tears. It’s much more effective.

Let the lower lip quiver. Fight it. Quiver. Fight. Clamp your lips tightly together (as if mimicking someone without teeth. (The opposite of pursing the lips.) Loosen lips. Look down. Raise cheekbones toward eyes. Blink back the tears. Stare. ALTERNATE all these suggested ways of being tearful without crying.

The problem with crying is that the character has to cry but not the actor. And that is TOUGH. In addition, there is nothing quite so damaging to the voice as a glob of stuff in the cords, making them unable to vibrate. Also difficult is “turning off” if you, the person, are “turned on.” And the whole thing messes up your makeup.


Use your most reliable coach (the mirror) and look at yourself crying. What does crying look like?

Try to stiffen the muscles in your eyes, open the eyes a bit wider and resist all temptation to blink. Start doing this several lines before the cry-on-cue line. That should do the trick. I assume some actors get so caught up in the script that they respond tearfully on cue.

On camera, the old-time tears were caused by an onion. (No lie.)

Read a marvelous short poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child.” The truth in that poem is so painful and brilliantly expressed that perhaps it will help you cry on cue. Nothing creates more tears than a truthful glimpse of the nature of nature. To be a better actor, read poetry, look at great paintings, listen to great music, and look at the stars late at night. These acts create a well of tears from which you can draw upon at will.

“Crying on Cue, Part II”
by Reed Kalisher

Some people (especially soap stars) can call up tears in a flash while some of us can’t cry with onions pushed into our faces. There is no sure fire method, but the one constant for crying is your state of mind at the moment.

In other words, if you aren’t feeling badly, you will have a very hard time crying. Towards that end, there are a few techniques I can pass along, and I have used both with reasonable success. On the other hand, they have also failed me from time to time, so take and use them for what they are worth.

First, there is the “life experience” idea. That means calling up a memory or image that you might have really experienced. (I use the passing of my dear mother.) You need to know how long it will take to respond, will it work consistently and when (in the script) you need to start working on it. Mark it as a cue, start conjuring the sad image and at the right moment, let it go.

Another technique is exactly the same as the one I just described except you use a fictitious event. Imagine the loss of someone very dear to you. The rest is done the same way as the first. The problem with this technique, however, is that even if it does work for you, it tends to dilute your train of thought about the character. If you have difficulty thinking in “stereo” you might lose the intensity of your performance as “payment” for your tears.

Now, here’s a better idea, but harder to execute. Become the character you are portraying so intensely that you actually feel their pain and cry for the same reason they do. It involves the deepest commitment to the role, and isnÍt always the easiest thing to do, but certainly the most convincing.

Remember: If you can’t cry, you can’t cry! Work on it, but don’t lose too much sleep over it. If you can cry, never ever cover your face with your hands! All that work and you block it? If you feel you must bury your face, wait until the tears have been read by the camera or audience, then bury. (If you’re working on film you will have time to prepare for that close-up.)

Finally, don’t make those extreme faces. Let the tears, or even near tears carry the expression. Nothing looks phonier than a scrunched up face that shouts Hey, I’m trying to cry!

I hope this helps you find that elusive sign of sadness, the tear.

-Reed Kalisher

Posted in Film & Television, Kulerman, Miscellany, Stage, Technique  |  4 Comments

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