An Actor’s Guide: 3 Ways To Fake Cry On Command

Bettina Dizon
Mar 11, 2021
07:48 A.M.
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Over the decades, actors drew viewers into the story told, often with strong emotions and tears in tow. But is there truth to their emotional response, and how do they cry on cue? Let's find out!

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When the scene gets really emotional, and the lead actress or actor suddenly starts to cry, - do you sometimes find yourself wondering: are those real tears? 

Referring to a tragic experience

Some actors can actually cry on demand! On cue, like Bryce Dallas on Conan O'Brien's talk show. And one of the most popular techniques is referring back to one’s sad or even tragic experience.

Generally, it means that when they need to shed some tears, performers turn to the memories of some sad events or emotionally charged moments from their own lives.

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By recalling the details of a loss or a heartbreak, they can bring themselves to tears. By it can be happy memories, too! For some people, tears that come from a feeling of gratitude are just easier to produce.

On the other hand, some actors prefer to fully immerse themselves in the roles they play. And as they live through their characters’ grief, pain, or other emotions, tears just come naturally when needed.

Jennifer Hudson's portrayal of Grizabella in the "Cats" film adaptation is an example of this, as she cried every time she sang "Memory" on set! 

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An example that's a bit different is Amy Adams, who can immediately start crying on demand - which she brilliantly demonstrated on "The Graham Norton Show."

To get herself in the right emotional state, Adams recounts a news story about a hot-sauce plant in California that has been shut down because of its unpleasant fumes. And it gets the tears flowing every time.

But crying on cue is not an easy skill to master, and different techniques work for different actors. Some even get help in another way entirely.

Actors’ little helpers

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When actors need a little bit of help to simulate crying, they use special products, called “tear sticks” and “tear blowers.” They contain menthol, which irritates the eyes.

Applied under the eyes or blown right into them, menthol vapors cause the natural body reaction that not only induces tears but also makes your eyes red and puffy – like you usually have it in real life while crying.

These products are a great help to actors who find it harder to fake cry than laugh. Packed in a tube that resembles lipstick, a tear-stick is quite effective and easy to use while in front of a camera. 

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Anna Faris unveiled this secret, demonstrating this device's use with Joshua Jackson at "The Late Show with James Corden."

It’s amazing, but within a couple of seconds, all three were crying – quite realistically! Also, Vaseline-based products can be used to create the effect of a teary-wet face.

And, surely, eye drops are a quick way to get a single tear rolling down the cheek. However, some film directors need more emotion from their actors, so they use other tricks to achieve the desired effect.

Mean tricks

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While shooting Wes Craven’s “New Nightmare,” they wanted child actor Miko Hughes to produce ultra-real emotions.

To achieve that, right before shooting the scene where the boy had to cry, his father told him that his mother had died and quickly walked off the set! 

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Another example is of Winona Rider in “Dracula.” Director Francis Ford Coppola wasn’t satisfied with the way Winona performed the break-down scene, so he told her co-star Keanu Reeves to insult and shame her.

Also, while shooting "The Shining," Stanley Kubrick almost drove his co-star Shelley Duvall insane. In an interview, Duvall recalled that she “had to cry 12 hours a day, all day long, nine months straight, five or six days a week.”

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Moreover, the director treated her with open hostility in order to get the level of fear and hysteria he needed from the actress.

The physical methods

We had already mentioned Bryce Dallas Howard, who managed to start crying when Conan O'Brien asked her to – right in front of the cameras, during an interview!

It turns out that for Bryce, it’s not a natural gift, even though it looks like it "It's technical, it’s something that can be learned and taught.”

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Her method includes yawning over and over again, which makes the soft palate lift – and tears roll, eventually! And don’t forget about proper hydration: one has to drink enough to produce tears!

Moreover, other physical tricks help actors cry on the spot, like staring and laughing. Sometimes it’s tough to tell if a person is laughing or crying, especially when they conceal the face.

But staring is probably the most natural way to induce tears: if you don't blink for 30 seconds, it will cause your eyes to water up to compensate for the dryness. And, for the best effect, it should be combined with one of the other aforementioned techniques.

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So take Jennifer Lawrence, for example. The award-winning actress revealed in an interview with MTV News that she doesn't have anything in her life that can instantly make her cry.

So, she just fakes her way through the scene by holding her eyes open for a long time and making sobbing movements, and voila - it happens.

As you see, there are different techniques that actors use to start shedding real tears whenever they need to. Every actor uses a different method or a combination of methods. You can use their tips and try them out yourself!

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