Actors’ tips on how to cry on cue

Ever wondered how the world’s greatest actors cry real tears on camera? Getting actual water to fall from your eyes while being pressured to give a compelling, honest performance on film or even in the audition room may sound daunting. But turning on the waterworks isn’t as difficult as it may seem.

First, there is one basic component to crying that also doubles as a handy trick: stay hydrated. Without enough fluid in your system, your body will be unable to activate its tear ducts. Drink up!

Don’t force it. At the Studio, which focuses on breaking down actors’ fears and limitations, Calcaterra encourages students to accept whatever emotions emerge during a scene. “If I’m working with a very specific moment with the actor where that emotion needs to be there, I work on getting to a place where the body is relaxed, breathing, and the focus is on what is at hand. The second the actor goes to, ‘I have to cry here,’ you’re focused on a result and you’re not telling the emotional truth of the moment.”

Borrow from your personal experience. Some people are more emotionally available, some people cry once a week, once a day, that’s just who they are. You should know your triggers. In your life when you find yourself becoming emotional, you should remember what it was that made you emotional. And you can draw back on those things later.

Or borrow from your imagination. The process is simple: Put yourself in an imaginary scenario that might stir in you intensely sad emotions. The best part: it’s solely yours to own. It could be something that has nothing to do with the scene, and that’s your secret. No one has to know what you’re over there bawling about.

Focus on the character’s circumstances and stakes. Don’t forget that your material provides everything you need to navigate any emotions that may come up, organically or artificially, in a scene. While prepping your character and filling in the basic questions (Who? What? When? Where? Why?), identify what in the character’s personality might lead to tears.

In fact, vulnerability is more important than the actual production of tears. How often have you responded emotionally to a film or TV scene you’re watching when no actor in the scene has cried? Those actors’ vulnerability is so acutely honest, they can engender emotion in others even without tears.