One of the beauties of being an actor is getting to play a rich assortment of emotions, and in the process, bring audiences right along on that emotional journey. Rising to the occasion of crying in character can be both a delectable and challenging task. Here are a few techniques to stimulate your tear ducts in pursuit of the noble cause of pulling the heartstrings of audiences everywhere.

Generate Tears from Genuine Emotion

1. One of the most common techniques to cry in character results from an actor fully engrossing him or herself in the role. When actors actively experience and genuinely empathize with their character’s palette of emotions, tears can “naturally” come at the desired moment. But while deep involvement in a storyline of pain, betrayal, or grief can be enough to trigger tears, many actors are hesitant to solely rely on this method. After all, how realistic is it to think you’ll be moved to tears every time you perform that scene? In such instances, you might want to consider using additional techniques to cry.

2. Meditate on memories in which you experienced considerable loss or heartbreak. By vividly recalling the detail of events that occurred in this tragic chapter of your life, and digging into your memory banks for the sights, sounds, smells, and tactile senses that accompanied that loss, you can tap into your tears. One actor might focus on the day a beloved pet was euthanized; another might recall losing a loved one to cancer. With this technique, it’s helpful to understand that a memory that makes you cry one day might not work quite as well the next. So, it’s wise to have a reserve of other sad memories to explore. Another danger is you might not be able to turn the tears off when you’re on stage, and in film you risk bawling your eyes out on the first take, and being emotionally depleted on later takes.

3. Imagine a sorrowful event that could happen to you or to someone else. Using your imagination–and again, the more details you visualize, the better–think of what it would be like if you suffered an enormous loss; it could be losing a loved one or a pet, for example. What if you lost something you’d dedicated your life to achieving? If that feels like too much for you, you can imagine the tragedy happening to your dear friend or a family member instead. What if you or someone close to you was in an airplane, and the engine cut out?

4. Think of a moving, compassionate memory or story.  Sometimes the tears come easiest when we focus on moments of profound kindness, gratitude, or mercy. Wrestler with cerebral palsy

5. Go back and forth reflecting on melancholy, painful experiences to joyous, comforting ones. You can heighten your emotional state by comparing the polarized internal responses. For example, if your character’s father is stricken with a disease and he passes, you can recall the good times that your character will miss the most: the dad’s welcoming hug and smile even when everyone else had abandoned your character. Then focus on reality of the death before you. This tunes you into the enormity of the loss.

6. Sometimes deep emotions can be tapped into via the use of a personal object that stirs up your emotion. Whether it be the lovely feather you treasure because you found it just after your loved one died, or an object belonging to your character that stirs him or her, it may be just what you need to release a good cry.

7. Use a favorite sad song, a poignant movie scene, the heart-breaking chapter in a book, a favorite emotional YouTube video. A sad state of mind can be achieved through the emotive works of others. One actress said that after seeing the opening sequence of the movie Up, from there on out, all it took was for her to hear the accompanied musical score to induce tears.


Generate Tears Without Emotion

Whether you’re working on stage, TV, or film, there are tricks that can get you sobbing. Here are a few.

1. Recreate all the bodily responses of a crying person. This physical task requires no actual emotion or imaginative journey. Simply make a crying facial expression, alter your breathing pattern to match an actual crier’s uneven and heavy breathing, and add whimpering noises. You can exercise a little to make your breathing more heavy and realistic. When practiced on a regular basis, some actors find they can generate tears on the spot. But, this falls more under the category of a discipline. Practice in front of a mirror to get a good look at what you actually look like when you cry. Remember to use a quavering voice, perhaps a trembling lower lip.

2. Laugh. Have you ever experienced a surreal moment in which you weren’t sure if someone was laughing or crying? Strangely enough, sometimes it’s hard to tell. Try laughing while you conceal your face with your hands or by looking away. You can use your hands to rub your eyes too. Just make sure that when you remove your hands or turn back around that you’re not smiling at all.

3. Try staring to generate tears. Some actors find they can cry on cue by performing their lines without blinking. The average person who refrains from blinking will generate tears in about thirty seconds. With all the lights on set, some swear by staring at intense lighting for their sorrowful scene. This probably is not too good for the eyes though.

4. Yawn repeatedly. Sometimes yawning alone can give your eyes and face the doleful appearance needed to perform emotional scenes.

5. Apply menthol tear stick sparsely under the eyes, or menthol tear-producing spray. Both are used by film and TV actors. But don’t use too much, and don’t get it in your eyes.

6. Cut an onion. Specifically, the most tear-inducing portion of the onion is located near the end with the hair-like strands; cut it off and inhale the freshly cut side of it. This will affect anyone who is near the onion.

7. Pluck the nose hairs out of your nose. Michael Landon who played Charles Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie was required to cry often, and it’s said that this was his go-to method to get teared up.

Any of these techniques can be used in any combination. But remember that acting grieved, pained, or devastated is not limited to the moisture level in the eyes. Overall body language can profoundly communicate despair, as can the act of fighting the tears from coming out. After all, this shows the audience how hard you’re trying to not feel vulnerable–something everyone can relate to. Also keep in mind, there are many variety of tears, some of which originate from joy, physical pain, emotional devastation, frustrated defeat, and more. Whether you cry or not, you still have the power to move audiences to cry if you’re committed to your performance. 

What techniques do you use to cry on cue?