How Do They Cry On Command?

I am one of four sisters, with only 5.5 years, 2 bedrooms, and 1 bathroom between us. Safe to say that we were forcibly very close growing up, andnot just in proximity. We hardly needed friends since we had each other. Of course, we did have friends, and shared friends, and thanks to our mother’s generosity, our house was often overflowing with kids. But when it was just us, it was more than enough. Our dinner table was absolutely raucous with stories and opinions and debate. Bedtime was filled with whispers and toys and smuggled books. During Dr. Quinn we’d be crowded on one sofa, eating out of the same bowl of popcorn. But this ain’t no Louisa May Alcott shit; when we fought, and we did fight, we FOUGHT. Sometimes physically, though we were far more vicious verbally. And then it was a race to get to mom first. Telling on each other is a time-honoured tradition in families with multiple siblings. But one sister had a distinct advantage: she could cry on command. And my mother, smart though she was, was always duped by the tears.

I cry all the time. I’m a super emotional person. I can’t help it – and believe me, if I could, I certainly would. I cry involuntarily all the time. Just the other day we were watching a triggering show, and I could feel Sean’s eyes on me. I snapped at him (sorry babe). I hate this weakness in myself, and resent its predictability, and the fact that I routinely make public displays of myself. As much as I wish I could turn off the waterworks, I still to this day marvel at people who can turn it on. I’ve never had the choice in either direction. Actors, of course, are often called on to do so.

Memory-driven tears are when an actor calls on their own personal sad past memories in order to conjure up tears during a demanding scene. It would be distracting to do this on the spot, so they connect those memories with their lines repeatedly in rehearsal, so they can call on the readily during the all important take. Others may imagine a tragic event that hasn’t actually happened but that would be personally devastating if it did. But what if the usual tricks aren’t working?

Well, you can try the low-tech staring method, in which you close your eyes, give them a rub, and then open them and stare without blinking – 30 seconds without blinking is usually enough to make your eyes water. But if you need major waterworks, you might need something a little more aggressive.

Menthol is an actor’s best friend, and usually found in the makeup artist’s toolkit. A menthol stick looks like chapstick but smells like cough drops; it is swiped under the eyes and acts as an irritant, producing tears. A tear blower works basically the same way: the makeup artist has a glass tube packed with menthol crystals. He or she blows into the tube about 10cm away from the actor’s face, sending a gust of mentholated air toward the eyes, and bingo bango you’ve got tears!! Glycerin occasionally comes in handy too: a drop in the corner of the eye can be blinked down and look convincingly like a real tear.

Sean and I recently saw Dear Evan Hansen, and the dude playing Evan Hansen has to call up tears each and every night, and sometimes twice on Saturdays, if there’s a matinee. I’m certain he wasn’t relying on fake turns because our seats were so good we could tell he wasn’t just crying tears, but snot as well, which is an unfortunate side effect of loads of crying. He cried so much Sean as concerned he might be creating a slip-n-fall hazard for the other actors on stage. Everyone survived, but I did walk away feeling a little sorry for the guy, whose job entails tapping into some major trauma night after night.

Can you cry on demand? Would you want to? Would you use your power for good or evil?

12 thoughts on “How Do They Cry On Command?

  1. fragglerocking

    Nope, can’t cry on demand but cry buckets at anything sad in a movie, and have been known to cry at an advert during a TV program. My superpower is that I can cry without ruining my eye make-up somehow.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. raistlin0903

    Well…I’m a very emotional person myself, so honestly I can cry at movies if they do something that just strikes a chord in me. If I can cry on demand though? Eh…don’t think so…..and duh, of course I would use those powers for good! (Although it is tempting to use them for evil too 😈)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Robyn

    My brother would say that I could cry on demand for the same reason your sister did. But I can’t. I try my hardest to avoid the things that I know will bring me to tears because I am a crier like you – and I hate my PDT (public display of tears).


  4. mtswriting

    I just wonder is such frequent irritating eyes with menthol (as every shot is likely to be repeated many times) not posing some health hazard in long run? Just saying…

    When reading your post I thought about one emotional scene in “Shaun of the dead”. Simon Pegg imagined he’s playing the scene with his real mother – and boy, were these tears genuine as 24 carat gold!

    I guess in such light actor’s job is way more emotionally straining than we usually think.


  5. Invisibly Me

    I don’t get teary too much, but I know there have been films I’ve watched where I thought I was fine, then suddenly start crying, tears coming out of nowhere but totally unstoppable. I cried on demand once for a drama class when I was little. Haven’t done it since, but if someone wants to pay me millions to feature in films I’ll happily cry every day on demand! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. selizabryangmailcom

    Love this post’s insights into tricks of the trade.
    I just wrote a story where two characters are talking about how Steve McQueen turned down starring in Close Encounters because he couldn’t cry on cue. Wow, would that have been a different movie if he’s been the star………!



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