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How Do Actors Cry? The Secret To Triggering On-Screen Tears

how do actors cry

For actors, crying on demand is a critical and highly esteemed skill. Whether you’re on stage or on screen, delivering a convincing cry can transform your performance from passable to powerful. There’s also no predicting when a script with the dreaded cue “cries” might land on your lap.

For these reasons, if you’re an actor, you should be routinely practicing your ability to turn on the waterworks. Or at the least very least, you should have a few quick solutions you can turn to in a pinch.

In this blog post, we’ll walk you through two approaches to tearing up on cue.

First, we’ll teach you how to get emotional and provide you with five feeling-focused tactics to help you produce genuine tears.

Next, we’ll highlight five physical “hacks” that you can use when emotions alone can’t cut it.

Let’s get started!

How to Leverage Emotion to Cry on Command

When it comes to acting, not all tears are created equal. To achieve an authentic-looking on-screen cry you’ll need to tap deep into your emotions.

The key here, however, is not to simulate crying, but to actually bring yourself to tears and do so in a way that feels natural and real. To do this, we recommend you reframe your approach.

Rather than trying to convince the audience that your tears are truthful, focus on creating a genuinely emotional moment for yourself, irrespective of the viewer. If you can achieve this state of psychological separation, the next step is simple: let it all pour out.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Summoning the feelings necessary to make yourself cry can be an uncomfortable experience. And doing so on command calls for a lot of practice. It also requires a deep understanding of how to effectively harness emotions more generally; you won’t deliver a believable cry until you’ve mastered the portrayal of sadness and anger.

How do actors get emotional?

An actor’s job hinges on their capacity to emote, which is why a quick Google search will reveal countless “tricks” for improving the emotionality of your performance. These range from special breathwork routines to controlled bouts of screaming.

However, if you are really serious about getting emotional on-screen, we recommend that you start with the tried and true and begin studying Method acting.

Become an Insider

Method acting is rooted in the teaching of Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislavski, who urged his students to strive for “believable truth” in their performances by drawing from their own true experiences and emotions.

If you’re interested in learning more about the mechanics of Method acting, check out these three classic books:

An Actor’s Work: A Student’s Diary by Konstantin Stanislavski

Acting: The First Six Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky

Strasberg at the Actors Studio: Tape-Recorded Sessions edited by Robert H. Hethmon

Five Techniques For Triggering Genuine Tears

So, you’ve rethought your approach to on-screen tears and brushed up on the basics of Method acting. Now you’re ready to start crying on cue – using nothing but feels. Here are five techniques to help you do just that!

Search Your Memory

Straight from Method Acting 101, this technique invites you to draw from your own personal memories; in particular, ones that resonate with you on a deep emotional level. We recommend that you set aside time before your scene to meditate on the details of one specific moment from your past.

Of course, the memory you choose to draw from can be directly aligned with the context of the scene. For example, if the scene requires you to cry due to a breakup, consider reconnecting with a time when you may have experienced heartbreak.

Try the Substitution Method

The “substitution method” involves replacing key characters in a script or scene with real people from your own life. The results of this practice are most effective when you replace key characters with specific friends or family members.

For instance, if a scene calls for your character to cry following the death of their brother from cancer, you can use the substitution method to imagine how it would feel if your real-life brother had been sick and passed away. In doing so, you will likely tap into intense emotions that would otherwise be inaccessible.

WARNING: This is a powerful tool that can be incredibly psychologically taxing. It should therefore be used sparingly and with caution.

Explore Trigger Objects

Consider using a “trigger object” to help you tear up. Trigger objects can include any physical item that you feel emotionally connected to, such as a photograph or a piece of jewelry. Bring this item with you to set and while you warm up for your scene try to focus on the specific emotions that it evokes for you. Then really lean into them.

Start Mood Swingin’

Force yourself to “mood swing” in the lead-up to your scene. This method involves oscillating between negative and positive emotions, typically by tapping into both painful and joyous memories. Essentially, the idea here is to get yourself all worked up right before it’s time to shoot.

Use Media

Similar to a trigger object, you can also use a sad song, movie scene, book chapter, or YouTube video to trigger your emotions. As with trigger objects, it’s crucial to use this piece of media right before it is time to shoot, this way the feelings it conjures will be fresh and impactful.

Need some inspiration? Check out Henry Thomas’s iconic tear-filled audition for Steven Spielberg’s E.T.!

Five Physical Hacks For Crying on Cue

Every actor should strive to cry using genuine emotion as this will result in the most realistic performance. That being said, working yourself up to a full-fledged weep can be a tough and exhausting endeavour, especially if you are on a tight timeline or need to do multiple takes for a scene. Naturally, that’s where physical tricks come into play. Check out these five below!

Eye Drops and Vaseline

Get yourself some lubricant eye drops and a tub of petroleum jelly. Rub a thin layer of petroleum jelly on your bottom eyelids and just under both eyes. This will give them a wet and glazy look, creating the impression that you have just undergone a heavy bout of crying. Then, when it’s time to roll camera, place two to three eye drops in the inside corner of both your eyes. Squeeze your eyes shut, blink a few times, and voila! Automatic tears!

Menthol Stick

Another method for manufacturing tears comes in the form of menthol sticks. A menthol stick is a small cylindrical tube that carries a menthol crystal. Similar to a tube of lipstick, the menthol stick can be unwound and “rolled” onto the skin. In this case, you’d apply the menthol stick directly under your eyes. The menthol crystal will create a cooling sensation that will stimulate your tear glands and cause mild eye irritation. The result? An effortless flow of authentic-looking tears.

If you’re shopping for a menthol stick, two popular options to consider include Narrative Cosmetic’s Tear Stick and Krylon’s Menthol Tear Stick.


You can wear your heart on your sleeve or use a menthol stick 😂 #actingskills #actingtips #cryacting

♬ original sound – torontofilmschool

Tear Blower

A cousin to the classic menthol stick, the tear blower is a useful device designed to create a direct stream of air that can be pointed at your eye. Similar to menthol sticks, most brand-name tear blowers feature menthol crystals to help automatically trigger tears.

The advantage of a tear blower is that they do not require you to physically rub anything onto your skin, which can be a problem if you’re wearing makeup. Their downside? They require a second person to do the blowing.

Some popular options include the Krylon 3000 Tear Blower and Nigel Beauty’s Menthol Tear Blower. Both products are created by makeup brands specializing in film and fashion cosmetics.

Staring Method

The “staring method” is a cheap and simple technique to help you fake cry on camera. This method simply requires that you keep your eyes open for as long as possible without blinking while also focusing on a single point far off in the distance. Doing this will strain your eyes, which should lead to the production of tears.

Yawning Method

A final option to consider is the “yawning method,” which requires you to self-trigger a yawn in order to generate tears. Although this sounds relatively simple, it requires a surprising amount of technique to be effective.

For example, in this popular Reddit post, holycrapitslissa outlines how to achieve a tear-inducing yawn:

• Take a deep breath and slowly exhale while faking a yawn

• Keep your lips pursed tight the entire time

• Focus the yawn in the back of your throat, “like you’re trying to swallow your sadness.”


The good ol’ yawn with your mouth closed 😢 #actor #actress #actortok #actingtips #foryou #castingcall #actingtips #blacksctress #greenscreen

♬ Cool Kids (our sped up version) – Echosmith

Now You’re Ready to Cry on Cue!

Crying on cue is a difficult skill to master. But with enough practice, it can be done.

First and foremost, learn how to tap into your emotions and avoid the temptation to simulate sobbing. Draw from emotionally-heavy memories, utilize trigger objects, and study Method acting. Use whatever emotive tools necessary to work yourself up into a genuine and believable cry.

Next, be sure to have a few physical “hacks” up your sleeve in case getting emotional falls flat. Invest in a menthol stick, learn to yawn the right way, and when in doubt, bust out the eye drops.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in acting and want to develop your skills further, consider exploring the acting for film, television and the theatre program at Toronto Film School. Their program can provide you with the training and knowledge needed to excel in the world of acting.

That’s it! Now get practicing!

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Niko Pajkovic
Niko Pajkovic is a marketing copywriter at the Toronto Film School. He’s also an academically published author whose research focuses on algorithms, AI, and their intersection with film and television. Niko holds an MA in Professional Communication from Toronto Metropolitan University and a Hon. BA in Communication Studies from Wilfrid Laurier University. His freelance bylines include Film Threat, Independent Australia, Film Matters Magazine, and Film Cred.

Niko Pajkovic

Niko Pajkovic is a marketing copywriter at the Toronto Film School. He’s also an academically published author whose research focuses on algorithms, AI, and their intersection with film and television. Niko holds an MA in Professional Communication from Toronto Metropolitan University and a Hon. BA in Communication Studies from Wilfrid Laurier University. His freelance bylines include Film Threat, Independent Australia, Film Matters Magazine, and Film Cred.


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