Crying On Cue
CONSIDER NOT CRYING
"Breaking down" does not necessarily mean crying. Watch TV News. Watch people in horrifying situations. Not all of them cry. Fighting hard not to cry is a great deal more moving than crying. The best coach I had told me NOT to cry. Leave the crying up to the audience. Fight the tears. It's much more effective.
Let the lower lip quiver. Fight it. Quiver. Fight. Clamp your lips tightly together (as if mimicking someone without teeth. (The opposite of pursing the lips.) Loosen lips. Look down. Raise cheekbones toward eyes. Blink back the tears. Stare. ALTERNATE all these suggested ways of being tearful without crying.
The problem with crying is that the character has to cry but not the actor. And that is TOUGH. In addition, there is nothing quite so damaging to the voice as a glob of stuff in the cords, making them unable to vibrate. Also difficult is "turning off" if you, the person, are "turned on." And the whole thing messes up your makeup.
BUT IF YOU INSIST
Use your most reliable coach (the mirror) and look at yourself crying. What does crying look like?
Try to stiffen the muscles in your eyes, open the eyes a bit wider and resist all temptation to blink. Start doing this several lines before the cry-on-cue line. That should do the trick. I assume some actors get so caught up in the script that they respond tearfully on cue.
On camera, the old-time tears were caused by an onion. (No lie.)
Read a marvelous short poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins "Spring and Fall: To a Young Child." The truth in that poem is so painful and brilliantly expressed that perhaps it will help you cry on cue. Nothing creates more tears than a truthful glimpse of the nature of nature. To be a better actor, read poetry, look at great paintings, listen to great music, and look at the stars late at night. These acts create a well of tears from which you can draw upon at will.
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