To Cry or not to Cry; The Art of the Cry Face!

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Amanda B. Goodman“When we are born we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.” -William Shakespeare

Don’t we all love a good cry? Sure we do! It can be good for the soul, it can be used as a mechanism to get what we want, and sometimes just a natural reaction to dropping a bite of your scrumptious homemade lasagna on the floor and missing out on the five second rule. That last one puts me in the fetal position every time.

Crying is something actors are called upon to do quite often. But people often believe that to be considered a good actor, that one must easily cry on cue. And for some actors, it’s as easy for them to do as it is for Stephen King to make a reader scared of that weird kid who lives next door. But what constitutes a good cry onscreen? Some may argue it’s all about getting moist. (That’s what she said!…sorry) The grief stricken mother or the terrorized dumb teen in the latest horror film are just two of the many character types whose storylines no doubt have them leaky and miserable. Wet faces all around!

Rolling tears are usually not the problem. There are so many techniques out there that make it easier and easier to make those droplets roll down an actors’ face like grease in a skillet, so it begs the question: What about the cry face? 

In my training as an actor, I was taught that emotional scenes are about how you affect the audience and not so much about how many tears you can produce. It’s about holding back the tears, so that the audience can cry. Think of that feeling you get when a powerful emotion hits you and you’re doing everything you emotionally and physically can to NOT cry. Pretty powerful stuff isn’t it? I mean if good acting is about getting your face wet, then shouldn’t Kim Kardashian be an Academy Award winner (Again sorry for the double entendre there, but it’s kind of true)?

I’m not saying tears streaming are not good. Because if you can let it rain and still maintain the emotional power of the circumstance of why you are crying, then yes plus more yes equals success! I’m a reader quite often for various casting offices and the actors who grip me are the ones who go into an emotional scene holding back that pain so much that when they let go, I as the reader am often brought to tears. I forget where I am, and I believe that I am in a room with someone dealing with real pain. And usually the tears stream from the actor’s eyes when the scene is over. All the while, their cry faces are as believable as the words they are saying. Yes, when we cry we produce tears, but we also make faces that send a clear signal that we are crying, not modeling.

So let’s take a look at my top tips on what to do and what not to do when working on a believable cry face. After all, whoever said you’re supposed to look pretty when you cry, should be punched. Unless Meryl Streep said that…then don’t punch her.

Amanda’s Top Do’s and Don’ts for an actor’s believable cry face:

DO: Allow your face to clench and shake if that’s what comes naturally. Just remember to keep it contained within the parameters of the camera. I call it the “cry/poop face”. You’re doing something your brain wants to do gracefully but your body knows just needs to happen, even if it’s not pretty. Listen to your body…just don’t fart.

DON’T: Force yourself to try to cry. If you do, you will most likely look like you are actually pooping versus the real cry/poop face most of us make when we cry. If you are pushing yourself to reach an emotional state that just isn’t natural to you, it’ll affect your performance both from the inside and especially out. Pushing is never good…unless you’re in labor, then push away.

DO: Observe yourself during a moment in which you find yourself actually crying. Next time you are dealing with a situation or circumstance that results in a good cry, find a mirror and study what you see for a moment. Take it in, in all its messy glory! Well trained actors know that observation is one of the key components that make up a fully developed craft. So take that moment to stop and observe that cry. Unless you’ve just been shot. Then skip the mirror and call 911.

See even I ugly cry in the mirror! It also makes for a great Tinder pic!

See even I ugly cry in the mirror! It also makes for a great Tinder pic!

DON’T: Use your hands to wipe away tears that aren’t there. It makes you look like a sleepy toddler.

DO: Embrace “colors”. There are so many colors that come across a persons’ face when they are dealing with a variety of specific emotions. We turn red when we’re embarrassed, white when we’re sick or shocked, and blue if we’re part Smurf. Ever hear acting teachers and casting directors tell you to add more “colors” to a performance? It’s because it’s what life is all about. So if you’re crying and your face naturally gets a little purple, embrace it.

DON’T: Try so hard to nail the Hollywood “Single Teardrop” that you burst a blood vessel in the process. It’s not cute, and you’ll look like Mr. Demartino from Daria.

Follow these do’s and don’ts if you’re feeling uneasy about what your cry face should look like. But above all, trust yourself, because it’s all there. You just need to believe in it.

Amanda Goodman

About Amanda Goodman

Actress/Writer/Comedian - Amanda first fell in love with the art of making people laugh in the 2nd grade when she and another classmate entered into their class vaudeville night by doing a stand-up act that ended with them getting pied in the face (literally). Since then, she's studied acting all over New York including private teachers, master classes at The Stella Adler Studio, and The Upright Citizens Brigade. She is the star and creator of her own original web sketch comedy show "Goody's Goodies", and host of the Podcast "Green Pod". She also writes short horror fiction, and completed her first full-length horror novel "The Ansford Chiller", which she hopes will one day be able to scare the pants off of pants-wearers for years to come. She loves cupcakes of all shapes and sizes, Chris Farley movies, and the French word pampelmoose. Follow her mis-adventures on Twitter @ABGoody and www.amandabgoodman.com.