Can actors cry on command?

By Leslie Gornstein Mar 26, 2007 3:51 AMTags
How do actors and actresses seem to cry on command when a scene calls for it?
—Melissa, Auckland, New Zealand

The B!tch Replies:  In the Biz, people who cry convincingly at will are lauded as "emotionally available"—as in, "Kerry Washington is just so emotionally available. She just picks up a scene, and it's there."

That's a quote from Howard Fine, a top acting coach who has also worked with Brad Pitt, Salma Hayek and that veritable waterworks factory Jennifer Connelly. Fine insists most A-list actors can cry on demand using only mental techniques, like remembering a childhood tragedy.

Rarely, he opines, do movie sets use crass props or other ham-handed tricks, like verbal abuse by a director.

And when I say verbal abuse, I exaggerate not a whit. Way back before Winona Ryder stood before us as an accused shoplifter, she was a top actress doing whatever films she wanted. One of those japes was a Francis Ford Coppola interpretation of Dracula. One scene called for Ryder to have a nervous breakdown. Coppola teamed with Ryder's costar Keanu Reeves and yelled mean things at her to make her weep.

"I wasn't in the mood for the scene, I just wasn't," Ryder once recalled to a British reporter. "But then I heard Francis and [Reeves] calling me names like 'whore' and stuff like that. I started to cry, but Francis didn't care. He just kept calling me names and making me do the scene over and over again until I was really out of my mind.

"After 15 takes, I couldn't do it any more. They got what they wanted in the scene, but it left me wrecked."

When the Keanu torture technique fails, there's always the good ol' menthol stick.

"It's a stick of menthol with a hole in the middle," says Zoe Lister-Jones, a TV, film and Broadway actress who is writing a one-woman show called Crying for Cash. "A makeup artist will blow this menthol right into your eyeballs. It stings like hell."

For the record, Lister-Jones says she doesn't need the stick. But other actors might.

"In one film, I did a scene with Chris Klein, and I had to be weeping with him," she recalls. "You could see tears in his eyes, but they never left the eyeball."

Time to call in Keanu.

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