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In life and in film, genuine connection is what we’re after.

Tearjerkers. Those moments in film cut right to the heart. The lead character spills her guts, tears flowing out the corners of her eyes without restraint, and sometimes even snot draining from her nose. This is the stuff Academy Awards are made of.

But how in the world do they do it?

As an actress, I have cried many times over this. Pun intended.

As a director, I have hoped to see those glassy eyes fill up in a scene.

As a student in film acting class, I have left many a night ashamed that those tears wouldn’t come.

There’s no doubt about it, tears can be beautiful, but I would say that what we’re really searching for is honesty.

Have you ever known someone who seemed to cry at the drop of a hat? Did it always appear genuine to you?

I know I’ve experienced those moments when it’s like, “Oh, no. Here they go again!” It can feel as though you’re being manipulated by their emotions.

Once when a policeman pulled me over, I did everything in my power NOT to cry in front of him! There was a split second when I thought, “Why don’t you just let him see you cry?” But I wouldn’t do it. It seemed like a matter of principle. Or, like being brought to the Principal’s office. I knew I had done something wrong and was going to own up to it. I think he could see I was distressed anyway, as he tried to reassure me that this was an easy ticket to take care of and low cost.

After he left, I cried like a baby.

When I played a grieving widow for a TV pilot, I wept in front of my acting coaches as I rehearsed the scene. When I stepped onto the graveyard, and the cameras were on, my brain was like, “You’ve already done this. Get over it.” Yikes! I was totally stuck, and that’s because I was trying to repeat exactly what I had done before.

Sometimes, having a few tricks up your sleeve may come in handy: sneak into a corner and put in some eye drops.

Stare into a bright light (not the sun, please).

Pinch yourself until it hurts.

Keep an onion in your handbag.

Or if you’re like me and have dry eyes and wear contacts, remove those contacts and let the air blow into your eyes.

But what if it doesn’t work?

It’s crazy the lengths we go to as actors to deliver what’s expected of us at the moment.

Ah! Being in the moment.

You can do everything right: develop a strong character, know your lines, understand the story and your character’s goals, develop a rich inner thought life, and still come off as a total fake. Because in life and in film, genuine connection is what we’re after.

Sometimes just taking off the expectations of others and throwing them to the wind can be the best thing you can do for yourself.

Experiencing the story you’ve been cast in and letting whatever emotions surface as a result could be the best discovery you’ve made and one that the audience will cry over.

Carissa Dalton

Author Carissa Dalton

Carissa Dalton is a professional actor, writer, director, teacher and coach. As an actor, she has over twenty years of commercial, television, film and stage experience. She has appeared in projects for Volkswagen, Teleflora, Amtrak, Mitsubishi, Sony TV, National Geographic and more. As a writer, actor, and director, she co-wrote, starred-in and directed the feature film, All The Dragons. She has also directed thirty short films. As a teacher and coach, Carissa has worked with actors and directors, helping them elevate their skills through the CFTN Film Lab—a collaborative class of actors, writers, and directors working to create film organically—of which she is the co-founder and co-director. Carissa is also a well-trained vocalist and dancer, as well as an experienced improv theater performer.

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