Next time you’re watching your favorite film and an actor starts to cry, just ask yourself: is that the talented actor crying on cue, or is it the result of a director using some secret methodology to get the actor to cry? There are several cruel tactics directors have used to make actors cry, from yelling and screaming to telling them that their dog died - and child actors seem to bear the brunt of such dirty tricks. Oscar nominated nine-year-old Jackie Cooper had his own uncle and director Norman Taurog threaten to shoot his dog if he didn’t deliver the level of tears needed for a scene in Skippy. Cooper never forgot it, naming his future memoir Please Don’t Shoot My Dog.
And it seems like Mel Gibson’s been making actors cry for a few decades now - he yelled at 11-year-old Gaby Hoffmann on the set of The Man Without a Face until she cried. And Rob Reiner got Wil Wheaton and Jerry O’Connell to the right level of hysteria by screaming at them before that classic train-dodge scene in Stand by Me.
Sometimes, the director isn’t the only one making actors cry on set. On the second day of Kramer vs. Kramer, Dustin Hoffman thought it would be a terrific idea to slap and then berate Meryl Streep about her recently deceased boyfriend, much to director Robert Benton’s horror. What you see on Streep’s face is tearful rage. His reason? Getting the 29-year-old Streep into the space he thought she need to be in for the scene. Jokes on you buddy - she’s got more statues than you by now, and she never had to slap anyone to do so.
Probably one of the most tortured actors on any set, Shelley Duvall, spent 13 months being yelled at and wrung out by Stanley Kubrick on the set of The Shining. Those tears in the axe scene? Total terror and hysteria from a broken Duvall. But no one seems more broken than Martin Sheen in the opening scene of Apocalypse Now. Sheen had a full-on drunken crying meltdown while Coppola encouraged him.
Let’s look at some other cruel tactics directors have used to make actors cry and then try not to feel guilty the next time we watch them break down for real.