Julianne Moore Loves To Cry. (But Why Do We Love To Watch?)

Julianne Moore Crying
Recently, in an enjoyably snarky Facebook conversation about movies, I mentioned that there were two things I remembered about THE HOURS: Nicole Kidman’s fake nose, and Julianne Moore crying – a lot. 

I also recall THE HOURS as turning point for me in watching Moore, who had become way too blubbery.   I felt she owed her audiences at least two tear-free performances in row.  And I planned to abstain from going to see her movies until she delivered.

Moments later, I received the link below in return.  Not sure why it took me so long to find it – it was posted (by Harry Hanrahan) more than three years ago, and so far has logged more than 236,000 hits. 

But in any case, it is validating, funny and scary at the same time.  It’s also irrefutable proof, on film, that for Julianne Moore, crying is big business.

Still, I’m inclined to question the video’s title.  Does Julianne Moore love to cry?  I’ll bet not.  She’s very good at it, she does it frequently, and she’s well compensated for it (monetarily, certainly – but also in the form of critical accolades, awards, etc.). 

But I think it’s not so much that Moore loves to cry as it is that directors and writers (male, I’m guessing) love to make her cry.  And some audiences (again, largely male) love to watch it.

Crying is an icky but iconic issue for actors and acting teachers, especially those whose training is fashioned in the post-Lee Strasberg mode.  Tears are a physical manifestation of engagement in the moment, what gurus like to call “emotionally availability.”  The ability to cry is treated as a talent-validating breakthrough.

I’m all for emotional availability – in life and on stage.  But there are limits.  What makes me uncomfortable is that this is almost always something we expect of female performers.  There’s no comparable pressure on male actors to cry.  (To show a propensity for violence, maybe.  To scare an audience, sure – but not to cry.)

I shouldn’t beat up on Julianne Moore, who is hardly a unique example.  Meryl Streep cries a lot, too.   I wonder how many Oscar-winning female performances have NOT involved crying?  And while I think of crying women as very much part of the method school, it’s not exclusively American.  Cate Blanchett is varsity-level crier; so is Juliet Stevenson.

Fifteen years ago, I saw a production of DOLL HOUSE that starred Janet McTeer in a performance that received critical hosannas in London and New York.  McTeer, a tall, notably strong-featured actress, was intriguingly cast against type as Nora.  In the final scenes, you could hear a pin drop in the theatre.  Or rather, you could hear the sound of muffled sobs.  McTeer cried her way through it, sometimes so much so that she could hardly catch her breath.  It was a technical tour-de-force, but I was appalled.  She managed to give up the one thing Nora has left when she closes the door – her dignity.

Don’t get me wrong – plenty of roles include emotional scenes.  Nora’s realization at the end of DOLL HOUSE is one of the great moments in the modern theater.  But I submit that directors ask actresses to provide tears more often – and more copiously – than they are actually called for.   (The most powerful Noras I have seen have suggested the realization not with tears, but through a gradually growing sense of calm certainty.)

I personally have seen directors browbeat actresses into the need to cry as part of getting under the skin of a role.  Several of them have specifically explained that the playwright’s call for it, and it’s actually written into the text.  I can think of at least two occasions when I was told this, and when I went back to the actual scripts, I found there was no such requirement.  It was, in fact, a basic misreading (or at very least, a projection) by the director.

Is there a solution to this problem?  Probably not.  I think the theatre-culture that find fascination in broken women is (scarily) deeply entrenched; and that actresses themselves will continue to depend on directors who lead them into manipulated emotional breakthroughs. 

But I do recommend that audiences think about this.  The next time you watch a dramatic female performance – by Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep or any number of others — ask yourself a few questions.  Did she cry?  How many times?  And maybe most important – did she really need to, or would we have understood the character just as well without the tears?

4 replies »

  1. Fascinating observation! This only applies to women, of course; for men, both onscreen and off, crying is usually a sign of weakness. Or do we admire male actors’ ability to cry too? I can’t think of any film examples offhand, but perhaps you can?

  2. Thanks, Mark! As I was writing this, I also wondered about male performances where crying is a significant element. There are some, I’m sure — the one that comes to mind, and certainly is iconic, is Brando in STREETCAR, though the crying there is certainly incidental compared to other more explosive displays of emotion. I think you’re onto something when you say that (on film, at least) male tears are seen as a sign of weakness, and I think even today not too many leading male actors are willing to go there.

  3. Clint Eastwood sheds two tears when he has to pull the plug on Hilary Swank in “Million Dollar Baby,” and one after Sue gets beaten and gang raped In “Gran Torino.”

  4. Somehow I missed this first time around — or maybe my brain has totally purged the memory. Your overall point is, of course, superbly well taken. (One male performance that I can recall featuring copious tears was Joseph Bottoms in the TV miniseries of East of Eden; but he hardly became a cinematic icon, so one can draw whatever conclusion one wants.) But do you know the episode of Billy on the Street wherein Billy Eichner was joined by Julianne Moore herself in Times Square? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlRQP3bcF9U She was ready to read lines from her famous roles to anybody who asked. A good many tourists, of course, had no idea who she was; and to them she offered, “Do you want me to cry on cue?” And then did just that. Which could mean either that she DOES like to do it, or that she’s so tired of it, she wants to mock it as a street-performer skill. — Jon

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