It’s unreasonable to assume that every time an actor plays drunk, they are in fact, drunk. The job of movies, after all, is to really convince you that you are watching an axe murderer or jet fighter pilot or loving marriage, instead of adults playing make-believe.
On the other hand, the history of cinema is rife with both sober actors playing drunks and drunken actors playing sober. In between, though, there is an interesting history of actors who actually used the booze to make the performance.
Whether it was to loosen the nerves before a particularly steamy scene (it often is) or to add a degree of verisimilitude to a character’s drunken antics, booze often deserves (at least) an executive producer credit on some of your favorite films.
1. The Wolf of Wall Street – Margot Robbie
Australian actress Margot Robbie knows how to make an impression. Auditioning for her role in the Scorcese film, the script calls for her to simply walk away from DiCaprio at the end of the scene. Instead, Robbie explains that she slapped him in the face and yelled “F**k you!”
Good lord, this movie is depressing. It’s also really, really good.
If The Hangover is the fun, slapstick version of a Vegas bender, Leaving is the Sara McLachlan ASPCA commercial version. Cage plays Ben Sanderson, a screenwriter whose self-destructive behavior leads to his losing everything. The film centers around his relationship with an abused sex worker in Vegas during his quest to drink himself to death. Not your standard rom-com.
According to various sources, the actor would get blotto beforehand, record himself, and then review his speech patterns. This level of commitment is probably a big part of why Cage won Best Actor at that year’s Academy Awards and Golden Globes.
3. Wild Things – Neve Campbell, Matt Dillon, Denise Richards
Wild Things, the 1998 “erotic thriller,” is probably more famous for the first word in “erotic thriller.”
The plot, a swirling, revolving wheel of deception, murder, sex and more deception, is almost besides the point. The film, which has a 52-percent rating on Metacritic, is remembered for the onscreen pairing of Neve Campbell and Denise Richards. The most memorable scene, of course, is the menage between the two female leads and guidance counselor Matt Dillon. In the scene, Campbell swigs from a bottle of Champagne, but according to reports, there was a fair amount of offscreen swigging to loosen nerves before rolling even began.
4. Black Swan – Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman
Like a lot of stories that center around a bottle of tequila, this one involves a bit of “he said, she said.” According to director Darren Aronofsky, the film’s stars, Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman, loosened up for their infamous sex scene with more than a few pre-shoot sips.
Kunis, now a spokesperson for Jim Beam, adamantly denied that story, saying, “There was no tequila! Not sure where that rumor came from, but it’s false.”
5. Apocalypse Now – Martin Sheen
In the iconic opening to Coppola’s Vietnam opus, a lush forest explodes into flame before fading into Martin Sheen, alone in a dreary room in Saigon. Clearly in the midst of a bender, Sheen’s hellish internal state finds release as he karate punches a mirror, flips over his bed and smears blood everywhere.
According to Sheen, the scene was filmed on his birthday, and he had “been drinking all day.” In his own words, the actor tapped into some personal demons to bring the scene to life. It stands as an iconic performance by an incredible actor and a worthy opening to one of the more difficult, amazing movies of that era.
6. Jaws – Robert Shaw
Spielberg’s summertime classic is a near-perfect film. Scene by scene, Jaws is a master class in economic storytelling, airtight scripting and pacing. Of all the memorable scenes, however, one stands out: the drunken boat conversation.
What starts out as a pissing contest over scars quickly ratchets up into Shaw’s unforgettable recounting of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. Like all good drinking nights, this devolves (evolves?) into some drunken crooning.
As Shaw explained later, he convinced Spielberg that perhaps a bit of hooch might help the actors hit the right mood. Well, a bit turned into a bunch, Shaw blacked out and shooting was suspended for the day. The next day, a (probably hungover) Shaw redelivered the amazing performance that made the final cut.
In an interview years after his starring role in Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O'Toole said that the camel cavalry assault on Aqaba was so terrifyingly out of control that the only way he could do the scene was drunk. He had co-star Omar Shariff lash him to his saddle.