After pounding back yet another drink, a man leans on the bar and utters the words, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” Humphrey Bogart’s performance as Rick Blaine in the iconic “Casablanca” scene led many to wonder whether the actor was really drunk or if it was a part of movie magic.
Here’s everything you need to know about how actors prepare to play drunk, what goes into creating prop alcohol, and instances where actors actually drank alcohol for the role, with special insight from professionals in the industry.
“Mad Men” Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC
While some performances make you believe the actor must have been intoxicated while filming, actors do not usually drink actual alcohol on set. Instead, they are given prop drinks, which look like alcoholic beverages but do not contain any level of alcohol. This allows the actors to behave as though they are drinking without actually imbibing.
“The Irishman” Courtesy Netflix
- Performance issues: Actors are discouraged from drinking real alcohol on set since doing so could inhibit their performance. The actor’s job is to deliver their character’s emotions and actions as if they were real. These may include any variety of behaviors such as laughing, crying, smoking, fighting, and yes, being drunk. Although it may sound like a good idea to be drunk to play drunk, being under the influence makes it difficult to carry out any task. If drinking, actors might not understand what the director is requesting from their performance. They may also not feel comfortable being under the effects of alcohol and losing their ability to fully control their performance.
- Multiple takes: If actors consume alcohol during each take, they will need to drink alcohol repeatedly, which could result in becoming too drunk to perform.
- Safety concerns: Consuming alcohol while on set could lead to safety hazards. As alcohol affects motor skills, an actor can lose balance, trip, and become injured. This would become a liability issue for the production company.
- Professionalism: Being drunk could cause the actor to become angry, emotional, or otherwise unprofessional in behavior. “Indulging in any controlled substances on set is never a good idea,” says actor Kazy Tauginas (“The Equalizer 2,” “John Wick,” “The Blacklist”). “Professionals don't drink [or] do drugs while working.”
“Bad Moms” Courtesy STX Entertainment
Actors often drink prop alcohol, or non-alcoholic drinks made to look like alcoholic beverages, in lieu of the sauce. Here’s a breakdown of the different types of prop alcohol:
- What do actors drink instead of beer? Non-alcoholic beer
- What do actors drink instead of whiskey? Iced tea
- What do actors drink instead of vodka? Water
- What do actors drink instead of champagne? Ginger ale mixed with juice
- What do actors drink instead of white wine? Apple juice, diluted sports drinks, or water with food coloring
- What do actors drink instead of red wine? Grape, cranberry, blueberry, or pomegranate juice
“And Just Like That...” Credit: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO Max
Here is some advice on how to act drunk:
- Slurred speech: Slowing speech, slurring certain sounds, and otherwise creating the feeling of impaired speech can make an actor seem drunk.
- Loss of balance: Actors might fall over, sway, or otherwise demonstrate poor coordination and slowed reaction time to appear drunk.
- Emotional swings: Since being intoxicated often means feeling one’s emotions a bit too much, actors may demonstrate extreme emotional states when portraying a drunk character. They may even vacillate between these emotions to really sell the swill.
- Physical looseness: “My approach to playing drunk requires allowing myself to be loose in my body,” says Tauginas. “It takes effort when you’re really drunk to make it appear as if you have bodily control. You have a hard time stabilizing yourself and focusing. When someone is drunk, many times they’re trying to act as though they are not as drunk as they really are.”
Take this clip of William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum playing drunk (and different types of drunk, at that!) as Frank and Fiona Gallagher in “Shameless,” for example:
“The Wolf of Wall Street” Courtesy Paramount Pictures
Although actors usually choose to eschew booze for a role, there are of course exceptions to the rule. Here are a few times that actors partook in drinking while on the job.
- Robert Shaw, “Jaws”: At times, actors consume alcohol because they believe in authenticity. In “Jaws,” Steven Spielberg permitted Shaw to drink alcohol before the famous Indianapolis speech scene where he was meant to be inebriated. However, Shaw became too intoxicated to perform and even had to be carried to his chair. Spielberg filmed the final scene when Shaw was sober.
- Shia LaBeouf, “Lawless”: Another instance where an actor drank for the sake of authenticity was when LaBeouf consumed moonshine—which has an extremely high alcohol content—leading director John Hillcoat to bar him from the set.
- Fred Astaire, “Holiday Inn”: Before delivering a drunken dance scene, Astaire consumed two shots of bourbon before the first take and one shot with each take after. The seventh take made it into the film.
- Martin Sheen, “Apocalypse Now”: There are also the occasional times when an actor shows up drunk, but not for filming purposes. Sheen admitted to being “dangerously drunk” on the set of “Apocalypse Now,” but director Francis Ford Coppola decided to go forward with filming, leading to the film’s raw and artistically unhinged opening scene. On his own account, Sheen punched the mirror, cut his hand, and bled as they filmed.