There are certain food scenes in movies and TV that become long-lasting memories for audiences, in part due to the care and attention paid to crafting such special moments. But whether creating these scences is worth it depends on whom you’re asking.
Eating is one thing all of us have in common, and our favorite characters become more relatable when we see them seated around a dinner table – or as Refinery 29 calls it, "eating-acting." "Eating-acting" is when eating on film is used to make characters seem more approachable or to convey emotion. Think of Brad Pitt in most of his movies or Paul Giamatti in Billions. But eating on film is often a logistical headache for film crews. Food stylists and chefs — or as Mental Floss calls them, "illusionists" — are tasked with making food and food products appear edible, delicious and photogenic. Food for film also has to look fresh for multiple takes and hours, which is why glue might stand in for milk and mashed potatoes become ice cream, Mental Floss reports.
Actors are often subjected to disgusting real and fake food for multiple takes, which could mean ingesting dozens of the same dish in one day. Food on screen really takes acting to a new level. Here’s more on what some of our favorite stars have had to endure for the sake of some of our favorite food scenes.
John Cena ate 31 empanadas for The Suicide Squad
Eating something delicious to the point of making yourself sick — we’ve all been there. And for an actor, making oneself sick with eating is sometimes part of a day’s work. ScreenRant reports that John Cena, wrestler-turned-actor who is part of the 2021 quasi-sequel The Suicide Squad, had to repeatedly eat what is normally a delicious treat for cinema’s sake: Sena’s character, Peacemaker, apparently loves empanadas. A lot.
Wasting food in real life is lame, at best. And on a film set, making sure an actor has the right amount of food left on their plate in each scene is part of what is called continuity. Cena, on the other hand, had a better idea during The Suicide Squad filming. For a rooftop scene where Peacemaker, an evil "Captain America"-style anti-hero, is supposed to eat an entire empanada, Cena decided he would eat the whole pocket-sized delight during each take as well. The dedicated actor thought doing so would make the filming more seamless.
Turns out, the film’s creative team needed to reshoot dozens of times — and Cena ate 31 empanadas before the shoot was finished. Yikes! Despite the former wrestler’s heft, that’s a lot of fried dough. The actor told ScreenRant that while the pastries didn’t cause him to vomit, one more might have sent him over the edge. Many actors have undergone bad food scenes, but Cena really went above and beyond for the sake of his character.
A pitbull licked baby food off Brad Pitt’s neck for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
"Never work with animals or children," Hollywood legend W.C. Fields is credited with saying. Brad Pitt learned this the hard way during the filming of Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.
Pitt, who played stuntman Cliff Booth in the film, appeared on Ellen and admitted that Brandy, the pitbull actor who played Booth’s pet, didn’t want to get as friendly as the script required. The loveable dog was supposed to greet Pitt with plenty of kisses, but as the human and canine actors were strangers in real life, Brandy declined to lick Pitt’s face without the actor having earned her affection first. The solution? Bring in the applesauce! While getting a well-trained dog’s love wasn’t exactly death defying, Pitt joked about the scene by comparing it to Tom Cruise’s infamous stunts.
Pitt might have more in common with Brandy than one would think. He’s one of a few celebrities known for playing characters snacking during a scene. ScreenRant dissected why Pitt has embraced noshing on film throughout his career. Pitt claimed in an interview it’s because he’s a "natural grazer." On the other hand, maybe it makes him more likeable? A reddit user found that all movies where Brad Pitt eats over 200 calories of food have been positively reviewed and financially successful. Sounds like eating on screen can’t hurt, as long as you’re Brad Pitt.
Leonardo Dicaprio ate raw meat in The Revenant
Actors go to great lengths to make a scene believable. In Leonardo Dicaprio’s case with The Revenant, it might be more appropriate to say the actor survived shooting the film.
In The Revenant Dicaprio plays Hugh Glass, the lead character who is put through the ringer of grueling events, including being attacked by a bear and being buried alive. Variety reports that the film’s director put the entire crew through extreme conditions during filming, including spending seven months on location in Canada’s frozen tundra, where temperatures fell to 40 degrees below zero. And when snow disappeared sooner than expected, the production spent millions to relocate to Argentina. Fun fact: Variety hints the relocation might have been why Dicaprio went on to make a documentary about climate change.
The Revenant takes food scenes to a new level when Dicaprio’s character eats raw bison liver in a fit of hunger. To keep it safe, the prop department made a replica from jelly for the actor to munch on screen. But Dicaprio worried the fake didn’t look right, so the actor volunteered to eat real, uncooked liver. The risky move required calls to lawyers and agents for final approval. Maybe DiCaprio wanted to mirror the grueling surroundings or to finally land an Oscar win? Dicaprio eventually revealed to Variety that the possibly disease-ridden organ burst in his mouth like a balloon. Doesn’t get more real than that!
Will Ferrell got a sugar buzz while filming Elf
The holidays are usually a time for partaking in sweet and sugary delights, and overindulging is a real possibility. Funny man Will Ferrell needed to embrace this part of the holiday spirit in his iconic role as Buddy in Elf.
As ScreenRant reports, Buddy explains in the movie that "candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup" are main food groups for elves. In one scene Ferrell is shown eating a meal of spaghetti noodles with maple syrup topped with candy. ScreenRant reports the actor admitted to struggling with his character’s diet. He said about his method acting: "That was tough. I ingested a lot of sugar in this movie and I didn’t get a lot of sleep. I constantly stayed up. But anything for the movie, I’m there. If it takes eating a lot of maple syrup, then I will—if that’s what the job calls for."
Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church got food poisoning on the set of Sideways
Some movies gain notoriety for the ingenuity it takes to fake believable food scenes. Other movies like Sideways gained a reputation for the too-real-for-comfort onscreen food. In this film Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church co-star as two buddies on a bachelor’s trip through central California wine country. The BBC revealed the relaxed set resulted in plenty of hijinks during the filming. For instance, both Giamatti and Haden Church suffered from recurring bouts of food poisoning — emphasis on recurring. The BBC reported that Giamatti was sometimes sick between takes, while Haden Church worked through a 104-degree fever.
Actors got to drink wine on the Sideways set, too. That might sound like a perk, but it depends on how you look at it. Giamatti told ShortList that the wine wasn’t the typical water-with-food-coloring he was used to when it came to drinking while playing a role. The Oscar-winning production gave actors real wine during filming to ensure features such as "wine legs" in the glass looked authentic. Giamatti even admitted to ShortList that he ended up getting drunk while shooting one of the dinner scenes. Giamatti fortunately didn’t have to talk much during the scene, but he claims viewers can tell if they pay attention.
George Clooney let a child actor get sick with ice cream while filming The Descendants
Food scenes can be some of the most memorable to watch, despite that eating is a mundane act that every human engages in, but filming meal sequences can be grueling, difficult to repeat and filling. Actor Stephanie Gould explains that anyone new to acting could fall into the trap of overeating after multiple takes. The story of Amara Miller, who plays George Clooney’s daughter in The Descendents, is one example of what can happen if an actor is unfamiliar with food scenes.
Clooney, who is notorious for pulling pranks on set, shot a lunch scene where Miller is eating ice cream. Miller dug into the desert, and seeing it was her movie debut, she probably didn’t realize she’d perform multiple takes. It’s not surprising, even though it’s a jerk move, that Clooney didn’t warn his young co-star to slow down. This is the same guy who pranks his wife Amal Clooney by having their kids pretend to eat their own poop, after all.
Miller eventually fell ill because of the ice cream, IndieWire reports. We feel you, girl. Who only takes a few bites of ice cream? No seriously, we’re asking for a friend.
Mark Hamill drank warm blue milk in Star Wars
The Star Wars franchise created an entire universe that captivated generations of space lovers. Hero Luke Skywalker appears in some form in about every film, and Mark Hamill plays the character in many of the films, including the originals. Fans of the movies might remember the distinct blue milk in A New Hope. The secret behind this concoction was finally divulged more than 40 years later.
CBR found a tweet by Hamill that revealed his distaste for the mysterious drink. Within the Star Wars universe, blue milk comes from an animal native to the planet Tatooine. In reality, the production crew used "Long Life" milk, a shelf-stable product, combined with blue food coloring. The milk is used by campers and is common in warmer countries like Tunisia, where the was also filmed. Hamill called the blue milk "oily, warm & slightly sweet" and said "it literally made me gag, but I was determined to drink it on-camera."
Hamill’s determination to be good at his job led to his role appearing over decades in the popular films. Actors — they’re just like us!
Family dinner scenes for Blue Bloods could be brutal to film
Family dinners within a TV series are an impactful, and sometimes contentious, way to get a whole cast together. Eventful dinner scenes are a staple of dramas like Parenthood and buddy comedies like Seinfeld. Another family drama, Blue Bloods, takes family unity to the extreme by filming weekly dinners.
Country Living reports how the Reagan family’s dinner scenes are part of what makes this crime drama special. But Tom Selleck, who plays the patriarch of the family, is not so enthusiastic about their filming. Selleck called the scenes "miserable," because they take up to eight hours to shoot, Country Living reports. The star noted the actors film these scenes by eating the same meals "over and over again" for hours.
It sounds like Reagan family dinners are more Groundhog Day than festive evening. At least it’s pleasant off screen thanks to the cast’s enjoyment of each other’s company, Bridget Moynahan told Country Living.
The Shining pantry scene took 148 takes
Director Stanley Kubrick is legendary for the obsessive tendencies he brought to set. One of his most famous movies, The Shining, is known for its claustrophobic and unsettling scenes featuring a family secluded in a remote hotel. The set-up allows for a range of intimate food scenes as viewers follow along with the family’s unraveling life, Food and Film reports. Food scenes in the film include actor Shelley Duvall, who plays Wendy, eating a sandwich with her young son and taking her husband, played by Jack Nicholson, sunny-side-up eggs and bacon in bed.
Some of the more famous food scenes involve the pantry and the hotel’s head chef, Dick Hallorann, as played by actor Scatman Crothers. The pantry is stocked full of food despite the empty hotel, and The Guardian reported the pantry scene where young Danny reveals his ability to "shine" took a gut-wrenching 148 takes. This is for a simple scene where Crothers’s character sits at a table and speaks with Danny. How hard could that be? Spoiler alert: the child actor stopped acting after this film.
Emilia Clark ate a horse heart in Game of Thrones
The popular Game of Thrones series is infamous for its violent scenes. Fans are no stranger to shock value since it often seems it’s the goal (and thrill) of the fantasy show. In the show Emilia Clarke plays the formidable Daenerys Targaryen, who endures more than her fair share of grisly events. GOT Fandom explains how in one scene, Targaryn, who is pregnant at that point, is told she must eat an entire raw stallion heart to ensure she has a strong child. To make matters worse, she isn’t allowed to regurgitate any of the heart, which could be a bad omen.
Clarke told the Mirror the production crew made the hearts out of solidified jam that tasted like "bleach and raw pasta." The actor says she probably ate a whopping 28 of the putrid hearts. The character is victorious in finishing the organ, but unlike with the storyline, Clarke needed a spit bucket for all the vomiting she endured during filming.
Fish were flown in for filming Midsommar
Not all food scenes are difficult for actors, but for the crew, it might be a different story. Insider reports how chef and food stylist Zoe Hegedus accomplished the food scenes in the sunlit horror film Midsommar, which takes place during the Swedish Midsummer festival. It’s a celebration centered around a meal, so filming required a host of food preparation.
Insiderreports Hegedus baked more than 100 pies and set up 50 prop yolks and 200 real egg yolks for the dinner scenes. The most difficult dish to make involved herring, Hegedus told Insider. In the film Florence Pugh plays one of the main characters, Dani, who is supposed to eat a fresh herring in a scene as part of demonstrating one of the communities traditions.
Herring is common in Sweden, where the movie is set, according to the food stylist, but the crew shot in Hungary, making the request more difficult than expected. Hegedus searched to several markets to find a fresh fish with its head and tail intact. According to Insider, the stylist ended up shipping 20 herrings from France and prepared 10 different dishes as options for Pugh and the director. Pugh managed to nail the shot in seven or eight takes.
Diane Lane called the Paris Can Wait food scenes "trigonometry"
Not all food in film is as delicious as it looks on screen. "Move magic" is sometimes created with fake, plastic spreads that never melt, which actors pretend to dine on during filming. The best sets, in our humble opinion, invest in a real dining experience. But real food also makes filming much more complicated.
In Paris Can Wait, actor Diane Lane played a food lover traveling through France. Bon Appetit reports that the 28-day shoot featured a two-day food marathon filled with croissants, potato-coated fish and escargot. In multiple scenes where Lane and co-star Arnaud Viard travel the countryside, the prop team had to monitor and replace each bite of French cheese the stars ate during filming.
Lane detailed the strategic nightmare it can be to recreate each dining scene. She told Bon Appetit food scenes can feel like "algebra" or "trigonometry" when trying to remember where to place an elbow or which word is spoken before taking a sip of wine. Thankfully, prop people and food stylists support the actors by knowing, for example, how much wine is left in a glass in each scene or the number of carrots on a plate before a character takes a bite.
Speaking of wine, Lane admitted the wine on the Paris Can Wait set was actually water tinted with food coloring. It looks like the actor was only dined, and not wined, on this set.