In the movie Lost in Translation, Bill Murray plays a surly movie star filming a whiskey commercial. Frustrated with his performance, he tells the director, "This is not whiskey. This is iced tea. If you gave me real whiskey—" well, we can imagine what he’s getting at. In fact, a famous Hollywood saying about actors on set says, "If they’re drinking whiskey, it’s tea. If they’re drinking tea, it’s whiskey."
Some actors choose to ignore the teetotalers and their methods, and just skip the middle man. Acting drunk is fine and good, but being drunk, well, that may just give them the performance they’ve been looking for. These drunk actors turned in some great performances.
Denise Richards and Neve Campbell in ‘Wild Things’
It doesn’t matter who you are: if you find yourself kissing a girl for the first time in your life, naked in a pool, surrounded by the director of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and a set full of teamsters, a cocktail or eight might just be in order.
In fact, as Wild Things star Denise Richards recalled to Entertainment Weekly about the steamy scene, "We were shooting at night and I just sat there and thought, ‘It’s four o’clock in the morning. I’m half-naked in a swimming pool. I’m making out with Neve Campbell. What am I doing here?"
This was no ordinary kiss either. As the former Mrs. Charlie Sheen wrote about in her autobiography, Real Girl Next Door, "The producers asked if I was okay French-kissing Neve on camera. Usually it’s that pretend movie kiss, but they wanted a kiss kiss. I thought, ‘Okay, I’m sure she has nice lips.’" That’s where the margaritas came in.
"Neve and I went into her trailer and shared a pitcher of margaritas before we did the scene," she said. "Neither of us had ever kissed another girl. … Everyone has a first time."
Campbell agreed, telling Rolling Stone, "It was fun … We just sorta went in and did it. Actually, we mixed margaritas and brought a bottle of wine in my trailer and got drunk first." (Lord knows what kind of drinking games they would have played.)
Daniel Radcliffe in the Harry Potter movies
Being The Boy Who Lived isn’t the easiest gig, especially if you’re a young actor still trying to find his way in the world. By the time Daniel Radcliffe turned 18 (a little later than the above photo, where he merely looks like a drunk actor) and was filming his sixth Harry Potter movie, he found himself lost in the drink, telling British GQ, "I became so reliant on [alcohol] to enjoy stuff … There were a few years when I was just enamored with the idea of living some sort of famous person’s lifestyle that really isn’t suited to me."
Those problems led him down the rabbit hole. "Seriously," he said, "in the last three years of drinking, I blacked out nearly every time. Blacking out was my thing."
Still, he tried to keep some distance between his work and his whistle-wetting, but that divide proved increasingly more difficult to navigate. He told Heat Magazine, "I can honestly say I never drank at work on Harry Potter. I went into work still drunk, but I never drank at work. I can point to many scenes where I’m just gone. Dead behind the eyes."
We’ll just have to leave it to eagle-eyed viewers to figure out what scenes Potter was blotto in, but thankfully, the boy behind the wizard has been sober for four years and counting now.
Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick in ‘Drinking Buddies’
When you call your movie Drinking Buddies, expect your stars to get plastered on set. That’s exactly what happened here, as seemingly the entire cast of Buddies drank real alcohol just about the entire time. As Olivia Wilde put it in an interview with the show Off Camera with Sam Jones, getting for-real drunk while filming wasn’t just fun, it was practical. The film’s setting was a brewery, after all, actually making it cheaper and easier to use real beer rather than fake it with water. It makes you wonder why more films aren’t conveniently set in breweries.
As for Anna Kendrick, Wilde claims nobody told her about the on-set drinking practices. So Kendrick arrived for her first scene, took a big gulp of what she thought was water, and was almost immediately blitzed. (Kendrick, as Wilde explained and your eyes can confirm, is incredibly tiny, so she doesn’t need a lot of booze to get hammered.) As Wilde put it, "[Kendrick] was like, ‘What’s happening? What are you guys doing?’ and we were like, ‘Oh, we forgot to tell you — the beer’s all real and everyone’s drunk. It’s 10 a.m., welcome to Drinking Buddies.’"
Margot Robbie in ‘Wolf of Wall Street’
Margot Robbie is one of the hottest actresses working today, and we mean that in just about every sense of the word. Still, her big break might never have happened, if it weren’t for a helpful crew member and a little nip of "liquid confidence."
On the set of Wolf of Wall Street, Robbie had to bare all and wasn’t exactly thrilled about it. As she told The New York Times, "My first racy scene was the standing in the doorway, totally naked … So that was diving in headfirst. And I was petrified. I’d come to work that morning and I was shaking, so scared, like, ‘I can’t do this.’"
A helpful member of the crew stepped forward with a flask of tequila, because why wouldn’t he have that on him? "And I was like, ‘it’s 9 in the morning!’" she recalls. "And he’s like, ‘We’re in New York!’ So I was like, ‘Okay, hook a brother up!’" She ended up doing three shots, which proved enough to get her out of her clothes and into the scene. "It really helped stop my hands shaking, and gave me a little boost of confidence."
Her advice to anyone looking to do a high stakes scene in the buff? "Acting 101: three shots of tequila, and you’ll be fine."
Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Passengers’
Filming a sex scene, even if it’s not "real," might be one of the most difficult challenges for any actor to tackle, especially if it’s their first time. That was certainly the case with Jennifer Lawrence, who told Hollywood Reporter that, to prepare for her sex scene with Chris Pratt in Passengers, she got "really, really drunk." It wasn’t because nobody knew what they were doing — rather, according to her, everything went very well and there were no disasters. And it certainly wasn’t because filming a love scene with Chris Pratt is a bad fate. (It isn’t!) It was more nerves, both over the scene and the fact that Pratt was married.
That marriage part really weighed on Lawrence’s mind afterward. As she put it, "I was like, ‘What have I done? I don’t know.’ And he was married. And it was going to be my first time kissing a married man, and guilt is the worst feeling in your stomach." Her guilt was so severe she wound up calling her mom to verify it was OK to film a scripted sex scene with a married guy. That’s probably a conversation most mothers and daughters never have.
Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in ‘Fight Club’
There were several improvised moments during the filming of Fight Club. When Edward Norton’s character, The Narrator, hits Tyler Durden for the first time, you can see Brad Pitt’s shock and pain as he screams, "You hit me in the ear." That’s because director David Fincher had promised Pitt there would be no contact, before secretly telling Norton to swing away.
But another bit of spontaneity comes from the scene in which a drunk Durden and The Narrator smack golf balls from their house on Paper Street. The scene, in fact, isn’t even in the script. Norton and Pitt, who had bonded on set, had gotten drunk of their own volition and started smacking golf balls at the catering trucks. When Fincher saw them, he thought it fit their rebellious character, and decided to shoot it.
That’s why, on the DVD commentary, Pitt recalls fondly, "I do remember that we were semi-trashed here."
It’s interesting to note that this scene, even though it was improvised, contains one of the first clues that Tyler Durden may not be who he appears. Even though both of the boys are hitting balls, the alarm doesn’t sound until Norton’s Narrator hits a car.
Martin Sheen in ‘Apocalypse Now’
Of all the tumultuous shoots in the history of Hollywood, none are quite as legendary as the set of Apocalypse Now. For much of the film, the cast and crew were simply adrift in the wilds of Manila, prey to the overgrown jungle and schizophrenic weather. Martin Sheen, the lead of the film, was a last-minute replacement, when director Francis Ford Coppola decided Harvey Keitel wasn’t working out. When Sheen arrived, weeks into the shoot, he found a set in chaos and dove right in. That’s how he found himself, on his 36th birthday, sloshed in a hotel room, trying to take direction when he couldn’t even stand upright.
As he told The Guardian, "I was swacked—couldn’t hardly stand up. Francis tried to stop me when I hit the mirror—myself, the enemy—and I said, ‘No, stay away. I want this for me.’ I felt I wanted to wrestle this demon. It was planned, but unplanned. When the rushes came in, I said, ‘No, I never want to see that.’ And I never did, until it was released."
How did Sheen get to a place where he was willing to chop his hand open, and smear gushing blood over his face? As a crew member from the film explained, "Francis kept Martin drunk for two days before that scene, kept him locked up. Francis kept telling him terrible things like how evil we all are, that we are all killers. It was devastating." With friends like these, maybe it isn’t surprising that Sheen had a heart attack on set weeks later.
Shia LaBeouf in ‘Lawless’
As Shia LaBeouf told the tabloid Page Six that, while filming Lawless, he tackled his role of a moonshiner by, well, drinking tons of moonshine. It was certainly effective — it apparently made him so drunk, he scared the bejeezus out of his co-star, Mia Wasikowska. According to LaBeouf, she was totally spooked by his drunken aggressiveness, even calling her lawyer to try to get out of filming the movie. LaBeouf claims he didn’t mean to be that way. It’s just that, as he put it, "when I showed up on set … my f**king eyes looked like this and my face … had that drunk bloat that I needed, that I couldn’t have if that wasn’t going on." In short, he wouldn’t have been able to effectively play the part had he downed a Bud Light and faked it. So now you know: even if you feel getting drunk on-camera is a good idea, stay away from the bad-news moonshine.
Billy Bob Thornton in ‘Bad Santa’
Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa character is the world’s worst, most drunken mall Santa. To properly play such a degenerate, Billy Bob apparently ditched the cookies and milk, focusing entirely on getting stone-drunk. As he told Film 4, "Even in a comedy, if you’re going to play a guy like this, you can’t be sort of drunk, you know? And I wasn’t sort of drunk. You have to go completely into it." So yeah, he really dedicated himself to his character’s take on Santa.
As far as the film’s children go, his Santa can barely tolerate them. Thornton, meanwhile, adores the little tykes, a feeling that can get in the way of playing one of the worst people ever. As he put it, "I love children, I’m crazy about them, but I had to ignore that fact and play the part." Most likely, alcohol played a big role in forgetting he enjoys the kids his character curses out. Luckily, the kids didn’t seem to care. Thornton claims they were "so nonplussed, they couldn’t care less about cursing." Good job, snowflakes.
Jan Michael Vincent in ‘No Rest for the Wicked’
There are lighthearted tales of actors getting a little soused on set, and then there are stories of desperation and drunkenness so depressing, they’re hard to even comprehend. The story of Jan Michael Vincent is, most definitely, the latter.
Once the hottest actor on television, thanks to his hit CBS series Airwolf and beefcake looks, Vincent earned a record $200,000 per episode. By the time his role in No Rest for the Wicked, a low budget B-movie, rolled around, he was a man just barely holding it together. In 1998, the only gigs that would employ him were low-budget exploitation movies, looking to cash in on his name. From threadbare sci-fis to straight up soft-core porn, he said yes to everyone that offered, and then made them regret it.
As behind the scenes footage from No Rest for the Wicked shows, Vincent was too drunk to deliver his lines, even as other actors fed them to him from off camera. Confused, he would just riff, answering his own lines over and over again until the director could get something usable. At times, he couldn’t even hold his head up.
Sadly, this was far from rock bottom for the once superstar, who today is so riddled from his drug and alcoholic addictions that he’s lost a leg and much of his memory. He claims to not remember a vicious car accident that nearly took his life, or his own daughter’s age.
Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’
A reviewer once described Peter O’Toole’s performance in Lawrence of Arabia, in which he leads a charge on the port of Aqaba, as having "messianic fury." O’Toole’s response? "’Messianic fury’? I was pissed as a pillow!"
Indeed, Peter O’Toole was almost as famous for his drinking as he was for his acting. He once took an young understudy by the name of Michael Caine out for a few drinks. When they awoke in a strange apartment with two women, O’Toole said it was going to be a tough Sunday to get through. One of the women told him it was Monday.
By the time O’Toole’s starring role in Lawrence of Arabia came about, he was a master at on set drinking. His costar, Omar Sharif, could barely keep up. During the famous Aqaba scene, Sharif was terrified of falling off his camel. He considered tying himself to it, just in case. When he asked O’Toole what he planned on doing, the blue-eyed thespian responded, "Well, I’m going to get drunk." Sharif liked this idea even better, and the two proceeded to get sloshed on brandy and milk. When they finished shooting, O’Toole recalled that Sharif was "upside-down, hugging the camel’s belly." O’Toole, of course, delivered one of the most famous performances in film history, no doubt inspiring countless actors to give brandy and milk a whirl.
Richard Burton in ‘Under Milk Wood’
Peter O’Toole wasn’t one to drink alone. In fact, he had a hellraising posse, of sorts, a group of legendary English thespians who dedicated their lives to drunkenly and lecherously carousing as much as humanly possible. Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, and the late, great Richard Burton were part of this crew, and boy are there some stories about them. O’Toole once said, "We heralded the ’60s. Me, Burton, Richard Harris—we did in public what everyone else did in private then, and does for show now."
Burton seems to have had a more complicated relationship with the drink. He chronicled, in his diaries, the disgust he felt when he sobered up. How drinking caused him to fight with the love of his life, Elizabeth Taylor, and do stupid things, like hit on their daughter’s nanny.
Still, he couldn’t stop himself. When starred in the 1972 film Under the Milk Wood, with O’Toole and Taylor, he did his best to keep it together. However, what he considers his best, and what the rest of the world might, differ wildly. The then 47-year-old famously told the film’s director, Andrew Sinclair, "I am not drinking on your film. That means only one bottle of vodka a day. I’m sober on two, but when I’m drinking, it is three or more."
Sinclair has since described the experience of directing these three legendary lushes as "fixing a weekend between Howard Hughes, Queen Elizabeth II, and Puck."
Robert Shaw in ‘Jaws’
Robert Shaw liked to drink. Don’t believe him? Just ask. "Can you imagine being a movie star and having to take it seriously without a drink?" he once said. "I agree with Richard Burton that drink gives poetry to life. Drink for actors is an occupational hazard born largely out of fear."
Sadly, the drink giveth, and the drink taketh away. Or at least, it nearly did on the set of Jaws. Shaw was due to give a particularly complicated, lengthy, and moving monologue on set one day. Apocalypse Now scribe John Milius had written the first draft. Unfortunately, it was ten meandering pages, far too long for the scene. Shaw, an accomplished playwright and author took a crack at it, shaping it into one of the most legendary monologues in film history.
He then made an unwise choice, asking director Steven Spielberg if he could have a bit to drink before the scene, to loosen up and capture the right energy. Spielberg acquiesced, only to have Shaw show up blackout drunk.
As the director told Entertainment Weekly, "I had two cameras on the scene, and we never got through the scene, he was just too far gone. So I wrapped … At about 2 o’clock in the morning my phone rings, and it’s Robert. He had a complete blackout and had no memory of what had gone down that day. He said, ‘Steven, tell me I didn’t embarrass you.’ He was very sweet, but he was panic-stricken. He said, ‘Steven, please tell me I didn’t embarrass you. What happened? Are you going to give me a chance to do it again?’ I said, ‘Yes, the second you’re ready, we’ll do it again.’ The next morning he came to the set, he was ready at 7:30 and out of make-up and it was like watching Olivier on stage."
John Leguizamo and Bob Hoskins in ‘Super Mario Brothers’
Most people insist the Super Mario Brothers movie is completely terrible, probably because it is. You’ll hear virtually nobody defend it, least of all those who worked on it. Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, who played Mario and Luigi, are no different. Both despised working on the movie and, according to a Leguizamo interview with Vulture, they were "miserable" almost the entire time. Perhaps the only actor who could get through filming that garbage was a drunk actor because they got drunk a lot on set, probably to forget why they came to work.
One such booze-happy session resulted in Leguizamo breaking Hoskins’ hand. As Leguizamo explained, he was drunk and driving the Mario Brothers van. Even while sober, Leguizamo knows he’s a bad driver, and here he was driving while very not sober. At one point, Hoskins had his arm around the van’s open sliding door. Leguizamo, presumably for no reason besides the booze telling him to, accelerated and quickly stopped. This sent the van door sliding backward and into Hoskins’ fingers, shattering them. If you ever lose a bet and have to watch this movie again, check for Mario sporting a cute pink cast on his hand. Luigi did that, the monster.
Orson Welles in ‘Paul Masson Wine Commercial’
Orson Welles was, without a doubt, one of Hollywood’s most brilliant filmmakers, responsible for what many consider to be the greatest movie ever made, Citizen Kane. And yet, even with all of his gifts, he couldn’t hide when he was three sheets to the wind.
Late in his career, with some distance from his glory days, Welles seemed like a man on a mission to make money anywhere he could. Besides playing the planet-eating robot Unicron in The Transformers: The Movie, he signed a lucrative deal to be the spokesman for Paul Masson Wines. Now, he was never particularly happy about having to do the actual work, often complaining about the copy of the ads.
"He’d get a text," recalls director Gary Graver, "and … say, ‘They’re not gonna have me say this, that this wine is finer than a Stradivarius!’ So he didn’t." He was dropped for disparaging the company, and claiming to be on a diet, and off of his substantial wine habit. But before he was let go, he took part in one of the most legendarily messed-up commercial shoots in history.
Drunk as a skunk, the Shakespearean-trained actor did his darnedest to muddle through, bellowing odd sounds, when he wasn’t completely distracted by something off camera. The footage shows a man one glass of champagne away from yelling "Rosebud" and passing out at the table. This must be why they say, "Never get high on your own supply." The shoot was such a disaster, it’s become something of a pop culture touchstone, being spoofed on shows like The Critic.
Thankfully, going off of the finished commercial, he managed to keep it together long enough to completely rerecord the dialogue. Still, if you look closely, you can tell that there’s no one home behind those eyes.
Robert Newton in ‘Waterfront’
Robert Newton, perhaps most famous for playing Long John Silver in the 1950 movie Treasure Island, was a notorious lush. In fact, when a producer once confronted Newton, saying, "Your friend David Niven says you are a big drunk," Newton responded, "My friend Niven is a master of understatement."
As legend has it, the famously drunk actor was once so drunk, he showed up to the set of the wrong movie. The director, realizing his luck, had Newton shoot four scenes before he was dragged off.
But if one story exemplifies the sort of profane insanity of working with Mr. Newton, it was from the set of Waterfront. According to the book Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, and Oliver Reed, Newton was being picked up one day by his costar, a young Richard Burton (yes, that Richard Burton). When the car wouldn’t start, Newton attacked it with a horsewhip. Finally, no thanks to the inebriated star, the car started, and the men were off to the set, drinking the whole way.
Upon their arrival, Newton’s dresser had an issue with what the actor was wearing, or more to the fact, what he wasn’t wearing. Namely, pants or underwear. When the dresser said, "you can’t go on like that," Newton wondered why not. "Because there’s something missing, sir." Newton responded, "Thank you for pointing that out. Very grateful." He then proceeded to lift his shirt, exposing his bits and pieces, and screamed for "Make-up!"