Drugs and Alcohol Onscreen: Here’s How Actors Fake Their Vices

Prop experts Jeff Butcher and Eric Cheripka reveal some tricks of the trade.
Denzel Washington in "Flight"
Denzel Washington in "Flight"
Denzel Washington in "Flight"

Have you ever wondered what fake drugs and alcohol seen in movies are made of? Prop experts Jeff Butcher (“The Wrestler”) and Eric Cheripka (“American Gangster”) have revealed some tricks of the trade via Refinery29.

For cocaine, Butcher usually uses inositol, a vitamin found in plants and animals that is commonly used to cut the real drug. “It’ll give you a slight energy lift because it’s a Vitamin B,” he said. The vitamin gives people such a strong lift that, according to Butcher, while filming “The Wrestler,” Mickey Rourke asked him, “Are you sure there’s nothing in this, I feel like I’m getting a lift?”

READ MORE: ‘Take the 10’ Trailer: Tony Revolori’s Netflix Comedy Involves Drugs, Car Chases and Andy Samberg

In a perfect world, the drug would look as realistic as possible in appearance without actors having to actually snort any substance. To accomplish that, Butcher said he is working on developing a straw that “would suck up the powder, which you could wrap around a dollar bill whatever, but it would get caught in the chamber so it wouldn’t go up the actor’s nose.”

While marijuana is not difficult to fake onscreen, what proves a bit challenging is to simulate the smoking of it when actors simply do not know how to smoke. “You know people who really smoke, really look like they smoke, and actors try to play them —  if they’re smoking and if they don’t really smoke often they don’t know how to hold a cigarette and they don’t know how to hold a joint or whatever, the way someone who actually does it would,” Butcher said. “I guess if we’re talking about weed, what I usually do, both for visually and if they’re smoking it, I get the stuff from a company called International Oddities. It’s some kind of herb that looks like weed but doesn’t get you high.”

READ MORE: ‘Snowfall’ Teaser: John Singleton Tackles the First Crack Cocaine Epidemic in 1980s Los Angeles

For meth, they usually use a resin; once it hardens it is broken into little pieces to make it look like the real deal. In the case of the AMC hit series “Breaking Bad,” a dyed aqua blue resin was used, according to Cheripka.

When you see actors drinking shots of whiskey, they are really drinking iced tea. Well, except for Johnny Deep, who, according to Butcher, while filming a scene for “Arizona Dream,” reportedly drank about 11 shots of Jack Daniels.

For heroin, prop experts use mannitol, which is usually used to cut the real drug. This was the substance that Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe ingested in 2007’s “American Gangster.” “I think the boring truth is that most actors and even more directors know that actually using drugs in a drug scene is almost always a really bad idea,” Butcher concluded.

Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.