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10 Crazy Ways Actors Prepared For Drug Addict Roles

by Max Batbrick
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Method acting has always been preferred by some Hollywood actors who sought to perfect their craft and create an authentic performance. But playing the part of a drug addict can be especially tricky, as actors can only dive in so far when it comes to immersing themselves into their roles.

10John Travolta
Pulp Fiction (1994)

The highly successful 1994 film Pulp Fiction, one of the most influential movies of its time, featured three separate but interlocking stories involving two gangster-style assassins. One of the assassins, Vincent Vega, was a heroin addict, played by John Travolta.

To prepare for the scenes where Travolta’s character would be under the influence of the drug, he received key advice from an ex-junkie friend of writer and director Quentin Tarantino on how to come close to what a heroin high might feel like. The advice: get plastered on tequila while relaxing in a hot bath.[1] Travolta did just that, joined by his wife to conduct this important research.

9Leonardo Dicaprio
The Basketball Diaries (1995)

It was widely rumored that Leonardo DiCaprio experimented with drugs as part of his preparation for his role as Jim Carroll in The Basketball Diaries, but DiCaprio fully denied the rumors. The movie told the story of Carroll’s teenage years, which featured a fall to drug addiction.

How DiCaprio did prepare, however, was learning to mimic the voice patterns of an addict—something he mastered to a science. The producers hired a former addict as a consultant to teach the young actor at the time.

“The voice: you go down an octave. Even when you raise your voice it’s like you got this frog in your throat,” DiCaprio once said in an interview.[2]“It’s not necessarily being tired and it’s not necessarily like being drunk. It’s sort of like your body becomes jelly, and all your bones and everything become completely relaxed. You just feel at peace. Supposedly. I don’t know. I’ve never done it. Right?”

8Gary Oldman
Sid And Nancy (1986)

Gary Oldman was initially uninterested in playing the role of Sid Vicious in the 1986 biopic Sid and Nancy, a film about the life of the most famous member of the British punk rock band The Sex Pistols. In fact, Oldman turned the role down twice before his agent (and the large salary being offered) changed his mind.

But once he took the role, he immersed himself into it completely. The movie centered on the relationship Sid Vicious had with his American girlfriend, Nancy Spungen (played by Chloe Webb) and their addiction to heroin. To prepare for his role as a junkie and achieve the thin look, Oldman limited his diet to nothing but “steamed fish and lots of melon.” He was so committed that he had to be hospitalized for malnourishment.[3]

7Heath Ledger
Candy (2006)

Heath Ledger starred in the 2006 film Candy about the love between a poet and an artist and their shared addiction to heroin. Ledger, who starred as the poet Dan, had to put his love of surfing aside for this role. The beach-loving Aussie banished himself from the Sun and hid in darkness to achieve the pale look of a junkie.[4]

His preparation didn’t end there. He hung out with an actual junkie in Sydney, who showed him on a prosthetic arm the best ways for addicts to inject. “The arm has fully functioning veins so that the addicts can learn to hit up better,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing stuff.”

6Jason Patric And Jennifer Jason Leigh
Rush (1991)

5Rush is about two cops, played by Jason Patric and Jennifer Jason Leigh, going undercover to investigate a drug dealer. The problem is the two go a little too deep in their work and get hooked on the heroin that they’re using for their cover.

Leigh said she spent a lot of time interviewing drug addicts to achieve an authentic behavior for the role. “What I was looking for was how the addiction grew, and the feelings on the drugs, the feelings after the drugs,” she said. “For example, ‘How did you feel three hours later? How did you feel the next morning? Were you cold, were you hot, were you sweaty? Was your mouth dry?’ All these things help me in terms of my behavior.”[5]

Her costar, Patric saw authenticity as just as important. He insisted on using real hypodermic needles in his arm during filming.

5Nicolas Cage
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

When Nicolas Cage started preparing to play the role of an alcoholic who loses everything in Leaving Las Vegas, he began to learn things about alcoholism he didn’t know before. “It blew my mind that people who drink too much over long periods of time can develop hallucinations, go into delirium tremens,” he told Roger Ebert in an interview.[6]

Cage said he interviewed “many drunks” to gather what information he could to play the suicidal alcoholic in the film. What he found was that there is a lot to do with the stomach for alcoholics who are withdrawing. “The stomach shrinks and contracts like a fist, and the alcohol’s like this injection that goes into the body and relaxes the stomach,” he said. “So the performance really largely came from the stomach for me.”

4Ewan Mcgregor
Trainspotting (1996)

The 1996 movie Trainspotting is about a group of heroin addicts that not only provides humorous entertainment but also portrays some of the terrors that can result from drug addiction. To prepare to play the part of junkie Mark Renton in the film, actor Ewan McGregor lost 26 pounds. He says he did this by eating only grilled food and replacing beer with wine and “lots of gin instead.” Sacrifices.

McGregor did admit that he and his fellow cast members toyed with the idea of doing heroin for research purposes. But he ultimately decided against it. “The more research I did, the less I wanted to do it,” he said. “I’m not a method actor at all, so to take heroin for the part would just be an excuse to take heroin.”[8]

3Samuel L. Jackson
Jungle Fever (1991)

What helped Samuel L. Jackson the most for his role as a drug addict in the 1991 film Jungle Fever was this was the first movie that he did without any drugs in his system. Jackson was able to use his own experience of drug abuse to help him play his part. In fact, he was released from rehab just two weeks before filming began.[8]

So though he was high during the filming of his prior movies, it was sobriety that ironically helped him get deeper into the character of Gator, a character who was crack addict in Jungle Fever.

2Jared Leto
Requiem For A Dream (2000)

Jared Leto is well known for his method acting, completely committing himself to his roles so much so that we may sometimes wonder if he remembers he’s just acting. While filming the movie Suicide Squad, he really immersed himself into the psychotic role of the Joker, to the point that he maintained character offset and gave his fellow cast members really creepy gifts.

When he played a heroin junkie in the 2000 movie Requiem for a Dream, Leto of course did everything short of using drugs to commit to the role. He said he spent weeks living with drug addicts, watching them “shoot up dope” while he shot up with water in his syringe. Leto says he lost 25 pounds for the role, starving himself to the point that he started to faint on set.[9]

1Leonardo Dicaprio
The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013)

The 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street about stockbroker Jordan Belfort centered on the greed, corruption, and hard drug use that fueled the life of Belfort in the ’80s. One of the funnier scenes in the movie is when Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, overdoses on Quaaludes with his friend Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). One of the ways DiCaprio prepared for this scene was by having none other than Belfort himself roll on the floor reenacting what it’s like to be on Quaaludes, while DiCaprio filmed him.

But he admitted a lot of his research came from watching a YouTube video of a guy that is trying to get beer, but is too drunk and rolling on the ground. DiCaprio studied this video on loop for the part. “That was a huge inspiration for me,” he said.[10]

fact checked by Jamie Frater