April 8, 2012

This is, by no means, a scientific observation; but I think it’s obvious a lot of actors smoke cigarettes. Actually, they—like many other creative people including musicians and artists– seem to have higher tendencies to partake in the nicotine pastime. Maybe this is because creative people are generally emotionally intense; indeed, this enhanced ability to feel deeply is a prerequisite to produce great art. And, as far as feelings are concerned, not all emotions are easy to control. In Harper’s Bazaar, Nicole Kidman once admitted to smoking and confessed, “It’s an addiction.” She went on to say,“You live with a lot of complicated emotions as an actor, and they whirl around you and create havoc at times.”  This expressed havoc that makes talented actors so dynamic and alluring can also predispose them to addictive behaviors.

Acting is a pressure-packed profession. And although it takes a whole lot of people to make a movie, it’s the actor’s performance that is especially easy to scrutinize–performance-wise right down to pore size. You’re the one everyone is watching. Audiences identify films by the actors involved; it’s a Jack Nicholson movie or a Charlize Theron film. On the set of the sci-fi classic, Alien, Sigourney Weaver said smoking was a way of taking a quick break, a moment of inner relaxation amidst all the pressure.

And then there’s the cool factor. Actors may desire to be perceived as above the general public’s norms and concerns. Some might argue that merely pursuing acting is a rebellious act. Think James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause: Smoking, Cool, Rebel.

Dean once told Dennis Hopper, “Don’t ‘act.’ If you’re smoking a cigarette, smoke it. Don’t act like you’re smoking it.”  Which leads right into the next point. That is, on a practical note, many actors are actually required to smoke for their roles. An actor who does not smoke in their personal life may become addicted to cigarettes simply by committing to the portrayal of a character who puffs the nicotine weed. Sarah Jessica Parker has at least 45 TV/movie appearances in which she smokes; Holly Hunter, over 35. Remember, if you accept the role of a character who smokes, you run the very real risk of becoming addicted yourself. Cigarettes are one of the most heavily used highly addictive substances on the planet.

There are so many actors who have been known to smoke that it seems to be part of the film business culture itself. Ryan Gosling, Johnny Depp, Jennifer Aniston, Katherine Heigl, Brad Pitt, Christina Ricci are just the tip of the iceberg as far as Hollywood smokers are concerned. Click here to see more celebrities who smoke.

Whatever decision you make as a person and as an actor about smoking, it’s wise to go in prepared; look the research straight in the eye and make a conscious decision one way or the other about if you will smoke in character, in real life, both, or neither. The tidal pull of the Hollywood smoke scene will attempt to draw anyone in regardless of race, age, gender, or sexual preference. Better to know this going in, and be true to yourself. And remember, you can also consider tobacco-free cigarettes as Holly Hunter has opted to use since kicking the nicotine habit.