The images of Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart and Sean Connery smoking on screen are etched in the memories of all film fans. However, modern actors are far less likely to be smokers in real life, and even fewer smoke on screen due to MPAA regulations about smoking in films. Still, some actors still smoke in film and on television, including Abigail Spencer, whose plays Amantha on the SundanceTV series Rectify. But Spencer isn’t a smoker in real life, so she had trouble with figuring out how to get the right “smoking look” down.
Speaking with Vulture, Spencer spoke about how she actually flagged down a woman she saw smoking in order to learn from her how to look like a lifelong smoker. She reveals:
I had never smoked before playing Amantha. I thought it was going to be my kryptonite. I was cast as Amantha and then I was also going to another movie where I played someone who smoked. I didn’t want to smoke like people I’d seen in the movies. I think it’s a deeper need and I think Amantha’s been smoking since she was 12.
So I was driving around Los Angeles one day and I saw this girl in Silver Lake walking down the road with a Rite Aid plastic bag and she was smoking a cigarette and I went, “Her! That’s the girl.” I was like, “I bet she’s from the South or the Midwest. I bet she’s been smoking since she was 12.” I’d never seen anybody smoke like that. It felt just a part of her. I rolled up to her in my silent Prius, which is even creepier because you can’t hear me approaching, and I rolled down the window and I called out, “Hi! I’m so sorry. I’m not a creepy person even though I’m doing something really creepy right now. My name is Abigail and I’m an actress — I know, I know, I know — and I am developing a character right now, I’m preparing to play this role and I love the way that you smoke. Do you mind if we just sat down right now and you talked to me about your history with smoking?” We sat on the curb in Silver Lake and she taught me how to smoke. She talked about her life. She had been smoking since she was 12. She was from the Midwest. She’d come out to L.A. to become a makeup artist and she was so generous and so kind. That was my first cigarette. I shared it with her and that started my exploration. I really started interviewing people. I was like, “How do you smoke? How do you smoke? How do you smoke?” Everybody had such specific and passionate reasons. And then I realized, Oh, Amantha’s just going to have her own way that she smokes and that’s just going to be it. And that’s the story.