We Don't Talk Enough About: Actors 'Drinking' Out of Empty Cups
Forget streaming services and Marvel movies. Bad prop acting is what’s destroying film and television, one vacant coffee cup at a time.
We all have our weird entertainment pet peeves. My husband—who thinks he has good facial recognition, but doesn’t at all—is tormented by commercials that feature celebrities, or seem to feature celebrities, but don’t call them out specifically, leaving him to wonder if he’s supposed to recognize them. That deranged Brie Larson car commercial is a perfect example. Then there’s the friend of mine who is wholly unable to process a TV or film with bad hair or makeup work. Another has zero tolerance for things that are explicitly set in a particular town/city/corner of the world but are clearly filmed on backlots and cheap locations in Los Angeles, Canada, or Georgia. And another who latches on to continuity errors like it’s his job. The whole thing is sort of like the Baader–Meinhof phenomenon, or the frequency illusion. Once you notice a common quirk or failing on screen, it starts to practically scream its existence at you in everything you watch, forever damning you to eternal fixation.
I, for one, am happy to suspend my disbelief when it comes to many, many things, including the things listed above, but cannot stand car chases of any kind when the clear solution to pretty much all of them would be to simply shoot out the tires. To be fair, it’s also very fun to shout “just shoot out the tires!!!!” though it will inevitably annoy the shit out of your viewing companions. But that’s not my biggest irritant. The thing that I have zero, and I mean ZERO tolerance for in movies and TV is empty drinking vessels, and the actors who try unsuccessfully to pawn them off on us as anything other than bone dry props. It’s a pervasive problem, and it must end.
I thought about this most recently while watching the Hulu series High Fidelity. I’m very late to watch it, I know, and I’m sorry about that because it’s as good as everyone says, may it rest in peace! But it’s also a show that, true to form, leans heavily into aesthetics, and one of the biggest ones is the classic New York coffee cup, which you can see in the shot above and many times over in this trailer. Bless her heart, star Zoe Kravitz really does what she can to make her sips look believable as she chain-smokes and suffers, but the cups are very apparently and painfully empty. To this I must ask: why??????????
I’m not the only person who’s lodged this complaint. Far from it. There’s literally a Twitter hashtag for it (#EmptyCupAwards, which is honestly a fun scroll if you have time) and countless internet videos, jokes, and complaints about this kind of thing. Perhaps most notably, people absolutely loved to dunk on Gilmore Girls’ titular Gilmore girls during the regular series run and in its Netflix revival. From the very beginning, those girls had to have their java and apparently had to have it as light as actual air. Actor Lauren Graham publicly claimed there was always coffee in her cup, but my gut and this video are calling her a liar.
You know, upon reflection, the headline for the blog you are currently reading is a bit off. I’m not saying we don’t talk enough about actors fake drinking out of empty cups, I’m saying we don’t do enough about it.
But what are we simple, lowly, viewers, to do? I would feel like I had a better answer if I understood this ridiculous phenomenon in the first place. I’ve done a lot of research on this topic over the years in a futile attempt to find an explanation that seems sufficient. As you’ve probably guessed I always come up short. Sure, it’s impractical in relative terms to have liquid present when you could not have liquid present, I get it. I have awareness of wardrobe and makeup and the aforementioned continuity. But is it worth calling such stark attention to the fact that everything you’re seeing is make-believe? In a theater setting, that kind of thing is fine, and even good. A large part of the charm and magic of the theater is filling in gaps with imagination or relishing in what’s not physically there or appreciating the specific art of stage design. But in a movie or TV show, and especially big-budget ones, like what???? I don’t get it, man.
According to what I can find on ye olde internet, the liquid vs. no liquid choice is often up to the actor (which means that Graham maybe has only kind of been lying), a fact that was at least somewhat confirmed by actors Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally on an episode of Rolling Stone’s “Too Long; Didn't Watch” podcast. All respect to actors, but if this is indeed the case, we need to take that power away from them. I cannot perform to save my life—one day, I promise I will tell you the full story of my infamously incoherent cameo on the Gordon Ramsay reality show MasterChef—so I say this as someone in awe of the craft: 99% of screen actors could not prop act their way out of a paper bag. It’s fine! Besides, if I wanted to see mimicry or object work, I’d go see a dang mime or an improv show!! It’s called acting, sweetie, and when you can’t do it, put water in your cup! Or anything! Weigh it down at the very least! Muffle the hollow sound! Or as Offerman says, “Have liquid in your cup. Take the time to consume it believably.” Exactly.
My increasingly unhinged complaints aside, if you know someone or are someone in film or television and you have a better answer for me on why this garbage spectacle persists, PLEASE let me know. I’m genuinely curious. In the meantime, my plea is simple. Fewer empty cups, more of this:
"one day, I promise I will tell you the full story of my infamously incoherent cameo on the Gordon Ramsay reality show MasterChef"
Excuse me! Rude of you to not have written this blog yet, Caitlin...
Don't get Drew Magary started on bad special effects. You'll be here all day.