In the opening scene of Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Allen’s character, Isaac, tells his teenage girlfriend that he has started smoking because he looks incredibly handsome with a cigarette in his hand. Of course, as is the wont of many of Allen’s characters, Isaac is a hypochondriac, and he will not inhale because that causes cancer. But the facetious remark highlights cinema’s infatuation with cigarettes. Cigarettes, as Isaac intimates, give him a certain quality of handsomeness; they are a kind of freighted signifier that, for Isaac, changes a person’s look.
Cigarettes do not make every character look urbane and suave, of course. Oftentimes fiendish characters will look more deplorable as they smoke cigarettes. One is reminded of all those war films wherein characters search endlessly for a pack of smokes, and when their search proves successful, they smoke as if cigarettes are sources of elusive strength. Rather than imbuing audiences with fascination and admiration, these scenes of characters fiendishly smoking imbue audiences with repugnance and pity.
But in so many other film applications, cigarettes are signs of cool. The cigarette that dangles from the mouth or rests vitally between two fingers, emitting small eddies of smoke, is seductive and tantalizing. The argument between two smokers is fiercer and more believable because of those fleeting intermissions of inhalation, with each milky exhalation signifying vigor and fortitude. Sometimes, a cigarette will accompany inscrutable characters, veiling their visages and fostering audiences’ wonderment. In these applications, the cigarette almost seems part and parcel with the character—one not existing without the other.
And due to the cigarette’s power to add palpable, yet ineffable qualities to a character, certain actors have come to be associated with cigarette smoking in their films. Humphrey Bogart, for instance, looks urbane and self-assured with a cigarette in his hands, and his characters tend to represent the quintessence of mid-twentieth-century masculinity. His characters are bold, strong, and commendable—composites of what his society found admirable and potent in men. With Bogart, as with other actors, the cigarette is no mere accessory; it’s an extension of the actor.
This list thus looks at ten actors who look great with cigarettes. Generally speaking, these following stars have played characters that smoke a good deal. For these stars, a cigarette has the paradoxical effect of imbuing them with vitality. Indeed, they make cigarettes look, well, cool—despite any harmful corollaries! If you have any actors to add to this list—and there is a slew of them to add—please feel free to put your list in the comments section. Remember: smoking is unhealthy.
10. Humphrey Bogart
After mentioning him in the intro, this list could not do without Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957). The actor, who starred in mid-twentieth-century classics like The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Big Sleep (1946), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), and, most notably, Casablanca (1942), was highly regarded in his time, and he helped popularize American cinema in the first couple of decades after sound was introduced. Generally, his characters are the quintessence of the urbane, worldly, indomitable male, and they frequently accentuate their style with cigarettes. Any film junkie will have a host of memorable Bogart characters and scenes, but Rick Blaine, the protagonist from Casablanca, is undoubtedly Bogart’s most indelible character. The return of Rick’s old inamorata shakes his reality during turbulent times in Nazi-occupied Casablanca. With every haul on a cigarette, though, Rick seems to slough off all his burdens, looking dapper and methodical in the process. Bogart certainly looks handsome with a cigarette.
9. Jean-Paul Belmondo
Born in 1933 in France, Jean-Paul Belmondo has made a career from playing smooth-talking, roguish characters. He gained a good deal of notoriety during the ascendance of French New Wave cinema (La Nouvelle Vague), and Jean-Luc Godard frequently cast Belmondo in his films. He has starred in classic films, such as Breathless (1960), Pierrot le Fou (1965), and The Professional (1981). In Breathless, one of Godard’s classics, Belmondo plays Michel Poiccard, a sort of anti-hero who cavorts around town with his inamorata, stealing and doing other dastardly deeds. Poiccard smokes throughout the film, but he makes smoking look undeniably sexy. Indeed, with a cigarette in hand, Belmondo’s character looks insouciant and unstoppable.
8. Jon Hamm
Born in St. Louis Missouri, Jon Hamm has risen to fame from his portrayal of Don Draper in the critically acclaimed show, Mad Men. In almost every episode of the hit show, Mr. Draper smokes rather excessively, but it is all part of that fifties affect, which the show has given new life to. Like Bogart’s characters, Draper stands for an effete kind of masculinity, one that contemporary audiences have an inexplicable affinity to. Draper, especially in the early seasons, smokes with a laissez-fair attitude, and he looks great with a cigarette in hand.
7. Al Pacino
Born in 1940 in New York City, Al Pacino is one of the most beloved actors in American cinematic history. Before breaking through with his role in The Godfather, Pacino was relatively unknown. Ostensibly, as the story goes, the other actors of the film protested his inclusion, arguing that they did not want an unknown playing the role of Michael Corleone. Francis Ford Coppola, the film’s director, obstinately stuck with his guy, and the role made Pacino a star. In many of his roles, Pacino has smoked copiously. However, as Tony Montana in Brian De Palma’s classic film, Scarface (1983), Pacino looks great hauling on those fat cigars. Indeed, the cigar gives Montana a quality of affluence, which suits the film’s theme of rising from nothing well. Of course, we can’t all be criminal masterminds.
6. Ed Harris
Born in 1950 in New Jersey, Ed Harris has had a phenomenal career in film. He has made baldness into a desirable physical trait—well, depending on who the bald guy is! Some of his notable films are: A Beautiful Mind (2001), The Rock (1996), The Truman Show (1998), Enemy at the Gates (2001) and Apollo 13 (1995). However, his most notable film in which he smokes is the film adaptation of David Mamet’s revered play, Glengarry Glenross (1992). The film features one of the finest casts ever assembled on screen, as Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, and Alan Arkin star alongside Harris. Dave Moss, Harris’ character, is a quick-talking and deceptive real estate agent who tries to goad Jack Lemmon’s character into a crime. Despite his sordid plan and anxiety, Moss looks powerful and self-possessed with a cigarette in hand. No doubt: the cigarette is intimately tied to Harris’ performance in this film.
5. Sharon Stone
Born in 1958, Sharon Stone has made a career from playing dangerous seductresses and femme fatales. Some of her notable films are: Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct (1992), The Quick and the Dead (1995), and Casino (1995). However, it is no secret why Sharon Stone is on this list and what role puts her on it. Involved in a messy murder investigation, Stone’s character from Basic Instinct, Catherine Trammell, is questioned by police. What ensues has been named “The Leg Cross,” a scene that has dazzled audiences since 1992. With a cigarette in hand, Trammell looks dominant and seductive, promising her oglers that there is more than meets the eye.
4. Matthew McConaughey
Whether haters like it or not, the “McConaissance” is a real phenomenon, but it should not lead audiences to believe that everything Matthew McConaughey stars in before 2010 is bunk. Growing up in Texas, MConaughey had no intentions of becoming a star, as he worked a variety of jobs before being “discovered” in a Texas bar. Since then, McConaughey has portrayed a wide variety of characters in films that belong to a wide variety of genres. In his recent roles in the television show True Detective and the film Dallas Buyer’s Club, McConaughey hauls on cigarettes, accentuating the sallow and gaunt look of his characters. However, in his first major role, in which he does not play a sickly character, McConaughey also looks great with a cigarette in hand. Indeed, whether he is smoking a cigarette or a joint, David Wooderson, McConaughey’s character from Dazed and Confused, looks carefree and imperturbable. He cares about cars, women, and having a good time; the cigarette accentuates all of that.
3. Christina Ricci
Christina Ricci was born in Santa Monica, California in 1980. Some of her notable films are: Sleepy Hollow (1999), Monster (2003), and Now and Then (1995). Though she was rather famous as a child actor, she has lost some of her celebrity with age. However, her role in Woody Allen’s film, Anything Else (2003), corroborates that she looks great with a cigarette. Counterpoising Jerry Falk’s cloying girlfriend, Amanda Chase (Ricci) is the seductive, saucy, and home-breaking minx. Through long, smoke-filled conversations about film and jazz, Amanda lures Jerry away from his girlfriend, a decision that Jerry comes to rue. Nevertheless, she looks sexy and strangely intelligent with a cigarette in hand.
2. Johnny Depp
Born in 1963 in Kentucky, Johnny Depp did not originally intend to be an actor. He spent his early years as a struggling musician before turning to acting. Of course, the rest is history. Johnny Depp has a slew of memorable films, and some demographics will remember certain films fondly, while others will remember other films fondly. However, there is no one role to single out with regard to Johnny Depp smoking. The man exudes style, and, whether he smokes on screen or off, he looks great with a cigarette in hand; it’s an eternal truth.
1. Michael Fassbender
Like Depp, Michael Fassbender is an actor who always looks handsome—even when he portrays thin, sallow characters. Fassbender was born in 1977 in Germany, and his big break came in the film 300, wherein he plays the character Stelios. Since then, he has quickly gained notoriety, as he has been nominated for Oscars and his films have been hugely successful. Fassbender’s role as Archie Hilcox in Inglorious Bastards (2008), Quentin Tarantino’s counterfactual take on World War II, is the reason for Fassbender’s inclusion on this list. In the fatal bar scene in which Hilcox poses as a Nazi, the characters smoke rather liberally. Hilcox, in particular, looks self-possessed and suave as a smoking Nazi, trying desperately not to give away his cover. Unfortunately, the scene eventually turns into a bloodbath.
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