Pee cups among the cubicles

A Fairfax editorial top gun said to me recently, in light of Glee star Cory Monteith's death from a heroin overdose last month, it's probably time producers start drug-testing actors.

That sharp intake of breath you just heard is the sound of journalists nationwide reacting to a newspaper executive suggesting employees are checked for the fun stuff.

I'm not sure you'd get any major newspaper to print if you imposed similar restrictions on recreational drug and alcohol use by journalists - which is not to condone or encourage the abuse of either (ahem).

When it comes to actors, however, you have to think it's not such a far-fetched proposition considering the hundreds of millions of dollars riding on their performances in films and TV series, and how vital a lead can be to a production.

You may not know it, but in order for a reasonable-sized movie or television series to get the green light, studios almost always have to secure what is known as a "completion bond" from an insurer.

What this guarantees is if the production falls short of cash, or any of the major creative talents disappears into a hotel room with a streetwalker and a used syringe, the insurer will step in with enough dollars to complete the film so the investors or studio has a chance of recouping their money.

This has already become a massive issue for troubled stars like Lindsay Lohan and Robert Downey Jr, when he was a confirmed drug addict. Both found insurers unwilling to underwrite projects heavily dependent on their sobriety.

However, they're extreme examples where the actor's drug use was impossible to ignore.

A well-regarded Australian television producer told me last month: "Actors already have to sit a medical for the Production Investment Agreement - if cleared in that, I cannot imagine it would be an issue. You cannot refuse insurance on basis of rumours."


The larger issue here is, does your employer have the right to dictate what you put in your body in your down time if it's not affecting your performance at work or endangering third parties?

Actors and other creative types are famously sensitive souls, many of whom seek succour from the emotionally confrontational nature of their work through the ingestion of illicit substances.

I suggested to the Fairfax executive that if people like Corey Monteith were denied the opportunity to work because they recreationally salve themselves, you'd probably have a lot more actors (and writers, directors, etc) dangling from nooses in their basements.

Drug addiction is, more often than not, an attempt by the user to avoid or lessen discomfort - and though it is hugely more destructive than golf, shopping or running triathlons, it seems to be widely condoned by the public in stars of all stripes.

If you doubt this, change Monteith's occupation to professional cyclist, airline pilot or school teacher, and ask yourself whether his death would have generated worldwide sympathetic media coverage (and an upcoming tribute episode)?

People accept a certain proportion of actors (and musicians and athletes) will be "wild" and I dare say the reputation these professions have for turning a blind eye to experimentation with the Ten Commandments is what attracts so many risk-taking youngsters.

The fawning media coverage of Monteith's passing has done nothing to change that.

"But these people are role models to our children!", I hear you say, to which I can only repeat the adage wheeled out ad nauseam after the fall from grace of Lance Armstrong: "Choose your heroes wisely".

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