Loosely based on real events, the cast of Cocaine Bear put together a wild ride as a series of characters travel through the woods while being hunted by a bear on a cocaine-fueled rampage. Written by Jimmy Warden and directed by Elizabeth Banks, the comedic horror movie is based on the 1985 incident where a bear (lovingly nicknamed Pablo Eskobear) consumed 40 containers of cocaine. In real life, the bear died quickly after eating the cocaine. However, Cocaine Bear turned the chaotic incident into a horror movie, as the bear tears its way through drug smugglers and innocent hikers alike on the quest for more cocaine.
While there have been plenty of horror comedies that are genuinely scary, few have had real-life incidents to base themselves on (although Cocaine Bear certainly takes some liberties, as the real cocaine bear is not known to have killed anyone after consuming the drugs). That fact, however, is not a deterring factor to the film as most of the fictional cast also cause murder and mayhem themselves alongside the bear, experiencing either gruesome deaths or making plenty of jokes about the absurdity of the situation.
Keri Russell As Sari
While Cocaine Bear features a high-quality ensemble cast to root for, Sari is the most sympathetic character as she is a nurse and single mother, who spends most of this bizarre real life movie just looking for a way for her and her daughter to escape the forest alive. Played by Keri Russell, Sari will do whatever it takes to keep her child safe, which parallels perfectly with the decision to make the bear a mother as well. In addition to fighting for survival, Sari hopes to convince her daughter to give her new boyfriend a chance, which provides a touch of sentimentalism to an otherwise hectic tribute to chaos.
Keri Russell should be a familiar face to audiences as the titular character in the 1998 television series Felicity and as Emmy nominated character Elizabeth Jennings in 2018’s The Americans. She has also starred in several other well-known projects, including playing Zorii Bliss in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Julia Meadows in the 2021 supernatural horror film Antlers. Her past work has proven that she is extremely talented and can bring emotional depth to even the most chaotic premises.
Ray Liotta As Syd
In what would end up being one of his last performances before his death, Ray Liotta takes on the role of drug kingpin Syd in Cocaine Bear, which he perfectly captured with his sleazy performance. Syd is not interested in the hilarity of the situation, nor is he interested in excuses. As the cocaine that propels the film was originally his, Syd’s concerns are exclusive to finding the remaining drugs and covering up anything that could tie back to him.
Ray Liotta is best known for his captivating performances as Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams and Henry Hill in Goodfellas – performances that showed his impressive range. His role in Cocaine Bear is a clear connection with his iconic Goodfellas role (although his cocaine empire ends in a vastly different way between the two films). Sadly, he passed away in May 2022. However, with over 100 credits to his name, there are plenty of movies and shows available to watch if someone wants to see what other projects he starred in.
Alden Ehrenreich As Eddie
Alden Ehrenreich plays Eddie, Syd’s son who is suffering from depression after the death of his wife. Although he was basically dragged on the mission by his father, Eddie finds himself in increasingly dangerous situations, getting up close and personal with the bear and the humans tracking down the cocaine. Eddie’s relationship with his father sets up a fascinating parallel with the powerful mother figures elsewhere in the horror film, as he doesn’t seem too concerned about his son’s well-being, with his mind focused on other things.
While Ehrenreich’s career began with a guest role on Supernatural, he is quickly becoming a household name after earning roles in some of the biggest film franchises out there. It’s no small matter to take on a role made famous by Harrison Ford, but Alden Ehrenreich did an impressive job as Han Solo in Solo: A Star Wars Story. He has also starred as Danny in Blue Jasmine, Hobbie Doyle in Hail, Caesar!, and the main protagonist, Ethan Wate, in Beautiful Creatures.
O’Shea Jackson Jr. As Daveed
While some of the other characters in Cocaine Bear find themselves in the situation by accident, Daveed is one of the few that is in active pursuit of the cocaine, putting him in the crosshairs of both the bear and the local law enforcement. Daveed works for Syd and ends up partnered with Eddie as they look for the cocaine (which provides a unique and refreshing take on the buddy cop genre). Longstanding conflicts between Daveed and Eddie come to a head as they have to fight for their lives.
Playing Daveed is O’Shea Jackson Jr., who may be best known as the eldest child of Ice Cube. However, he holds his own when it comes to talent, both in his music career and his acting credits, which include playing his father in Straight Outta Compton and Roken in the Obi-Wan Kenobi miniseries. His other works include Den of Thieves 2, where he played Donnie Wilson, as well as Godzilla: King of the Monsters, where he played Chief Warrant Officer Jackson Barnes.
Isiah Whitlock Jr. As Bob
Opposing Syd is Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s Bob, a detective determined to find the evidence he needs to take down Syd and his empire for good. While Bob does not exist in real life, his character is likely inspired by the investigators involved in the true story of Cocaine Bear. Heading to Georgia from Knoxville, Tennessee, Bob seems to be surprisingly competent at his job until he realizes how many dangerous forces are at play in the woods.
Isiah Whitlock Jr.’s career has been filled with characters involved in politics and law enforcement, with his most famous role being Clay Davis in The Wire. In addition to a series of small television roles—including over 10 different characters across the Law and Order franchise—he has several notable roles in films like BlacKkKlansman and Da 5 Bloods. Whitlock’s has also played Charlie Figaro in the Showtime drama Your Honor.
Margo Martindale As Ranger Liz
Due to Cocaine Bear‘s wilderness setting, a park ranger was a must, with Margo Martindale’s Ranger Liz perfectly capturing the uselessness these authority figures have in horror movies – especially when people are lost. As the ranger on duty for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, Liz should be the only character that is truly on home territory against the bear, but instead, she gets distracted by animal rights activist Peter. Rather than bringing guidance, Liz just adds to the chaos in the forest as she tries to survive threats she is thoroughly unqualified to handle.
Margo Martindale has an extensive filmography, including several series that she worked on alongside her Cocaine Bear co-stars, like The Americans and Your Honor. After more than 30 years in the industry, Martindale has made a lot of connections that keep her in exciting new roles, including a recent trend of working on Ryan Murphy best projects, including The Watcher and American Crime Story. While her multiple Emmy wins prove that she is a master at drama, she has at least one project in practically every genre.
Cocaine Bear Supporting Cast & Characters
Brooklynn Prince as Dee Dee: Dee Dee is Sari’s middle school-aged daughter, who skips school with her best friend. Prince stars as Hilde Lisko in Home Before Dark.
Christian Convery as Henry: Henry is Dee Dee’s best friend, who helps Sari try to find her daughter and escape the bear. Convery has starred in several Hallmark holiday movies, as well as starring as Morgan in Pup Academy and Gus in Sweet Tooth.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Peter: Peter is an animal rights activist who tries to help Sari find and protect the children. Ferguson will be a very familiar face to fans of Modern Family, as he played Mitchell Pritchett for eleven years.
Matthew Rhys as Andrew C. Thornton II: Thornton is the only real person depicted in Cocaine Bear, as he was the drug smuggler who was responsible for the mismanaged cocaine in reality. Matthew Rhys is Keri Russell’s husband, known for his roles in Brothers & Sisters, The Americans, and the rebooted Perry Mason HBO series.
Ayoola Smart as Officer Reba: Reba is a police officer from Georgia who gets caught up in the chase for the remaining cocaine. Smart has only been acting since 2017, but has earned multi-episode arcs on Killing Eve and Smother.
Aaron Holliday, J.B. Moore, and Leo Hanna as The Duchamps Gang: The Duchamps gang is a group of Georgia teenagers that sought out trouble in the forest. Although all three are relative newcomers to the entertainment industry, Holliday may be recognized for his role as Damon in the HBO miniseries Sharp Objects.
Kristofer Hivju and Hannah Hoekstra as Olaf and Elsa: Olaf and Elsa are hikers who encounter the bear shortly after its first encounter with the cocaine. While they have small parts, Hivju will likely be recognizable to viewers as Tormund from Game of Thrones. Hoekstra is a Dutch actress who has won awards for her performances in Hemel and The Fury.
Kahyun Kim and Scott Seiss as Beth and Tom: Beth and Tom are paramedics who have a memorable encounter with the bear in their ambulance. Kim may be recognizable for playing New Media in American Gods, while Seiss is known for his “Angry Retail Guy” sketches.
How Was The Bear Made?
While there are many successful low-budget horror movies that hide their monsters, Cocaine Bear has an impressively real bear as the star of the film. The bear, known as Cokie, was created primarily through CGI thanks to the work of New Zealand company Weta FX (via: Variety). Although the average viewer might not recognize the company’s name, they certainly know their work.
Weta FX was founded in 1993 by Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, and Jamie Selkirk, and it is responsible for visual marvels like The Lord of the Rings, the Avatar films, and nearly every MCU film and series since 2012. Stunt performer Allan Henry was responsible for the movement of the bear, whose work on the Cocaine Bear’s motion capture put into question the idea that monsters are most frightening when they are unseen.
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