In recent years, given the proliferation of media, which gives everyone a forum to express their opinions of sundry phenomena (am I looking into a mirror?), the craft of acting has received a good deal of criticism from not a few amateur critics. Coupled with this groundswell of public opinion is a parallel trend of public fascination with the lives of celebrities. Nightly, TMZ inundates viewers with impromptu conversations with actors as they leave their favourite restaurants or, in rare cases, disreputable establishments. All of this has led to a growing inability for the majority of mainstream film viewers to disassociate actors’ personal lives from their professional oeuvres. Some tend to wrongfully see acting less as a serious profession than a hobby for beautiful, outgoing socialites.
But this obloquy tends to be focused on film and television actors. The stage, that is, still retains its fantastic aura of professionalism and classiness, as audiences—of course, part of the problem is the stage audience itself, which tends to be made up of highly affluent denizens who can afford to shell out the cash to see a show on Broadway—marvel at the poise of onstage actors and the difficulty of performing nightly in front of huge crowds. The multiple-take format of film, as common opinion seems to suggest, affords actors leeway to screw up, and this larger margin of error takes away from the greatness of the performance. This is not to say that film audiences don’t appreciate all on-screen performances, but there are more and more haters within the various folds of social media.
This comparison between on-screen and on-stage performances does in fact highlight certain commendable aspects of the on-screen. Unlike productions on stage, which run for many, many weeks, films capture actors in a given moment, encapsulating that moment for audiences. But what does that encapsulation mean? On the one hand, it means that on-screen actors cannot escape their bad performances or bewildering choices of projects—sorry, De Niro of the last five years. On the other hand—and this is where film shines luminously—it enables actors to really get into a role. Instead of a game of stamina like the stage, actors can transform their bodies, if the role calls for it, for relatively short periods of time while shooting. These transformations benefit the overall product, as actors can (almost?) slough off their public personae and dive deep into challenging roles. The beautiful Charlize Theron, for instance, looks anything-but-beautiful in Monster, a film in which she plays a heinous roadside killer who preys on unsuspecting men.
Thus, this list celebrates ten actors who made incredible physical transformations for roles. Whether gaining or losing a good deal of weight, these actors look wholly different than what audiences are used to seeing. The ten following actors should illustrate how demanding acting is a as profession, and the genuine passion that certain actors have for their craft. Ten, of course, is not exhaustive, and the list is unevenly balanced between male and female actors, featuring more of the former. In any case, let us know your favourite transformations!
10. Christian Bale—The Machinist
No one can ever question Christian Bale’s dedication to his craft. Before his role in The Machinist, the talented thespian weighed a healthy 185 pounds. For the role, in which he plays a sleep-deprived paranoiac, Bale shed approximately 63 pounds; his diet consisted of an apple and a can of tuna a day, a sub-500 calorie diet. His 63 pounds is said to be a record for actors, and it shows in the film. Bale is literally skin and bones in it. Immediately after this film, Christopher Nolan contacted Bale, offering him the role as Batman, a role for which Bale had to put on 100 pounds.
9. Renée Zellweger—Bridget Jones’s Diary
When she was cast in the role of Bridget Jones for the eponymously-titled Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), the usually svelte Renée Zellweger was told that she was too skinny for the role. To rectify her skinniness, Zellweger embarked on a glutinous frenzy, packing in a reported 4,700 calories a day, a diet which consisted of Snickers Bars, milkshakes, lots of pasta, and four slices of toast with clarified butter. She gained 20 pounds rather quickly when all was said and done. After shedding the Bridget Jones weight, she packed it on again for a 2004 sequel. Something tells this writer that she enjoyed her transformation more than Christian Bale enjoyed his.
8. Gerard Butler—300
For his role as King Leonidas in Zac Snyder’s 2006 film 300, the somewhat pudgy Gerard Butler utterly transformed himself into, well, a big piece of muscle. Butler has stated that the process of getting into shape for the role was one of the hardest things he’s ever done. Marc Twight, the film’s expert trainer and world-record holder in mountain climbing, has likewise stated that he pushed Butler and the rest of the cast as hard as he’s ever pushed anyone. The transformation paid off, as Butler really looks the part of a great warrior.
7. Jared Leto—Dallas Buyer’s Club
After packing on 70 pounds to play Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s infamous killer, Jared Leto shed all the added weight and 30 more pounds for his recent role in Dallas Buyer’s Club. While his co-star Matthew McConaughey lost his weight over an extended period of time, Jared Leto, as he has said, stopped eating to shed the weight in a short amount of time. Leto dropped down to 116 pounds, and he looks quite gaunt in the film. Leto said that he woke up one night with his heart pounding due to lack of nutrition, a scary corollary of the kind of starvation he put himself through.
6. Matthew McConaughey—Dallas Buyer’s Club
A former football player and an actor known for his buff body, Matthew McConaughey shocked film audiences with his insane transformation for his role in Dallas Buyer’s Club. In the film, McConaughey plays the late Ron Woodruff, an electrician from Texas who contracted HIV and began to sell medication illegally to similarly ailing patients. He lost all of his famed muscle for this role, reportedly cutting himself down to a dangerous 135 pounds. It shows, because he looks utterly emaciated as Woodruff. He told People that when an acquaintance saw his new body and told him to get immediate help, he knew he had hit the right weight. The role earned him an Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards.
5. Matt Damon—Courage Under Fire
For the 1996 film Courage Under Fire, a still-fresh faced Matt Damon lost approximately 40 pounds in three months. His diet consisted of chicken, egg whites, steamed broccoli, and baked potatoes, and he ran over ten miles a day to expedite the weight-loss process. The whole process, in fact, led to some health issues, as Damon has admitted that he felt dizzy at times and experienced hot flashes. In the narrative, he plays a heroin-addicted Gulf-War veteran, so the weight loss really bolstered his performance. He has said, however, that he will never do such a thing again.
4. Michael Fassbender—Hunger
In the 2008 film Hunger, Michael Fassbender plays Bobby Sands, the real-life member of the IRA who underwent a fatal hunger strike in an English prison. He shed 42 pounds from his already svelte 170-pound frame, subsisting on 900 calories a day. Berries, nuts, sardines made up the bulk of his unbelievable diet, and for exercise he walked, skipped, and did yoga. Previous to Hunger, he was in the film 300, which required him to put on a considerable amount of muscle, a fact that makes his transformation to play Bobby Sands even more shocking and unbelievable.
3. Edward Norton—American History X
For his role as Derek Vinyard in American History X—his most admirable role to date—Edward Norton put on a significant amount of muscle mass, shaved his head, and got a temporary tattoo of a swastika on his left pectoral muscle. The usually skinny actor put on approximately 30 pounds of muscle for the role, and shocked audiences with how deep he was able to get into the role of a modern-day skinhead. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance. This film should not be missed, if only for his amazing, poignant performance.
2. Charlize Theron—Monster
As mentioned, Charlize Theron underwent an insane transformation for her role in Monster, in which she plays Aileen Wuornos, the infamous serial killer who was put to death in 2002 for killing 7 men in the state of Florida. The elegant Theron packed on 30 pounds and wore splotchy makeup and prosthetic teeth to pass as Wuornos. When one considers Theron’s natural beauty, the transformation is even more commendable (Am I shallow? Next question). The late Roger Ebert called her performance as Wuornos “one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema.” Theron was awarded with a well-deserved Oscar for the role.
1. Tom Hanks—Cast Away
Not a stranger to losing weight for a role, as he shed a good deal of weight for his role in the 1993 film Philadelphia, Tom Hanks lost 50 pounds for Cast Away. Production on the film actually halted for a year to afford Hanks the time to cast the weight off (too easy?). In the narrative, he starts out as a healthy man, but, when he gets stranded on a deserted island, he loses a lot of weight over his time there. Hanks has said that the hardest thing about losing the weight was “the time. . . The idea of looking at four months of constant vigilance as far as what I ate, as well as two hours a day in the gym doing nothing but a monotonous kind of workout, that was formidable.” For the role, Hanks was nominated for an Academy Award.