Every year, especially around Oscar season, we hear these grand stories about actors going to absolute extremes to land roles, prepare for roles or get into character. Half of these stories are likely baloney, whereas the other half are no doubt exaggerated. You ever wonder why the cast and crew talk about these wild preparations so much? Think about how many of the actors who did “crazy” things to prepare for a role have won awards. Yeah, we’ll include a few of these in this list, more as representatives of a type of preparation than anything else. We want to mention actors who went to extremes of all types to land a role. Rather than talk about all the actors who gained weight, lost weight or learned a trade individually, we’ll try and spread it out to touch on a number of different areas.
Let’s start by addressing who’s been left off the list. To cut back on the category of “weight gainers/cutters,” we’ve left out Jared Leto for a few roles, Renee Zellweger for Bridget Jones’ Diary, Chris Hemsworth for Heart of the Sea, 50 Cent for that one movie that no one saw and even Christian Bale for The Machinist and several others. Here’s why we’ve done this. These stories are stupid. We’ll include a few important milestones, but we’re not going to talk about every millionaire who ate only spaghetti for a month to gain weight. Another thing we’re going to avoid are actors who learned a skill for a film. Like boohoo, Natalie Portman had to learn how to dance for an Academy Award. Oh no, Harrison Ford assisted surgery to prepare for The Fugitive. First, is that even allowed? Second, that’s not that amazing. It’s called working.
There’s a funny story that relates to these types of acting shenanigans. Though it’s often taken out of context, we’ll mention it anyway. Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier were working on Marathon Man together, and Hoffman was going through a difficult time. To cope, he was partying like a maniac, staying up all night, going to Studio 54, taking drugs, basically just being awesome. They moved the shoot to Los Angeles and Hoffman arrived to the set looking gross. Chances had it that, like the actor, Hoffman’s character had also been awake for days, so it looked like Hoffman was being all method. Olivier, who ironically went to extreme lengths for roles himself, looked at Hoffman and said jokingly, “Why don’t you try acting?” That would be much easier, right? Here are 15 celebs who will do anything for a movie role.
15. Body Transformed, Robert De Niro – Raging Bull
Robert De Niro may not have been the first actor to physically transform his body for a role, but he was the one who set the bar and changed the expectations for every actor that followed. Basically, he went and gained 60lbs to play the older version of Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, won the Academy Award for Best Actor and now every actor is expected to do something similar. De Niro has always been known for extreme role preparation, things like having dental work done for Cape Fear, becoming a taxi driver for Taxi Driver and boxing for real for Raging Bull. In the past 30 years, every actor who’s ever been asked or felt it necessary to lose weight or gain weight for a role can thank De Niro for setting the standard.
14. Gained 70 Pounds, Vincent D’Onofrio – Full Metal Jacket
Vincent D’Onofrio is an underrated actor, but everyone will always remember his character, Leonard Lawrence, from Full Metal Jacket, better known as Gomer Pyle. Famously, D’Onofrio beat De Niro’s weight gain record of 60lbs by putting on 70lbs. D’Onofrio said he did this in preparation for the role. Yeah, me too bud. But seriously, that kind of dedication is impressive and the feat still stands as a record today. Gaining this type of flabby weight is a lot more impressive than the guys like Chris Pratt, Liam Hemsworth and Tom Hardy who get jacked for roles. Are we supposed to feel bad that these men were paid millions of dollars to look like Gods? Like what a burden it must be for you to have to buy larger clothes to fit your new bulging muscles into your shirt sleeves. We’re sitting here with crumbs on our guts from last night’s snack of an entire family-sized bag of chips while you’re looking like you can punch through a car door. No one’s feeling bad for you, pal.
13. Just Looked Awful, Charlize Theron – Monster
In terms of actresses, the heavenly Charlize Theron‘s transformation for her Academy Award winning role in Monster is undoubtedly the most impressive. Theron gained 30lbs for the role, which is the equivalent of about 100lbs for a male because of how much more important image is for an actress. Theron fully embodied the disgusting Aileen Wuornos, an incredible feat for an actress who makes most Miss Universe contestants look like pigs. Theron ate a diet that consisted mainly of doughnuts and potato chips, which may sound delicious to us, but apparently actors eat better than that usually. For an actress, that kind of weight gain is dangerous because, if Theron couldn’t shed it quickly, Hollywood would have dumped her without even thinking twice.
12. Got Skinny & Frail, Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables
When preparing for the role of Fantine in Les Miserables, Anne Hathaway lost about 25lbs and looked super gross. While 25lbs may not seem like a lot, heck, Christian Bale loses 25lbs just to have a giggle, but Hathaway was already freakishly skinny. Losing 25lbs from that beanpole frame must have put her dangerously low in the weight column. No healthy grown woman, especially one who is about 5’8, should weigh in the double digits, but she surely did. Hathaway ate only salad for a long time prior to and during filming. She even broke her little fragile arm while opening a door. No, that’s true. She fell off her bike, but the door opening story is exactly the type of crap that these films push on you to make the performances feel better. Truthfully, the arm break likely had nothing to do with the weight loss, just terrible bike riding.
11. Froze Balls Off, Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
When the press for The Revenant was in full swing, all we heard was how difficult the filming process was, how the conditions were grueling and how everything shot was real. To get into character, Leo fought off a live bear and ripped its face off to truly understand how ripping a bear’s face off would feel. Who knows what’s real and what’s just fluff from these stories?
We included Leo here because he represents a large group of actors who discuss the extremes they face while filming. Yeah, Leo waded through freezing cold water. We saw that in the film. Too often, in these days of green screens and CGI, we are impressed by actors who had to do anything real. We know Leo was in ice cold water because we watched it. Did he really eat raw bison liver? He says he did, but who would know the difference if he didn’t? When asked about the cold, and potentially dangerous, conditions they filmed in, Leo said he “got the flu quite a few times.” Interesting, even if cold weather has nothing to do with getting the flu.
10. Staph Infection, Tom Hanks – Castaway
Before The Revenant, there was Castaway, another film that came with stories of near-tragedies and crazy filming conditions. Tom Hanks “spent weeks in water up to his neck.” Why? Oh, you mean many of the shots required him to be in water up to his neck? Yeah, that’s called swimming. People do that for fun. Then we heard that Hanks got diabetes from the extreme weight fluctuations. No, he most certainly did not! He got diabetes because he had a bad diet throughout much of his career and was overweight for a long period of time. Then there was the staph infection that almost killed him. Yeah, that one’s true, a little dramatic, but true. Here’s what Hanks said about that, “The doctor said to me, ‘What’s the matter with you, you idiot? You could have died from this thing!’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ But they literally had to take out a big chunk of the stuff in my leg… Then we had to shut down production for three weeks because the doctors said, ‘No way is this kid getting in the water.’”
9. Broke Two Ribs, Daniel Day-Lewis – My Left Foot
This next group, of which Daniel Day-Lewis is not only a member but the commissioner and president, is what we’ll call, the extreme method actors. There are too many stories of Day-Lewis’ methods for getting into character to include here. He went full Mohican for Last of the Mohicans, built a wooden house for The Crucible and setup working oil drills for There Will Be Blood, but the strangest of them was probably for the film My Left Foot. You’ve heard the stories, but we have to mention them. For that film, Day-Lewis played Christy Brown, a man with cerebral palsy. To get into character and stay there, the method actor refused to leave his wheelchair while on set. He had people wheel him around, feed him and even bathe him. We’re just guessing about the bathing, but who would doubt it? Amazingly, Day-Lewis stayed hunched over in that wheelchair-bound-position for so long that he broke two ribs.
8. Gave Up Possessions, Adrian Brody – The Pianist
Another story of extreme measures taken by an actor to get into character, another Academy Award for Best Actor. Of the eight actors we’ve mentioned up to this point (including Brody), 6 won Academy Awards for their performances, and only one, Vincent D’Onofrio, wasn’t nominated. Like Day-Lewis, Brody did his best to live the part that he landed in The Pianist. To understand a sliver of what his holocaust-surviving character felt, Brody abandoned his cushy lifestyle for one less glamorous. “I gave up my apartment, I sold my car, I disconnected the phones, and I left,” he said. “I took two bags and my keyboard and moved to Europe.” This is when Olivier’s question comes in handy. Why not just act, Adrien Brody? To that Brody said, “I want to feel that I’m experiencing something, I want to feel the journey, and I felt it…. However, there were times when I was concerned that I might not be able to get out of it sane, because I didn’t realise how far it had taken me.”
7. Juiced, Charlie Sheen – Major League
Lost amongst the tales of amazing transformations are the stories of incredible attempts to reach these heights, attempts that failed or were probably unwise. That’s where folks like Charlie Sheen come in. Now, first of all, we know that everything Sheen says need be taken with a handful of salt. He claimed that while preparing for his role as Wild Thing in Major League, he took drugs to get an edge, “Let’s just say that I was enhancing my performance a little bit. It was the only time I ever did steroids… I did them for like six or eight weeks…. My fastball went from 79 [miles-per-hour] to like 85.” Uh, Charlie? I don’t think it works that way. Even still, Sheen was said to be a solid high school ball player, so we’ll take him at his word.
6. Crazy Hair, James McAvoy – X-Men: First Class
Sometimes, when you hear stories of these glorious transformations, you think that everything always works out, but that’s not the case. Sometimes these eager beavers do things that they shouldn’t have to prepare for a role. You may have heard about Chris Hemsworth putting on too much muscle to play Thor, so much that he couldn’t fit in the costume, but what about James McAvoy? He landed the role of Professor Xavier in X-Men: First Class and he was excited. He went home and studied the character, trying to nail down his mannerisms so he could blow everyone away. He also wanted to nail down the Xavier look, so he confidently shaved his head, not wanting to make a big deal of it on set. When it came time to meet on location, McAvoy showed up, head proudly clean-shaven, but it was all wrong. McAvoy recalls, “I turned up and they went, ‘No, no, no, no, no it’s the 60s, we want him to be haired… well, not bald.” McAvoy needed to wear extensions for the entire shoot to cover up that bald noggin.
5. Huge Pay Cut, Jonah Hill – The Wolf of Wall Street
When you’re an actor that is part of the Screen Actor’s Guild, the minimum amount you can make on a film is about $60,000. When Jonah Hill was in the running for one of the roles in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, he took a massive pay cut to get the deal done. “They gave me the lowest amount of money possible,” Hill said. “I said, ‘I will sign the paper tonight. Fax me the papers tonight.’ I want to sign them tonight before they change their mind.” For Hill, the move paid off in a big way. He got an Academy Award nomination, his second, and the film was a gigantic success. When asked about it, Hill said the decision was an easy one since making money is always secondary to the role for him: “I would sell my house and give him all my money to work for [Scorsese]… I would have done anything in the world. I would do it again in a second.”
4. Seemed Insane, Joaquin Phoenix – I’m Still Here
Joaquin Phoenix may take a lot of flack for his weirdness surrounding the mockumentary I’m Still Here, but his commitment to that role and the film was unlike any other in the industry today. Like Andy Kaufman before him, Phoenix took a character into real life. He pretended to quit acting and became a rapper. It sounds far-fetched and it is, but people wondered if it were true. This didn’t seem like a film, or at least it wasn’t the type of film we’re used to seeing. Regardless of how good people thought the movie was in the end, and sadly that’s how it’ll all be remembered, Phoenix had people fooled, confused and angry. This reaction means that he played a great role in the end.
3. Waited 16 Years, Clint Eastwood – Unforgiven
When Clint Eastwood really wants a part, he’ll go to great lengths to get it. There’s a story that tells of the film Unforgiven and how, in 1976, a script began making its rounds. Over the years it changed names, but most saw it under the titles The Cut-Whore Killings and The William Munny Killings. Well, legend has it that Eastwood wanted the main role, so he bought the rights to this script early on and just sat on it. Not literally, like he delayed, waiting for something. That something, they say, was father time working his magic on Eastwood because Clint was too young for the role of William Munny. When, in 1991, Eastwood was old enough to convincingly play an aged-gunslinger, he started filming. That’s taking role preparation to another level.
2. Quit Bathing, Shia LaBeouf – Fury
One of the themes in this list is doubtful claims made by actors about the goings on around the set. Since we can’t prove anything, actors can basically say what they will and people will eat it up. We can doubt the truth, but we can’t prove otherwise. We can, however, prove that Shia LaBeouf greatly exaggerated his prep for the film Fury. Here’s what he said: “David [Ayer, director] told us right from the gate: ‘I need you to give me everything.’ So, the day after I got the job, I joined the US National Guard. I was baptized – accepted Christ in my heart – tattooed my surrender and became a chaplain’s assistant to Captain Yates for the 41st Infantry. I spent a month living on a forward operating base. Then I linked up with my cast and went to Fort Irwin. I pulled my tooth out, knifed my face up and spent days watching horses die. I didn’t bathe for four months.” Regardless of how awesome this quote is, the truth is, LaBeouf, like many others around the world, is a little guilty of stolen valor. LaBeouf never “joined the National Guard;” he embedded himself with them for a brief period of time. Similarly, LaBeouf never “became a chaplain’s assistant;” he shadowed a chaplain for a bit. You may call that miscommunication, but we’ll call it lying. Oh, and Shia? What’s with the horses, man? What the hell was with the horses?
1. Locked Himself Away, Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight
They say it was the role that made him crazy. No one knows what happened to Heath Ledger while he was preparing for the role of the Joker in The Dark Knight, but people sure like talking about it. Heath, to try and get his mind, body and voice into the true spirit of the Joker, locked himself in a hotel room for long stretches of time over a six-week period. Part of the reason why so many people question whether this role had anything to do with Ledger’s death not long after filming was because of the following comments he made. He said, “I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices — it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath — someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts.” When thinking about actors who maybe went too far for a role, it’s hard not to think of Ledger and the Joker, even if it is all blown way out of proportion.