Actors are famous for getting into character. It’s their job, and some take it to larger degrees than others. Daniel Day-Lewis is infamous for basically becoming whatever character he plays and refusing to let go until a movie is done. Jared Leto is getting attention for how he got way into the character of the Joker for Suicide Squad, and stories are still told of the method of Marlon Brando and others. Actresses don’t get as much attention but they’re just as likely to get into it for a role, especially when they’re vying for an Oscar. Some go more than others; Meryl Streep is famous for getting into roles well, while others simply go for the classic “ugly up” to get a part. Some cases are unique, however, actresses who truly go the extra mile for a role in unique ways.
It’s not always their own choice as often they’re pushed by directors to take to extremes and shoved in new ways. Alfred Hitchcock was infamous for putting his actresses through sheer hell to make his movies work and Stanley Kubrick wasn’t much better. But some actresses take it upon themselves to go the extra mile and really do their best to take off in a part. It does work out a lot with Oscars and attention but also showcases how actors have a very different mentality than regular folks. Here are 15 actresses who went to extremes for a performance and how “acting” can require far more dedication from some than you’d expect.
15 A.J. Cook
CBS’s long running Criminal Minds focuses on an FBI team who investigate serial killers. Cook plays J.J., usually a calm lady in the office who balances real-life pregnancies with the intensive cases. For the 200th episode, J.J. is abducted by a killer and subjected to a brutal waterboarding. The producers naturally assumed they’d be using a stunt double for most of it and then cut to Cook, but to their shock, Cook said she would do it for real so it would look better for the camera. Cook has admitted to vastly underestimating the effect it would have on her physically and mentally yet insisted on multiple takes to ensure it looked powerful. The scene ended up being a highlight for the series and proof that she’s more than just a pretty face.
14 Rooney Mara
When she landed the coveted role of Lisbeth Slander in the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Mara knew she had to go big with it. So, she cut her hair and dyed it black, bleached her eyebrows and had her nipples pierced. That was before adding the fake tattoo and then getting into the movie’s wicked sex scenes. It launched Mara’s career but she also described it as a truly arduous experience and thus no surprise she’s reluctant to reprise the role, as getting into Slander required a lot more work than you’d expect.
13 Virginia Madsen
It’s one thing to trust a director with your body but your mind as well? 1992’s Candyman has been a cult favorite for horror fans with Tony Todd as the title character, a legendary monster who comes out when his name is called five times. Madsen is Helen, a doctor who disbelieves in the legend until it comes after her, Candyman confronting her several times with a dazed Madsen falling under his spell. Thinking Madsen wasn’t looking right doing it, director Bernard Rose had the daring idea of having Madsen hypnotized and implanted with a trigger he could use on set to make her look properly under the spell. Thus, when you see Madsen looking tranced out, that’s for real, the actress saying on the DVD that she still doesn’t fully remember what happened. That’s one risky way to make a scene look good but damn if it doesn’t help the film be more scary.
12 Maisie Williams
At only 19, Williams has won massive praise from her peers on Game of Thrones for her professionalism, skill and especially how far she’s gone to make her role as Arya Stark work. Rather than just use a sword right-handed, as is natural, Williams insisted on learning swordplay with her left hand to match the book version of Arya and undergone physical training for the part. She’s cut her hair and endured some harsh outdoor shoots for the role, laughing on audio commentaries at how on-screen sister Sophie Turner “lives in castles and great dresses while I’m in the mud in the same outfit all year!” This latest season has enhanced Williams’ drive as Arya was blinded and rather than act normally and let them CGI white eyes in post-production, Williams has insisted on wearing contacts that render her nearly blind for real. If she brings this same dedication to movies, then Williams has a very good career ahead of her.
11 Jennifer Lawrence
At 25, she already has an Oscar and two massive blockbuster franchises under her belt yet Lawrence is hailed by her peers for how well she gets into roles. She proved it with her breakout in Winter’s Bone by hunting some game for real as her character would. As Mystique in the X-Men movies, she regularly endures hours of makeup and body suit to play the role which is quite physical as well. For The Hunger Games films, Lawrence learned to shoot a bow and arrow for real despite how many of her shots in the film are CGI and also endured cuts and an ear infection swimming underwater. Also, for the scenes where her character kisses Gale, Lawrence chowed on onions raw fish so the kiss would look awkward as it should have been. She took real dance training for her Oscar-winning role in Silver Linings Playbook and for all her talk on being “a normal gal,” Lawrence’s daring is what’s turned her into a sexy success.
10 Meryl Streep
The most revered actress in Oscar history, Streep is well known for managing to go deep into her characters, mastering just about every sort of accent you can imagine to play everything from a Depression-era worker to Margaret Thatcher. For her breakout role in Kramer Vs Kramer, Dustin Hoffman helped Streep get upset for a scene by slapping her in the face just before the cameras rolled. It’s not just voice or her look either; Streep endured real life water raft experience for The River Wild and took voice lessons for her singing turns in Mama Mia and Into The Woods, and even learned to play the electric guitar for Rikki and the Flash. It’s joked that Streep herself forgets where she is when she’s into a role, and that dedication is the reason she has three Oscars and more trophies than a half dozen other actresses combined.
9 Anne Hathaway
After roles in kid movies like The Princess Diaries gained her stardom, Hathaway changed her image up majorly with nude scenes in films like Brokeback Mountain. She lost some weight for her role in the fashion industry for The Devil Wears Prada and spent time at a rehab center to research her turn as a recovering addict for Rachel Getting Married. The big one has been her role as Fantine in Les Miserable as Hathaway lost a slew of weight, had her hair cut for real on film and deglammed to nail the “I Dream a Dream” song that was the highlight of the movie and won her every Supporting Actress award there was, including the Oscar. Toss in learning gymnastics to look proper as Catwoman for The Dark Knight Rises and a crash course in astronaut training for Interstellar and Hathaway has established herself as not only one of the hotter actresses alive but among the most dedicated.
8 Marion Cotillard
The French star had only a few credits to her list when she was cast as iconic singer Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose. Cotillard endured a makeup job that made her the spitting image of the actress and immersed herself into Piaf’s life to capture her body language, tone and did her own singing for the role in Piaf’s style. It won Cotillard the Oscar and launched her to international stardom with various other roles. This included Rust and Bone with her portrayal of a whale trainer who loses her legs in an accident, Cotillard learning to use artificial limbs to make the walk look proper. With her alluring accent and great drive, Cotillard has bloomed as a true actress willing to take risks to make things look authentic.
7 Natalie Portman
From her debut in The Professional, Portman rocked critics and audiences with a skill beyond her years, getting into the part of a teenage killer with amazing depth. The first real crack at getting into character was for V For Vendetta as she shaved her head on camera for the part and endured some harsh torture. Much bigger was Black Swan as Portman lost weight and learned ballet herself, even cracking her feet a bit for the part. It was rewarded with an Oscar and Portman continues to balance her acting with charity work, while being ready to go all out when a part calls for it.
6 Michelle Yeoh
Often referred to as “the female Jackie Chan,” Yeoh soon took off in Hong Kong action movies with her mix of beauty and fantastic physical abilities. Just like Chan, she insists on doing her own stunts which has led to slews of injuries. In the course of her career, she has dislocated her neck and her shoulder, fallen on her head, smashed into walls, cracked ribs, torn ligaments and suffered severe lower - and middle - back injuries. One hard fall landed her in the hospital for months with a cracked skull yet she was back at work quickly. She also broke her leg shooting Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon but continued on with the shoot without bothering with getting a cast. She may rely a bit more on wires today but the still gorgeous Yeoh insists on doing as much as she can herself, a reason she’s so well regarded by action fans.
5 Halle Berry
After various minor TV roles, Berry made her film debut in Spike Lee’s 1991 film Jungle Fever, playing a crack addict. To get into the part, Berry stopped bathing for two weeks before filming to ensure her character (who was a minor one) looked believable as a complete mess. For her Emmy and Golden Globe winning turn in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, Berry studied the actress extensively to get her body language right and the singing too. While Catwoman was a flop, Berry did undergo a serious physical training bit to get into shape for it and laughed off its bad release by showing up in person to accept her Razzie award. A groundbreaker as the first black Best Actress Oscar winner, Berry showed from the start an ability to get into roles well.
4 Demi Moore
She’s been slammed as a classic case of “great looks, little talent” but Moore did her best to stand out with some rather daring moves. For Striptease, she went ahead to learn at an actual strip joint to get the moves right and while the movie flopped, her dance moves were winning for audiences. Much bigger was G.I. Jane as Moore bulked her body up to play a woman fighting to be a Navy SEAL and cut her hair off for the role. She’s faded from the spotlight but these moves showed Moore was far more dedicated to her craft than she got credit for.
3 Charlize Theron
After years in movies that mostly showcased her beauty and amazing body, Theron rocked critics by taking on the part of Aileen Wuornos, the notorious serial killer in Monster. Not only did Theron put up with a makeup job that rendered her unrecognizable but she also gained 40 pounds, shaved her eyebrows and handled the rough elements to get into a killer’s mind. It paid off and was seen as one of the best performances in history that easily won Theron the Oscar. She proved her dedication again when she was cast as Furiosa in Mad Max Fury Road and came up with the idea to shave her own head in order for the part as well as put up with the brutal desert shoot. For a woman recognized as one of the most beautiful alive, Theron has shown no fear in getting ugly for a part.
2 Kate Winslet
Winslet rocketed to international fame for Titanic but much of her performance wasn’t all an act. When Rose slips into freezing water to save Jack, Winslet’s gasp of surprise is genuine as James Cameron hadn’t told the actors the water was going to be so cold and many of her looks of fear are for real given the massive sinking set used as Cameron was fond of having it shake without warning. For her Oscar winning turn in The Reader, Winslet gained weight and put up with makeup for her aged character while also learning German for the part to make her voice more authentic. Likewise, for her role in Steve Jobs, she learned Polish to get the accent for her character right. No matter the role, Winslet always looks gorgeous in it and its amazing to see how well she blossoms in a part.
1 Hilary Swank
For her movie debut in The Next Karate Kid, Swank learned real martial arts and took an intensive physical fitness regiment. The movie flopped but did land Swank on Hollywood’s radar. When she landed the role of Teena Brandon in Boys Don’t Cry, Swank knew this was her big chance and went all out for it. She not only cut her hair and stuffed socks into her pants but actually lived as a man for a month, so well that neighbors who saw her walking around thought she was her own “brother” visiting. Even bigger was when the director confronted her about lying about her age when she auditioned and Swank just shrugged “that’s what Brandon would have done.” It paid off as Swank won an Oscar. She followed it up with Million Dollar Baby, learning boxing and training hard but also refusing to reveal she’d suffered a serious staph infection as her character would have fought through it as well. Again, Swank won an Oscar for the part, showing a stunning dedication to roles that proves her grit under her beauty.