Actors aren’t just pretty little celebrities that live up in the Hollywood Hills and drive around nice cars. I mean — of course they are, but at the end of the day they still have a job to do and most of them take their craft very seriously. Sure, actors can show up on set, sit in hair and makeup, spew their lines for the day and return home to their mansions. But, the best actors? They don’t do that. They eat, sleep and breath their character and sometimes that’s where the madness sets in.
Some actors will throw on a fat suit, others will gain weight. Some actors will shed fake tears, others will be overcome by their own. Some actors will wear prosthetic wounds, other will create their own (crazy but true). Whether it’s mentally, physically or emotionally, all of the greatest actors will have some type of toll taken on them while fixated on a role. Method acting is one thing, a very admirable thing but when a character follows an actor far after filming has ended, that’s when you know their true dedication. “No pain, no gain” as they say, don’t expect to win an Oscar without a little sacrifice I guess.
Some of the actors on our list felt the effects of a character for months following filming, some for years, some for a lifetime and one who didn’t even live through the insanity his character created. Check out our list of 15 roles that took a serious toll on their actors.
15 Janet Leigh — Marion Crane, Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film, Psycho is a horror movie classic. The most iconic scene in the film, and in horror movie history is the savage shower scene where Janet Leigh’s character is slashed to death. This particular scene has traumatized many over the decades. But, most of all it traumatized Janet Leigh herself.
She was just as frightened as audiences were,"I believed that knife went into me. It was that real, that horrifying. I could feel it,” she said in an interview. The biggest toll it took on her was her fear of showering. She told the New York Times, "I stopped taking showers and I take baths, only baths. I make sure the doors and windows of the house are locked and I leave the bathroom door open and shower curtain open. I'm always facing the door, watching.”
14 Tippi Hedren — Melanie Daniels, The Birds
Tippi Hedren starred as Melanie Daniels in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film The Birds. This role was her big break, however also proved to be very emotionally damaging for her. She describes the film’s final bird attack scene as the worst of her life. She was told by the crew that the birds in the scene would be mechanical. However, this was a lie. She endured five days of bird trainers throwing live crows and ravens at her face. At one point Hedren broke down when one of the birds cut her cheek and nearly hit her in the eye. The breakdown convinced a doctor to order Hedren a week of time off but Hitchcock wouldn't allow it. “It was like I was in a mental prison,” she said.
13 Morgan Spurlock — Supersize Me
Now this isn’t exactly a “role” per se, because Morgan Spurlock plays himself in the 2004 documentary Supersize Me. In the deliciously disgusting film, Spurlock highlights the obesity epidemic in America. He aims to find out exactly just how terrible fast food is for your body. For 30 days he eats nothing but food from McDonald’s, breakfast, lunch and dinner. It didn’t take long for Spurlock to see the type of toll junk food does to the body.
In only 30 days, Spurlock gained 24 pounds and increased his body mass by 13 percent. His cholesterol skyrocketed and he experienced mood swings as well as sexual dysfunction. Because his health was declining at such a fast pace, doctors urged him to stop the experiment. However, he was determined to finish the experiment, and he did. With a mere 30 days of damage done, it ended up taking him a whopping 14 months to get his body back to normal.
12 Kyle Richards — Lindsey Wallace, Halloween
Kyle Richards, best known as one of the real housewives of Beverly Hills was once a child star. She played Lindsey Wallace in 1978’s Halloween, a little girl whose babysitter is being stalked by masked killer, Michael Meyers on Halloween night. Richards has said she was too young while filming the movie to really understand what was going on in the storyline. However, following filming when she watched the movie pieced together for the first time she was terrified. “I really did sleep with my mom until I was 15-years-old after that,” she said. Richard’s blames Halloween for turning her off of horror roles altogether, “I was always thinking there was someone hiding behind the drapes or outside my windows or under my bed.” Poor Kyle Richards, scarred for life by a fictional psycho-killer.
11 The Cast Of The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project scared the pants off of anyone who watched it back in 1999. Many moviegoers actually thought the creepy witch tale was true (myself included). The filmmakers went to extreme lengths to make the story convincing, extreme lengths that absolutely terrified their actors.
First off, the directors fooled their cast into thinking the story of the Blair Witch was in fact true to keep them in the right head space. They then left them alone in the forest with handheld cameras to basically film the movie themselves. They would leave notes for the actors instructing them where the storyline was going and allowing them to improvise as they wished. The cast was left with little food causing them to become moody and combative with each other — the way the filmmakers liked it. They would also scare the actors by making noises in the woods at night and shaking their tents. The actors admitted to being genuinely afraid in many of the scenes we see in the film. If The Blair Witch project left you with sleepless nights, imagine living it!
10 Natalie Portman — Nina Sayers, Black Swan
Natalie Portman lost 20 pounds and practised ballet for up to 16 hours a day for her role in 2010’s Black Swan. She claimed that in order to lose the weight off of her already tiny frame she was barely eating. Her body felt the pressures of the preparation, her toe nails fells off, her feet were calloused and she even dislocated a rib during a lift. “There were some nights I thought I literally was going to die,” Portman said. Her co-star Mila Kunis went through similar preparations losing 20 pounds herself. All of that aside, Portman did win an Oscar for Best Actress in the role. I hope she celebrated with some burgers, fries and milkshakes.
9 Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson — Deon, All Things Fall Apart
When you think of 50 Cent, you probably imagine his ripped bod on the cover of his debut album Get Rich Or Die Tryin’. Compared to that look, he was basically unrecognizable for his role in 2011’s All Things Fall Apart. 50 Cent plays Deon, a football player who’s suffering through cancer. He lost 60 pounds for the role, going from a 214 pound muscular build to 160 pounds of skin and bone. His nine-week weight loss consisted of a liquid diet and running on a treadmill three hours a day. He wanted to look frail and emaciated — not only did he succeed in looking this way, he ended up feeling this way as well. His treadmill workouts slowly turned into speed walking when his energy levels wouldn’t allow him to run anymore.
8 Daniel Day-Lewis — Christy Brown, My Left Foot
In the 1989 biographic drama, My Left Foot, Daniel Day-Lewis plays an Irish artist with cerebral palsy. The actor went to great lengths to portray his role as a disabled man. Being wheelchair-ridden on camera was not enough for the actor, he insisted on staying in his wheelchair and being spoon-fed the entire time on set. The film crew even had to carry him around and lift him over obstacles at times because he totally refused to walk. He spent a lot of time at hospitals forming friendships with disabled patients and learning about their real-life experiences.
Unfortunately, the constant slouching took quite a toll on Day-Lewis’ body, so much so that he ended up breaking two of his ribs during filming. However, on the bright side his role in My Left Foot won Day-Lewis his very first Oscar for Best Actor. He’s since picked up two more making him the award’s record holder.
7 Kate Winslet — Hanna Schmitz, The Reader
In 2008’s The Reader, Kate Winslet plays a former Nazi concentration camp guard. The role was intense and Winslet put everything she had into it. She admits that while playing in such emotional roles it often takes her months to “say goodbye” to her character. After playing Hanna Schimitz, she wasn’t able to get back to her regular self for two months following filming. “It's like I've escaped from a serious car accident and need to understand what has just happened,” she said in an interview.
Her husband is one of the only ones who could pull her back to reality she says, “He knows when to leave me alone with a cup of tea and a pack of cigs, and, if I break down in tears, he takes me in his arms. He knows that I have to go through all that in order to 'come back’." Although a little emotionally damaging, Winslet won Best Supporting Actress at the Golden Globes for her role in the film.
6 Christian Bale — The Machinist and Batman Begins
Christian Bale came close to death while preparing for 2004’s The Machinist. He dropped 65 pounds for the role of an anorexic insomniac by living off only an apple and a can of tuna a day. He had lost so much body fat that his body started to eat away at his muscle, so much that the muscles of his buttocks actually dropped from his hips and thighbones.
Following The Machinist, Bale only had a few months to prepare for his role of Batman in Batman Begins. Of course, he basically had to look the complete opposite of anorexic and so he totally bulked up for the role. He gained 100 pounds in around five months, going from 120 pounds for The Machinist to 220 pounds for Batman Begins. Bale admits to binging on pizza and ice cream, “My stomach expanded really quickly. I got very sick during that time but I enjoyed getting sick. I didn't mind it at all,” he said. Now that’s what you call a shock to the body.
5 Anne Hathaway — Fantine, Les Misérables
Anne Hathaway lived miserably to prepare for her role in 2012’s Les Misérables. Her character, Fantine is a starving prostitute who must support herself and her daughter. For the role, Hathaway chopped off her long hair as well as dropped 25 pounds by living off of lettuce and oatmeal paste. She said she had to be obsessed with her diet and was basically only eating to survive. The diet caused her to be so thin and fragile that she ended up breaking her arm when she fell riding a bike.
Physical sacrifices were not the only ones Hathaway made. Channeling Fantine’s hardships in the film took a serious toll on her. “I was in such a state of deprivation - physical and emotional. When I got home, I couldn't react to the chaos of the world without being overwhelmed. It took me weeks till I felt like myself again,” she said.
4 Adrien Brody — Wladyslaw Szpillman, The Pianist
Adrien Brody plays real-life Holocaust survivor and pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman in the 2002 World War II historical film, The Pianist. Szpilman was a man who lost everything including his home and his family. The role took a toll on Brody both mentally and physically. He completely threw himself into the role in an attempt to understand the time period, the struggles and the emotion in which he character would have felt.
To be a believable pianist, Brody spent four hours a day practising the piano. He gave up his apartment, sold his car, disconnected his phone, packed his bags and moved to Europe in order to get his life back to basics. Aiming to look emaciated for the film and understand the feeling of starving which his character actually went through, Brody went on a crash diet losing 30 pounds in six weeks."I was missing everyone and everything good. But that put me right in the character,” he said. Brody admits he had immersed himself so much in the role there were times he wasn’t sure he would make it out with his sanity.
3 Leonardo DiCaprio — Hugh Glass, The Revenant
In 2015’s The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass. Following a violent grizzly bear attack, he is left out in the wilderness alone where he must fight to stay alive and find the man who killed his son. To prepare for this intense role, DiCaprio put his health and well-being at risk to really understand what it would be like to be wounded, freezing and alone in the wild. He ate raw bison liver, went for regular swims in freezing cold rivers and even slept inside an animal carcass.
DiCaprio recalls, “I can name 30 or 40 sequences that were some of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.” Was it all worth it? Probably. After being nominated four times in the past, DiCaprio FINALLY won an Oscar for his role in the film.
2 Shia LaBeouf — Boyd "Bible" Swan, Fury
Shia LeBeouf went to extreme lengths to play a Tech Corporal in 2014’s Fury. Some might call it dedication, others might call it complete insanity. The WWII drama involves a lot of explosions, blood and gore. LaBeouf wasn’t impressed with the prosthetic cuts the makeup artists were applying to his face. He didn’t think they looked realistic enough and so he took matters into his own hands and actually cut into his face with a knife. When his wound started healing on set her would even re-open it to keep it looking as real as possible. And if that wasn’t crazy enough, he also got his front tooth pulled for the movie.
Aside from the physical changes he made, LeBeouf joined the US National Guard, spent a month living on an operating base, spent days watching horses die and got baptized to portray the religious character. He also claims he didn’t bathe for four months and kept hygiene to a minimum as would have been done by an actual WWII tank operator. It may or may not be a coincidence that after filming Fury LaBeouf went on those bizarre tirades of disrupting press conferences and wearing paper bags over his head.
1 Heath Ledger — The Joker, The Dark Knight
In order for Heath Ledger to play The Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight he had to delve deep into a darker side of himself. The supervillain character is known to be psychotically evil and mischievous. When Ledger was preparing for the role, he totally isolated himself and devoted his time to channeling in the darkness of the cold-blooded clown. Some say that this devotion lead Ledger to become haunted by his character, unable to disconnect himself off set and therefore becoming consumed.
A short time after wrapping up filming of The Dark Knight, Ledger who was only 28 at the time died of an accidental prescription drug overdose. It is believed by many that Joker’s character took over Ledger’s sanity and sent him into a psychological tailspin causing him to turn to drugs and eventually lead to his death. Former Joker actor, Jack Nicolson may have known about the dangers of the role. When he found out about Ledger’s death while being flooded by paparazzi he was filmed saying, “I warned him”.
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