While we frequently see actors on the red carpet all dressed up and looking like the best version of themselves, their job for the most part is to become other people – they have to bring life to the characters they portray. There’s a lot that costume choice, hair and make-up can do to transform someone – it allows actors to assume different genders, it allows them to look like they belong to an entirely different era, and even more. While even the best make-up job can’t disguise awful acting, for the most part, physical factors can do wonders to helping an actor truly embody their character to the best of their abilities.
While spending hours and hours in a make-up chair might seem hard enough, as many actors who participate in fantasy or sci-fi projects know, some take things to an entirely new level. They want to literally embody their characters, and do so by either gaining or losing a ton of weight. While all the paparazzi nowadays make it hard for an actor to truly keep his or her physical transformation under wraps, it still has a huge impact to actually see the physical transformation on screen, and to later find out just what went into achieving it.
Here are 15 celebrities who completely changed their bodies for a role.
15 Natalie Portman - Black Swan
Natalie Portman was already a very thin, petite woman to start with, but when she took on the role of a fragile ballet dancer for the film Black Swan, she needed to lose a few more pounds off her frame to truly embody the identity of a dancer (20 to be exact). It may not seem like a massive amount, but on a body that basically had no fat to begin with, it definitely took her towards the emaciated side of the spectrum. And it certainly wasn’t easy – Portman allegedly practiced for up to 16 hours a day some days, and subsisted on very few calories. It proves just how tough it is to maintain the type of body that dancers have – Portman had to be strong enough to be able to execute all the technical moves, yet look delicate and frail in her leotard at the same time.
14 Christian Bale - The Machinist
Christian Bale’s transformation to play a tortured, insomniac character in The Machinist remains (and probably will forever stay) one of the most shocking transformations an actor has ever undergone for a character. Though Bale has bulked up for various roles before, he’s a bit towards the thinner side of the spectrum – but no one anticipated just how thin he would get to play Trevor Reznik in the film. In the span of about four months, Bale lived on a diet of an apple a day and black coffee. He dropped over 60 pounds, and plummeted to an absolutely minuscule 120 pounds. They say that the camera adds 10 pounds, so we can’t imagine what Bale must have looked like to all the crew working with him. On film, he looks absolutely emaciated. In fact, Bale was so dedicated that he allegedly wanted to try to go down to 99 pounds before the crew intervened.
13 Chris Hemsworth - In The Heart of the Sea
For one of his most notable roles to date, playing the iconic Thor, Hemsworth had to pack on a ton of muscle in order to play the Asgardian giant. However, he had to take things in an entirely different direction to play Owen Chase in In The Heart of the Sea. In the film, Chase gets stranded at sea for 90 days after the ship he was on gets destroyed by a whale. So, Hemsworth had to look like someone who had been struggling to survive for 90 days – and he certainly achieved that. His crazy diet consisted of about 500 calories a day, with foods like boiled eggs and salads, and dropped about 33 pounds in the span of only four weeks! He commented that, of the two transformations, he far preferred bulking to achieve Thor’s body – the starvation required for the Chase character involved “a pretty moody existence and inconsistent emotions,” says Hemsworth.
12 Jake Gyllenhaal - Southpaw
Jake Gyllenhaal is a fairly petite guy, and has even shrunk his frame smaller for roles in films like Nightcrawler. When he was called upon to play a boxer in the film Southpaw, however, he got to work transforming his body to fit the role – and transform it he did. He doesn’t go into a ton of detail about how he got into Southpaw shape, but apparently it included 2,000 press-ups a day, a three to eight-mile daily run, and intensive boxing practice to make sure he looked like he knew what he was doing in the ring. He gained nearly 30 pounds of muscle to play the heavyweight fighter Billy Hope, all thanks to his dedication in the gym – and, of course, a diet heavy in protein. It takes a lot of effort to pack on that much muscle in that short a time span, and basically everyone Gyllenhaal worked with on the film was impressed with his insane transformation.
11 Christian Bale - American Hustle
Okay, we’re not sure if Christian Bale is trying to win the title of "most crazy body transformations" in his career, but it sure seems like it – he’s done everything from gain a ton of muscle, lose a ton of weight, and gain a ton of weight for his various roles. For the film American Hustle, Bale plays a '70s con artist, and if you were thinking that big belly he’s sporting is a fake, you’d be wrong – Bale gained 43 pounds to play the character. He did it basically how you’d think one would gain a massive amount of weight in a short amount of time – eating, eating, and eating some more. “I ate lots of doughnuts, a whole lot of cheeseburgers and whatever I could get my hands on. I literally ate anything that came my way,” says Bale. While some actors might worry about shedding the weight after a dramatic weight gain like that, we have a feeling Bale knows he’ll easily do it.
10 Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club
In the film Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey takes on a more serious role than many might expect from the zany actor, and plays an individual with HIV/AIDS. In order to convey the physical impact that such a tragic illness has on the body, McConaughey completely transformed his body by losing about 38 pounds. He’s normally a fairly slim yet muscular guy, but after shedding that kind of weight, his entire face changed, his body became all angles, and he just looked like a totally different person. His diet, as you might expect, was extreme – while his exact diet isn’t clear, he basically survived on a bit of lean protein, some veggies, some things like egg whites, and a few spoonfuls of pudding here and there. While sometimes the transformations actors willingly go through seem somewhat gratuitous and just something they’re doing to earn the respect of critics, McConaughey’s physical transformation played a huge part in crafting a convincing character.
9 50 Cent - All Things Fall Apart
While many musicians try to break into Hollywood via an acting role, the majority of them essentially pick characters that require the least effort – they play someone close to who they really are, and it doesn’t involve much acting at all. That’s not what 50 Cent chose to do. A while back, he absolutely stunned the world by sharing an image of himself on his Twitter account wherein he looked like, well, a skeleton. His face was sunken in, his skin had an unhealthy greyish tinge, and he basically just looked like he was going through some kind of serious medical issue – which is exactly what he was going for. In order to play the role of a cancer patient in All Things Fall Apart, the rapper lost about 54 pounds, going from about 214 to 160 in a very short amount of time on a liquid diet. The role was inspired by a friend he knew in real life, so he had some strong motivation to stick to his rigorous plan.
8 Charlize Theron - Monster
Charlize Theron is one of the most gorgeous women in Hollywood, so when she was tapped to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the film Monster, she had to undergo some kind of transformation to make it believable. However, Theron went far beyond what most people would have expected. Not only did she not just forego make-up and sport a messier hairstyle – she gained about 30 pounds to play Wuornos. From the weight gain to the lack of make-up to the prosthetic teeth, the beautiful Charlize Theron definitely looked nothing like herself after her transformation. However, it provided to be effective – everyone praised her performance, even legendary film critic Roger Ebert, who said that “what Charlize Theron achieves in Patty Jenkins’ Monster isn’t a performance but an embodiment… [it] is one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema.” High praise! Soon enough, Theron whipped herself back into her normal shape for her other more glamorous roles to follow.
7 Renee Zellweger - Bridget Jones’ Diary
As you know if you’ve seen Renee Zellweger on the red carpet, she’s a fairly slim, petite woman. However, the character of Bridget Jones isn’t a glamorous Hollywood film star – she’s a regular woman, bumbling through the working world and her love life, indulging in too much wine and chocolate and failing to find time to exercise. It didn’t quite make sense for Bridget to have a size 0 body with perfectly toned abs. So, the svelte Zellweger prepared by completely avoiding exercises and packing her diet with foods like bread covered with butter and cream cheese, French toast, full fat milkshakes, steak and fries, and other high fat foods. In total, she packed about 30 pounds onto her petite frame to play everyone’s favourite lovable Londoner – not once, but twice. Rumor has it she’s committed to maintaining Bridget’s curviness even for the recent addition to the series, Bridget Jones’ Baby, although she doesn’t appear to have gained quite as much weight as for the previous two films.
6 Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables
For the film Les Miserables, Anne Hathaway took on the role of Fantine, a dying sex worker, and she had to look the part, appearing to become increasingly frail as the film progressed. As an actress who was already quite slim, it was likely a bit of a challenge – but Hathaway committed to it and achieved a stunning transformation. She lost about 25 pounds in total for the part, dropping about 10 pounds in the three weeks prior to filming, and about 15 pounds throughout the course of production, shrinking in front of the camera as the movie went on. She allegedly consumed just two squares of dried oatmeal paste a day in order to shrink down to Fantine’s sickly size, and has even stated that there are days she really didn’t even eat at all. Her incredible physical transformation on screen definitely adds a layer of believability to Fantine’s portrayal.
5 Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club
McConaughey wasn’t the only cast member in Dallas Buyers Club who worked hard to shed a ton of weight in order to convincingly play a character suffering from a serious illness. Jared Leto took on the role of Rayon, a transgender woman who also was suffering from HIV. Leto lost about 30 pounds, getting down to an absolutely minuscule 116 pounds, and altered his appearance even further by waxing his entire body and even shaving his eyebrows to accurately portray the character. He didn’t have any kind of crazy diet or workout plan to achieve his goal – Leto himself admits that “I just basically didn’t eat. I ate very little.” In order to shrink down to the size he did, that’s one of the most surefire ways to go about it, although it’s definitely difficult. Like most actors who take on meaty roles such as Rayon, Leto knew he wanted to honour the character with a strong portrayal, which likely helped him through the toughest of the weight loss.
4 Chris Pratt - Guardians of the Galaxy
Chris Pratt has one of the strangest bodies in Hollywood, based on how much it varies from project to project. When he’s relaxing and indulging, he basically has the definition of a cuddly dad bod, and when he plays goofy, lovable characters like Andy Dwyer in Parks and Recreation, that’s the physique he sports. However, when he tackles his action movie roles, he has to whip himself into shape – and that’s exactly what he did to play Starlord in Guardians of the Galaxy. When he shared a selfie to Instagram after his rigorous weight loss, everyone was absolutely floored – after all, he shed about 60 pounds! Unlike many of the actors who shed a ton of weight to play characters who are so ill they appear emaciated, Pratt’s weight loss simply showed off his chiseled abs and muscles. There’s really no secret to it – just, as Pratt told Men’s Fitness, “three or four hours a day of just consistent, ass-kicking hard work.”
3 Matthew Fox - Alex Cross
Most will remember Matthew Fox from his stint playing Dr. Jack Shepard on the television show Lost. He basically looks like your average leading male in most roles he’s taken – tall, dark, and handsome. However, to play a crazy killer in the movie Alex Cross, he wanted to truly embody the role on a physical level in order to help him believably portray the mental side of his character. So, he enlisted the help of trained professionals who were able to show him exactly what he needed to do in the gym and how he needed to fuel his body in order to attain the type of physique he wanted for the character. Overall, Fox lost about 40 pounds, and certainly has a very distinctive, memorable look on screen – both insanely slim yet weirdly muscular, all tendons and grit. Fox’s appearance definitely had an enormous impact on how the character came across on screen, so it seems like his hard work paid off.
2 Hillary Swank - Million Dollar Baby
When actresses transform their bodies for a film role, it generally goes one of two ways – either they shed some weight to play a character who is ill in some way, or they gain some weight to play a certain type of character. However, Hillary Swank took things in an entirely different direction when she took on the role of a boxer in Million Dollar Baby. Swank is naturally a very, very slim woman, with an almost androgynous body, so the transformation is insane. Swank had a mere three months to whip herself into shape, and did so with anywhere from four to six hour daily workouts while simultaneously fuelling her body for muscle growth by eating every 90 minutes. Overall, the petite Swank put on a staggering 20 pounds of muscle for the role – something that would be impressive enough for a larger male, let alone a small female.
1 Robert De Niro - Raging Bull
Robert De Niro’s transformation for the film Raging Bull way back in 1980 was basically one of the first times an actor underwent an intense physical transformation just for a movie role. De Niro took on the role of aging boxer Jake LaMotta, and he wasn’t content to put on a few layers of padding in order to portray a boxer struggling with weight gain – he got right into it. De Niro traveled to Europe and just indulged in meal after meal after meal, packing on an insane 70 pounds for the role. In the scenes where he plays the older, overweight LaMotta, De Niro looks like an entirely different man – not only does he have a huge gut and altered physique, even his face looks totally different due to its roundness. De Niro’s transformation in Raging Bull inspired actors decades later to suffer through a transformation in order to accurately portray a character.