Actors have the ability to truly move their audiences — be it to tears or to laughter. Over the course of Hollywood history, there have been many actors who have stood out against the herd due to their amazing performances. While most good-looking people can stand in front of a camera and run their lines, it takes a real actor to make viewers feel true emotion.
Most people can agree that Hollywood isn’t what it used to be. This is primarily due to celebs being cast in movies due to their looks and fame instead of their talent. Despite the recent changes in Hollywood, there are still many talented actors who want to raise the stakes and show the world what they are made of.
While there are some actors who go for simpler roles, there are others who take on the challenge of shedding their skin and portraying a difficult persona. In order to nail their roles, some actors take on extreme forms of method acting as a means of relating to their characters — no matter how gruesome they may be. This has proven to have some side-effects, as it can take a toll on an actor’s mental state. The following is a list of actors who have gone above and beyond to deliver stellar performances despite the challenges their roles entailed.
15. The Joker (The Dark Knight) — Heath Ledger
If there is one actor who merits a spot on this list, it’s Heath Ledger. In 2006, it was announced that Ledger would be taking on the role of the Joker in The Dark Knight. Originally, the writer of The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan, had approached Ledger to offer him the role of Batman, to which he politely declined. It wasn’t until later on that he was given the role of the Joker.
Ledger, who was a method actor, immediately got to work on familiarizing himself with the Joker. To nail his part, he isolated himself from the world for over a month and continuously portrayed the insanity of his character. This proved to have negative effect’s on Ledger’s state of mind, as the actor soon took his own life before the movie could hit the big screen in 2008. Ledger delivered the most iconic Joker performance in Hollywood history, and in his last moments, many believe that he had, in fact, become his character.
14. Derek Vinyard (American History X) — Edward Norton
Edward Norton is a famous actor who is known for taking on extremely challenging roles. What makes this actor so special is that he can often bring light to a dark situation by simply portraying a troubled character.
In 1998, Norton took on the role of Derek Vinyard — an angry nazi who was hellbent on living a life of hate — in the movie American History X. Despite this film being one of the first big movies Norton was ever cast in, he delivered a performance that has gone down in history. Doing so wasn’t easy, however, as the actor had to put himself in the skin of a racist murderer. American History X is a very difficult movie to watch, but despite all of this, it can teach a person a thing or two.
13. Emily Rose (The Exorcism Of Emily Rose) — Jennifer Carpenter
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is perhaps one of the most terrifying horror movies ever made. Jennifer Carpenter, who played the role of Emily Rose, delivered such an honest and raw performance that many people believed the actress to be possessed in real life. Carpenter’s character is often seen convulsing and contorting in unnatural ways, however, the actress blames her movements on adrenaline and wanting to deliver a believable scene.
“I know it looks really crazy and loud and out there, but there is a method to the madness. I watched tapes about seizures and epilepsy and read about possession. I studied kabuki theater. I tried to go in every direction,” says the actress.
12. Django (Django Unchained) — Jamie Foxx
It is never easy for actors to work on a film where harsh realities are met. This was the case for Django Unchained, a chilling movie based off of the hardships of slavery. Jamie Foxx, who was cast as Django, found out first hand how difficult it was to act out scenes where torture and racism were a focal point. Foxx was often wounded by the racist language and actions of his fellow actors — even though he knew it was entirely scripted. Amidst the racism and intense filming regimen, Foxx found himself relating to his character on a deeper level. The role of Django was extremely tough, especially since Foxx was being directed by Quentin Tarantino, a director who is notorious for delivering impact and emotion to every single scene.
11. Jack Torrance (The Shining) — Jack Nicholson
There are few movies that can withstand the hands of time, but The Shining is one of them. Written by Stephen King and directed by Stanley Kubrick, The Shining remains one of the greatest old school horror movies in Hollywood history. When Jack Nicholson was cast as Jack Torrance, many fans could not wait to see the actor’s performance, and they were not disappointed.
The role of Jack Torrance was not an easy one to play, as it required Nicholson to embody a character who was filled with rage, anger, and murderous thoughts. It is said that Nicholson’s energy on set was so terrifying that many of his fellow cast members believed him to have actually gone mad.
10. Aileen Wuornos (Monster) — Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron is a gorgeous actress and model who has been in the limelight for decades. Throughout her time amongst Hollywood’s elite, Theron has managed to land a variety of roles despite typically being pigeonholed for her good looks. In 2004, Theron won a Golden Globe for her performance in Monster — a movie based off of the life of a serial killer named Aileen Wuornos.
In order to look the part, Theron gained 30 pounds, cut and darkened her hair, and wore brown eye contacts. The role of Aileen Wuornos proved to be very challenging, especially since Theron had to embody the cruel mind of a prostitute serial killer. Despite wanting to hate her character, Theron ended up sympathizing with her due to her abusive past. However, Theron clearly stated that Wuornos’ actions could never be justified.
9. Patsey (12 Years A Slave) — Lupita Nyong’o
Lupita Nyong’o might not be the most well-known actress in Hollywood, but it is only a matter of time before she is. The young actress landed the role of Patsey in 2013’s 12 Years a Slave and showed the world how brave and talented she could be. The role of Patsey was not an easy one to take on, as Nyong’o had to embody the role of a viciously abused plantation worker.
“I had trouble sleeping, but it was a combination of dealing with the painful place I had to go and the joy of making this film with everyone. I mean, it was so exciting. It was my first feature film, I was working with people I admired so dearly, and we were making something that we all believed in, and everyone took such ownership of it,” says the actress.
8. Hannibal Lecter (The Silence Of The Lambs) — Sir Anthony Hopkins
Sir Anthony Hopkins is a seasoned actor who never fails to deliver outstanding performances. However, the actor did face some trouble when filming The Silence Of The Lambs. Hopkins, who was cast as Hannibal Lecter, eventually won an Academy Award for his role, but the award did come at a price. In order to properly portray his character, Hopkins had to inhabit the mindset of a serial killer turned cannibal — which was extremely disturbing.
To make matters worse, Hopkins ended up portraying this soulless yet iconic serial killer not once but three times. When asked if he would ever consider taking on the role a fourth time, the actor said, “I did it once. Made the mistake of doing it twice — three times. The Silence of the Lambs is okay. It was a good film. But I’m done with that.”
7. Fantine (Les Misérables) — Anne Hathaway
It is no secret that actors will go to extreme lengths in order to be cast in the movie they desire. However, getting the role an actor sought out is only part of the challenge, as delivering an amazing performance is the end goal. Say what you want about Anne Hathaway as a person, but when it comes to her acting skills she is the entire package.
When Hathaway caught wind that the movie Les Miserables was being cast, she immediately set her sights on playing the role of Fantine. What she didn’t expect, however, was how strenuous the role would be. In order to look the part, Hathaway put herself through an unhealthy diet to lose weight. In fact, the actress said that her daily meals consisted of munching on pieces of lettuce. To make matters worse, Hathaway cut off her long locks and spent most of her time researching prostitution in order to properly portray her tortured character. “I kind of lost my mind doing that movie and it hasn’t come back yet,” said the actress in 2013.
6. Pennywise (It) — Bill Skarsgård
In order to honor the film’s timeline, It was recreated 27 years after its original release. Bill Skarsgård, who was cast as the child-killing clown Pennywise, is a young actor who has never taken on a role of the sorts. Despite its many challenges, Skarsgård could not be happier with the outcome of the movie, especially since he gets to see just how terrifying he looks on the big screen.
“Normally when you do a movie, you have those mundane days when it’s like, ‘Today is the scene where I get coffee. With this character, there were none of those. Everything I did took 100 percent of my energy. It was by far the most exhausting character I’ve ever done, physically and mentally,” says the actor.
5. Christy Brown (My Left Foot) — Daniel Day-Lewis
The movie My Left Foot starring Daniel Day-Lewis first came out in 1989 and has since then become one of the most emotional films in history. Day-Lewis’ character, Christy Brown, suffers from cerebral palsy — a disorder that affects muscle movement and motor skills. In order to properly portray his role, Day-Lewis had to learn how to walk, talk, and act like an individual suffering from the disorder, which proved to be a challenge.
Wanting to learn about the disorder first hand, Day-Lewis spent 8 weeks in a cerebral palsy clinic. Being the method actor that he is, the actor also spent 6 weeks in character while on set for the film. This resulted in his crew having to care for him due to him being bounded to his wheel-chair. There are few actors who would go to these lengths for a role, but Day-Lewis is one of them, which is why he definitely deserves a spot on this list.
4. Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) — Rooney Mara
In 2011, Rooney Mara played the role of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The young and talented actress landed the role in 2010 and immediately underwent a physical transformation. Her blonde locks were dyed black, her orifices pierced, and her upbeat wardrobe was thrown aside and replaced by a gothic one. After undergoing a lengthy audition and landing the part, Mara became obsessed with portraying her role to the best of her abilities.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo isn’t a movie for the fainthearted, as there are some scenes that are difficult to watch. To make things look believable, Mara was made to act out some of these scenes in real life. “After that first day of doing the choke-out part, I went home, and I can’t remember who was there, but they thought I was in makeup. They thought I had the post-rape makeup on. I was really getting choked out. You can’t really fake that– we weren’t faking that,” says the actress.
3. Dr. Ryan Stone (Gravity) — Sandra Bullock
In 2013, Sandra Bullock was cast as Dr. Ryan Stone in the sci-fi thriller Gravity. Despite Bullock’s stellar performance, the actress was not initially considered for the role. As a matter of fact actresses Natalie Portman, Blake Lively, Scarlett Johansson, Marion Cotillard, and Angelina Jolie were originally approached for the role, however, they all declined. Not many actors were up for this role due to how complicated filming was going to be. Thankfully, Bullock was up for a challenge.
“It was literally a 9-by-9 foot box that was elevated on a platform. On one side, there were black curtains where all the technical geniuses were sitting, and there was a long track in the center… There was a metal harness that I had to get up through that clamped around my waist. It was timed mechanically with the camera, so it would turn my body, and the camera was then spinning, and I had to figure out, ‘Am I upside down? Or am I right side up?’” explained the actress.
2. Ron Woodroof (Dallas Buyers Club) — Matthew McConaughey
Every role has its challenges, but none are too great for actor Matthew McConaughey. In 2012, McConaughey was cast as Ron Woodroof in the movie Dallas Buyers Club. This movie portrays the real-life story of McConaughey’s character, who was diagnosed with HIV in the 1980’s. This movie showcases Woodroof’s struggles and accomplishments as he battles the terminal disease. Due to Woodroof’s skinny physique, McConaughey had to drop a whopping 47 pounds to properly portray his character’s sickly state.
“That was rough. I got down to 143 lbs and I was always hungry, and irritable. My body resembled a baby bird with its mouth open, crying, ‘Feed me, feed me,’ and you realize momma bird ain’t going to feed you. It’s hard.” said the actor.
1. Hugh Glass (The Revenant) — Leonardo DiCaprio
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio has been part of Hollywood’s elite since he was a young boy. Despite being cast in many iconic movies, the actor did not win an Oscar until 2016, when he was nominated under the best actor category for his film The Revenant. This dark and beautifully shot movie tells the tale of revenge and justice while showcasing the hardships cast upon aboriginal people. The Revenant was not an easy movie to film, however, as it was shot in Alberta, Canada, during the coldest months of the year.
“Every day was a battle for myself and a lot of other people not to get hypothermia.” Says the renown actor. To make matters worse, DiCaprio, who has been a vegetarian since 1992 was made to eat raw liver on screen. “The bad part is the membrane around it. It’s like a balloon. When you bite into it, it bursts in your mouth,” says the actor.
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