It’s easy to think that actors have a glamorous job on set, but they’re only human after all, and things can definitely go wrong for them from time to time. They may have the best stunt team around them and all the safety precautions big Hollywood bucks can buy, but it doesn’t make them immune to illness and freak accidents in their job.
There are certain roles in every actor’s career that pushes the boundaries a little and challenges them to try daring new things. Unfortunately for the star, this can sometimes mean pushing their bodies to extremes for the sake of entertainment. It’s easy to forget when we’re watching a 2-hour film in the cinema how many months of work went into some roles and how much it has often majorly impacted the actor’s health.
Well-known examples of actors taking things a little too far for their craft are people like Christian Bale who became unrecognizably gaunt for his part in The Machinist or when Leo DiCaprio cut his hand in a now-iconic scene from Django: Unchained. From extreme weight loss to life-threatening injuries and illnesses, these are 15 actors who put their health (and sometimes even their lives) at risk for a role.
15 Leonardo DiCaprio – Cut His Hand And Carried On Filming (Django: Unchained)
Whether or not you’ve watched Quentin Tarantino’s western Django: Unchained, you’ll likely be familiar with one scene in particular—the one that caused Leonardo DiCaprio’s hand to bleed for real. During an intimidating scene in which DiCaprio’s plantation owner character launches into a heated tirade, he slams his hand down on the table in frustration.
Unfortunately (or admirably, depending on how you want to look at it), DiCaprio’s anger got a little too intense in the scene because he slammed his palm right onto a glass and cut his hand pretty badly. Instead of yelling “Cut!” to get cleaned up though, he carried on while his hand bled profusely and used it to stunningly grotesque effect for the rest of the scene. Being the blood-thirsty director that he is, Tarantino didn’t seem to mind his lead actor losing blood for his art either. Bad-a*s.
14 Channing Tatum – Punched Through Drywall With His Head (Foxcatcher)
The 2014 wrestling biopic Foxcatcher was a pretty intense and sinister film in general, but stunning performances by Steve Carell and Channing Tatum made things a little bit more intense, particularly during one of Tatum’s scenes. In a moment when Tatum’s character is attempting to pump himself up for a competition, he begins beating himself up instead, all without stunts or effects.
As his character begins to lose his cool, Tatum gave the scene all the intensity you could throw at it by first punching himself several times before headbutting a mirror three times. Tatum not only shattered the mirror with his force, but he also punched through to the drywall behind it, damaging not only his face but a part of the set. I don’t think director Bennet Miller minded about the set somehow because he kept the impressive spontaneous show of violence in the final cut.
13 Nicole Kidman – Fractured Ribs Wearing A Corset (Moulin Rouge)
The red-haired Aussie beauty has always had a slender, trim figure. But while filming Moulin Rouge back in 2001, Nicole Kidman’s frame was even tinier having worn a corset for large parts of the film. Corsets were a b*tch to put up with for women of centuries gone by, but it only took one scene and a matter of hours to cause Kidman an injury while being constricted in one.
During one of the film’s dance routines, attempting to squeeze even tighter into her corset during one of the more intense dance numbers left Nicole with fractured ribs...twice! Ouch. CGI isn’t exactly Baz Luhrmann’s style, but if the Moulin Rouge director were to do it all again, maybe he could’ve given Kidman a 19th-century waist in the editing suite and saved her some pain? Nasty.
12 Gary Oldman – Smoked Hundreds Of Real Cigars (The Darkest Hour)
The iconic thesp has played his fair share of dangerous characters throughout his career, but his latest role as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour was the first time Gary Oldman played a dangerous game off set as well. In order to play the chain-smoking former British Prime Minister, you’d think Oldman would prefer to use herbal cigars as a healthier option. Instead, he used the real thing, and it seriously cost him his health.
During the 48-day shoot of The Darkest Hour, Oldman smoked almost $20,000 worth of genuine Cuban cigars (that’s around 400 cigars in total!). Unsurprisingly, Oldman was very ill by the end of the shoot. He was admitted to the hospital with severe nicotine poisoning and later had to undergo a colonoscopy! Yikes. Method acting is a b*tch...
11 Viggo Mortensen – Broke Two Toes (LOTR: The Two Towers)
In a scene from the second installment of Lord of the Rings, Viggo Mortensen indulged in a bit of unintentional method acting while screaming out in frustration. During a scene where Viggo’s character, Aragorn, and the rest of the disbanded fellowship realize the Uruk-hai have captured Merry and Pippin, director Peter Jackson had asked Mortensen to kick a nearby helmet in frustration.
The take they used in The Two Towers was great in showcasing Aragorn’s anger and sorrow at letting his friends be put in danger. The problem is that the actor really did have something to cry about. After four previous takes of the helmet kick, the fifth and final one (which Jackson kept in the film) must’ve been done with some force because Viggo broke two of his toes! You had to get your perfect take, eh, Peter?
10 Brad Pitt – Smashed Arm Through A Windshield (Se7en)
While watching David Fincher’s underrated thriller Se7en, eagle-eyed viewers may have spotted Brad Pitt’s character wearing a cast on his arm in the second half of the film. This is because Pitt injured his arm for real—and pretty violently too. During one take which involved an intense chase scene in the rain, Pitt accidentally launched his arm through a car windshield.
It had to have been pushed through the window with some force because Pitt managed to sever a tendon in his hand. So badly, in fact, that the cut went down to the bone. Nasty stuff. Pitt needed immediate surgery and rather than wait months for his arm to recover, he carried on shooting, which is why you can see his character, Detective Mills, sporting an arm sling and cast in later scenes.
9 Jaimie Alexander – Herniated A Disk And Dislocated A Shoulder (Thor: The Dark World)
If you’re a part of something as intense and fight-heavy as a Thor movie, a little bruising and sore limbs are to be expected after a day’s shooting, but nothing as extreme as broken bones and dislocations, right? Tell that to the Thor actress Jaimie Alexander who suffered enough injuries in one film to last most people a lifetime.
While shooting bad-a*s fight scenes in the 2013 installment Thor: The Dark World, the stunning brunette actress (playing Sif) suffered a whole variety of injuries. Alexander told reporters, “I herniated a disk in my thoracic spine, dislocated my left shoulder, tore my right rhomboid, and chipped 11 vertebrae.” Brutal. Alexander clearly wasn’t fazed, though. She’s made a reappearance in the latest Thor installment, Thor: Ragnarok. Let’s hope that crew has a chiropractor on standby!
8 Margaret Hamilton – A Flamethrower To The Face And Hands (Wizard Of Oz)
Hamilton played the Wicked Witch of the West in the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, and it seems like playing one of the most Boo-worthy villains of all time had some kind of karmic effects because the actress almost faced the same grisly fate as the Witch did. Due to a freak accident on set, Margaret Hamilton was badly burned when she was accidentally hit by one of the flamethrowers.
In the middle of filming the Wicked Witch’s exit scene, Hamilton was supposed to have made her departure through a trap door shrouded in smoke and fire, and unfortunately, the flames got a little too close to the actress and a rogue flamethrower spat out, causing severe burns to her face and hands. Apparently, none of the crew noticed she was on fire until she walked off stage.
7 Charlize Theron – Badly Damaged Spinal Cord (Aeon Flux)
If an acting role ever requires lots of epic fight scenes and impressive moves, it always helps to be in good shape. Apart from maybe Monster, Charlize Theron has never not been in great shape on screen, particularly while filming the 2005 sci-fi action flick Aeon Flux. Then again, being fit isn’t always enough to avoid injury, and the stunning flexible actress learned this the hard way during a demanding action sequence.
In one of the fight scenes which required Theron’s character to do a back flip, the actress was clearly not as supple that day because she suffered a ruptured disk mid back flip and very nearly damaged her spinal cord permanently! Production was put on hold while Theron underwent weeks of physical therapy to get back on her feet. Insane.
6 George Clooney – Ignored A Head Injury (Syriana)
The scary thing about suffering a head injury more than any other kind of trauma is that the symptoms can sometimes be far more serious than they appear. This was the case for George Clooney when the silver fox suffered a head injury after filming a torture scene in the 2005 film Syriana and ignored the nagging after effects.
For weeks after the incident, Clooney experienced headaches and memory loss but wasn’t aware of the full extent of his injuries until he finally saw a neurologist. It was soon confirmed to him that he had been leaking spinal fluid. Had he waited any later to find out what his symptoms meant, the film world could have probably lost Clooney over a decade ago to a stroke or even a brain hemorrhage.
5 Matthew Fox – Stabbed With A Non-Retractable Knife (LOST)
During the six-year run of the hit drama LOST, there were plenty of fight scenes and intense moments between the characters, but none were quite as intense as the moment when the main star, Matthew Fox, was stabbed with a genuine knife. Fox was filming a fight scene with his co-star, Terry O’Quinn, when Terry lunged at Fox with what was supposed to be a retractable prop knife.
Disturbingly, the knife O’Quinn had picked up wasn’t a retractable one. And when he went to ‘stab’ Matthew Fox with it, he was horrified to realize that he was stabbing his LOST co-star for real. Thankfully, luck was on Fox’s side as he was wearing a protective Kevlar vest underneath his clothing. If he hadn’t been, Fox could have very nearly been killed on that day.
4 Christian Bale - Extreme Weight Loss (The Machinist)
Christian Bale’s extreme transformation for his role in The Machinist back in 2004 may not have gone down well if it were made today and definitely had people worried about his health at the time. Doctors and medical professionals even warned Bale that his planned weight loss could...well...kill him, but he persevered and shrunk himself down to the harrowing 120 lbs you see in the iconic picture.
Bale reportedly lived on a diet of cigarettes and a daily meal of just one apple and a single can of tuna. If it had been up to the intense method actor, he would have shed an extra 5 pounds, but medics assured Bale that he could die if he took things any further. This unsettling look is a far cry from the buff Christian Bale image we’re used to see in films like American Psycho and the Batman franchise.
3 Halle Berry – Broken Limbs And Almost Choking (Various Films)
Halle Berry may look every inch the elegant and poised lady we see on the screen and on the red carpet, but in reality, it seems that she’s more than a little clumsy. Throughout her career, Berry appears to have been cursed when it comes to on-set accidents and injuries, having suffered at least 5 major injuries and close calls on 5 separate film sets.
While filming Catwoman in 2004, Berry hit her head on a lighting prop during a stunt gone wrong. In her time, she has also broken her arm on the set of Gothika, suffered a broken foot while filming Cloud Atlas, and nearly choked to death on a fig during the making of Die Another Day. Let’s hope the accident-prone beauty has seen the end of her clumsy streak in recent years.
2 Jennifer Lawrence – Vertigo, Nausea, And A Punctured Eardrum (The Hunger Games)
When she’s not tripping over her long flowing gown at the Oscars, J-Law also has some bad luck while on set (although, this was far worse than taking a tumble on the Oscars stage). While filming The Hunger Games series, Jennifer Lawrence faced more than her fair share of scary, death-defying thrills, but these weren’t scripted...
While filming the Mockingjay Part 1 installment, Lawrence was shooting a scene inside a compact tunnel when a smoke machine malfunctioned and caused her to almost choke to death on the dense fumes. As a result of the incident, she also suffered from nausea and vertigo for weeks afterward. A year before, on the set of the Catching Fire film, an underwater sequence left Jennifer with one deaf ear for months and a punctured eardrum due to a waterjet. A Hunger Games curse, perhaps?
1 Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Sliced His Arm Open In Traffic Collision (Premium Rush)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is no stranger to fast-paced action films, and his 2012 movie Premium Rush was no exception. JGL played the character of a speedy bike messenger in Manhattan who rides without any brakes. Injuries are bound to happen while filming an action flick, but with something as risky as this, an injury was almost guaranteed.
Despite the production crew having cordoned off areas of the city for filming purposes, a cab driver took no notice of a barricade that had been put up, and unfortunately, Gordon-Levitt’s lightning-quick messenger was headed straight for him. The unexpected collision caused the actor to crash right through the cab’s back window and cut up his forearm quite badly. Despite the bike having no brakes, JGL was thankfully at least wearing a helmet at the time!
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