In religious circles, not eating is respectfully called fasting and it keeps the hungry focused on the spiritual.
At Old Country Buffet, a fourth trip to the dessert table is called overindulging, and keeps the feasters' cholesterol high.
In Hollywood, all of the above is simply called preparation. Take on an Awards-friendly script, and you may very well find yourself talking to a nutritionist about the complete metabolism overhaul looming in your near future. Whether you’re Matthew McConaughey on a Paleo diet or Jared Leto looking to blow up like a balloon, Hollywood isn’t lacking in the absurdly dedicated actor department.
In other quarters, actors prepare for roles in preposterous, all-too-indulgent ways, as you're about to find out.
Here are the 10 Most Extreme Measures Taken By Actors For A Role:
10 Robert de Niro – Cape Fear (1991)
What is it about psychological thrillers that drive their actors to extreme physical transformation? In Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear, Robert de Niro fills the original actor Robert Mitchum's shoes with aplomb. His secret sauce for playing the malevolent Max Cady? Pay a dentist several grand to mangle his teeth and have them ground down to jailhouse quality, spend months in the gym melting body fat and molding muscle, get vegetable-dye tattoos on his upper body, and in his free time, study sex offenders and their behaviors like paralegals prepare for the bar.
De Niro’s dedication ultimately scared even Scorsese himself, who found the actor’s voice and physical presence the stuff of nightmares. That is, until De Niro received an Oscar Nomination for the role, allowing Marty to sleep a little more peacefully at night.
Of course, that wasn't the only time De Niro transformed for a role. With Raging Bull, the actor jumped to both ends of the weight scale. As boxer Jake LaMotta, De Niro got middleweight ripped, with body fat down to a Tour de France percentage. After the boxing scenes were filmed, however, Marty and De Niro took a four month hiatus so the actor could go from fit to fat. The before and after comparison is truly shocking. That’s entertainment!
9 Daniel Day Lewis – My Left Foot (1989)
Most actors will do anything to please their agent. But on the set of My Left Foot, Daniel Day-Lewis bypassed convention and stayed in character as the wheelchair bound, cerebral palsy stricken artist, Christy Brown, even when his agent was trying to speak to the actor beneath that performance.
Despite his best efforts, the agent stormed off the set, as Day-Lewis remained AWOL, fully immersed in being Christy Brown, despite the two broken ribs he sustained from the countless hours hunched over in his wheelchair.
The on-camera results will convince you that Day-Lewis can single-footedly paint and write better than the best. The very first scene shows DDL in full Michelangelo mode, using his lower left phalanges to construct true works of art, just as the real Christy Brown managed to do for almost five decades.
8 Jared Leto – Chapter 27 (2007)
In Jarrett Schaefer’s biopic on Mark David Chapman, Jared Leto’s skinny rock star frame and natural good looks disappeared behind an unprecedented weight gain. Critics responded favorably to Leto’s dedication to the role of John Lennon’s killer.
Unfortunately, his near 70-pound weight gain and deep exploration of Chapman’s mental breakdown couldn’t save the ultimately disengaging film. Mr. Leto underwent a reverse training regimen, chugging melted ice cream quarts mixed with soy sauce and olive oil to pack on the pounds.
The actor and musician was apparently 30 Seconds to Death, as he contracted gout from such a rapid weight gain, needing a wheel chair on set to rest his tired joints.
7 Christian Bale – The Machinist (2004)
Say you weigh 200 pounds. In three months, try cutting that number in half. Three months after that, return to your normal weight, but maybe add another ten or fifteen pounds of muscle. Do all this in six months. Yep. Six months. Half a year. Good luck!
That’s essentially the transition Christian Bale underwent between The Machinist and Batman Begins. The official numbers state Mr. Bale dropped 63 lbs. to play Trevor Reznik in the spooky thriller, subsisting on nothing but apples, tuna and water for months at a time. His gaunt frame looks truly skeletal, especially compared to the beefy frame he attained just months later in preparation for Bruce Wayne. His metabolism must still be reeling.
6 Tom Hanks – Castaway (2000)
If nothing else, Robert Zemeckis’ Castaway proves Tom Hanks can make inanimate objects more interesting than most of our lives. That’s commitment. And he did it all while emaciated and starving as much for food as he did human contact. Mr. Hanks lost 50 pounds like he was airdropping FedEx cargo, eating only fish, crab and vegetable for months, in between unrestrained treadmill sprints.
In all seriousness, Mr. Hanks became the weight-loss template for future actors like Matthew McConaughey, who consulted him before taking on the role of Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers' Club. While Tom Hanks’ weight transitions between Philadelphia and Castaway garnered him awards and fame, he also thinks he picked up Type Two diabetes along the way. There’s the rub.
5 Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Between McConaughey’s and Jared Leto’s weight loss for their roles in Dallas Buyers' Club, they essentially melted half a person. As the HIV-infected Ron Woodruff, Matthew McConaughey put himself under house arrest for several months and let himself get increasingly pale, gaunt and melded into the wild mind of Ron Woodruff. When he finally revealed himself to friends, leaving the weight-loss mansion in which he lived, their reactions sealed the deal.
Having dropped to 136 lbs., ten below the goal he set for himself, his friends were convinced he either needed help or had recently been turned by a vampire. That’s when McConaughey knew he was on target. Skin lookin’ like Dracula? Alright. Read Ron Woodruff’s diary forty times? Alright. Scaring the hell out of my friends? Alright, alright, alright.
4 Charlize Theron – Monster (2003)
If asked to identify a modern Helen of Troy, Charlize Theron would make the shortlist. Give her some prosthetic teeth, a gut and shave her eyebrows, and it's a whole other story. Her performance as Aileen Wuornos in Patty Jenkins’ Monster saw the complete repudiation of Theron’s external beauty for a kind of internal ferocity reserved for caged animals.
The film is a nightmarish trip down an increasingly dark road of loneliness, anger, insanity and violence, but Theron’s commitment to Wuornos’ depravity makes for a disarming blend of audience sympathy and revulsion. The physical toll of Theron’s dedication was precipitated by downing endless donuts, potato chips and snack foods without end. The results are stunning and, unsurprisingly, won her a golden Oscar statuette.
3 Shia LaBeouf – Fury (2014)
David Ayer notoriously expects a lot from his cast. As a US Navy Veteran, he has no room for inauthenticity and demands that his actors embody their characters. For the WWII epic Fury, Shia LaBeouf did exactly that. When hair and make-up applied fake scars to his face, he found them so inadequate that he ran out into the hallway and took a real knife to it. He continued to carve up his own face throughout the film’s production.
While sinking his teeth into the WWII tanker role, he actually pulled out one of his lower incisors for full effect. Upon accepting the role in Fury, he enlisted in the Coast Guard the next day and went through a Christian conversion process that he claims
Chris Pratt – Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
For Burt Macklin to track and kill Osama Bin Laden, a few physical changes were necessary. Foregoing the couch for the squat rack, Chris Pratt took a giant leap across genres for his Navy SEAL turn in Zero Dark Thirty. After gaining fame as the beer gut-wielding Andy from Parks and Recreation he hit the gym and became a wall of muscle for Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty.
On screen with Joel Edgerton and others, he cuts an imposing figure a galaxy away from Andy Dwyer. Speaking of the intergalactic, Zero Dark Thirty positioned Pratt for a complete career reversal, showing audiences he had versatility before convincing James Gunn and Colin Trevorrow to bet on him as the action star of tomorrow in Gaurdians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. As the popular actor proves, dropping a few pounds really can change your life.
1 Matt Damon – The Informant! (2009)
Quiet the Team America voice in your head and embrace the full beefiness of Mr. Good Will Hunting. Matt Damon is no stranger to weight shifts, having shed many a pound for the Ed Zwick film Courage Under Fire at the beginning of his career. In Steven Soderbergh’s quietly impressive film, The Informant!, Damon goes full "dadbod" with 30 lbs. of surplus Matt (er, meat*).
His secret? Happy meals between takes, Doritos between lines, and a lot of sitting and sleeping to insulate those additional calories. While the film failed to find much of an audience, Damon apparently had a terrific time with the binging process. Who wouldn’t?
There you have it! Which actor do you think had the most extreme dedication to their role? Let us know in the comments below!
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