Open Road Pictures
To be an actor, you have to be a little crazy. That's especially true if you want to be the kind of actor who goes method or undergoes massive transformation to take on roles. Even so, plenty of actors have transformed their bodies for parts, and many of them have earned quite a bit of acclaim for doing so. Transforming your body is one way to be taken seriously as an actor and to prove your dedication to your art.
There are many cases where these kinds of transformations aren't entirely healthy. An actor might lose or gain massive amounts of weight to play a part, and in doing so, cause permanent damage to their bodies. No performance is worth that kind of pain. Even so, many performers choose to undergo these transformations to prove themselves and risk the consequences. Here are 17 of the craziest physical transformations for a role.
Christian Bale is a master at totally transforming his body. He gained tons of weight to play characters in American Hustle and Vice, and he's also bulked up to play Batman. The craziest transformation the British actor ever went through, though, was for The Machinist.
For that movie, he lost a crazy amount of weight, saying he lost 60 pounds by smoking and drinking whiskey — which sounds super healthy... Christian has said that his physical transformations help him get into character. He doesn't look like himself, which helps him feel like someone else too. At some point, his body will likely stop being so willing play nice, and he'll lose control just like everyone else.
The Academy has always been drawn to performances that involve physical transformations, and Charlize Theron's decision to transform herself in order to play Aileen Wuornos in Monster. There was definitely quite a bit of makeup and a few prosthetics involved in the actress's transformation, but she also gained quite a bit of weight to play the convicted murderer.
The role is entirely devoid of glamour, and it illuminated just how much work Charlize was willing to do to give a great performance. She's proved that time and again over the course of her career, but it was especially apparent in her Oscar-winning work in Monster.
Full Metal Jacket is a movie about the horrors of war that extends those wars all the way back to basic training. It's there that we meet "Gomer" Pyle, an initially inept recruit played by Vincent D'Onofrio. To play the role, Vincent gained more than 60 pounds, and his physical transformation is coupled with an incredibly dense psychological performance.
It's a great performance, and his commitment to the physicality of the role illuminates just how thorough he was being in discovering this character. Full Metal Jacket is an intense experience, and Vincent D'Onofrio's performance is a big reason for that intensity.
Dallas Buyer's Club was Matthew McConaughey's chance to prove that he could be a serious actor, and he didn't waste that chance. Playing a bigoted man who discovers that he has AIDS and tries to survive the disease for as long as he can, it earned the actor an Oscar, and proved that he could give incredible, nuanced performances along with his goofier rom-com roles.
For Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew lost 47 pounds. He looked like a hollowed out version of himself, but it helped give the character a sense of frailty that the actor doesn't have in his other roles. He looks sick, which only makes his performance that much better.
Robert De Niro's work on Raging Bull earned him an Oscar, and it's a good thing it did. The actor put his body through hell to play boxer Jake La Motta. First, he got muscular enough to pass as a boxer. Because the movie doesn't end with his boxing career, though, Robert also had to gain 60 pounds to play Jake after his retirement.
Unlike most sports movies, Raging Bull is specifically about how dark and messed up Jake La Motta was, and the movie goes to great lengths to show us that. Of course, Robert's performance is a huge reason for the movie's eventual success, even if he wrecked his body in the process of making it.
Christian Bale isn't the only actor in the Batman universe who went through a startling transformation for his role. For The Dark Knight Rises, Tom Hardy gained 30 pounds of muscle on a frame that wasn't exactly devoid of muscle to begin with. As Bane, the actor looks almost nothing like himself. His entire body seems to have been created with the idea of strength in mind, and it shows.
Ultimately, it makes sense that Bane would be more physically imposing than Batman. After all, a crucial plot point in the movie is Batman's early loss and exile after fighting the villain.
Natalie Portman's performance in Black Swan is both deeply disturbing and utterly sympathetic. She lost 20 pounds to play a ballerina who loses her mind as she attempts to earn the lead role in Swan Lake. The story is intense and psychologically disturbing, and the transformation took an incredible toll on Natalie.
Fortunately, it also landed her an Oscar, not just because she was willing to slim down to fully commit to playing a ballerina, but because she layered incredibly layered psychology over the physicality. Although Natalie Portman has consistently proven to be an incredible actress, Black Swan may be her best performance.
Chris Pratt decided to become a major movie star, and he was able to do it pretty quickly. After being cast in Guardians of the Galaxy, the schlubby star of Parks & Recreation lost some weight and then gained it back as muscle.
Like many other Marvel heroes, he was required to do at least one scene without a shirt, and he happily obliged. Ever since then, Chris has joined the Chris wars and proven that he can be a major draw at the box office. He's still funny, but now that funny comes in a smaller, more muscular package than it once did.
Matthew Fox may still be best known from his work as Jack Shepherd on Lost, but that doesn't mean he hasn't committed to his fair share of crazy physical transformations. For his role as a serial killer in Alex Cross, Matthew lost 40 pounds in five months by doing 90 minutes of non-stop circuit training.
In this transformation, the actor didn't lose all of his muscle as you might expect. Instead, his muscles and veins became so well-defined that his presence in the film only became more unsettling. He looks like a serial killer, which certainly helps him sell the idea that he is one.
The Weinstein Company
Michelle Williams may not be the first person you'd pick to play Marilyn Monroe, but thanks to a transformation, she pulls the role off beautifully. To play Marilyn, Michelle gained weight and wore padding around her hips to replicate the actress's famous figure.
Michelle also studied old clips of the actress and stayed in character on set. Her transformation was one of voice, posture, and body shape. She wanted to lose herself in Marilyn Monroe, and she mostly succeeded. It's hard to embody one of the most iconic actresses ever, but Michelle Williams has never balked at that kind of challenge.
Bridget Jones is a little bit plumper than Renee Zellweger, so whenever the actress returns to the character, she gains some weight beforehand. The remarkable thing about Renee's transformation is that she did it three separate times for the three movies in the trilogy. That meant that the actress's weight was fluctuating quite a bit over the course of the last decade.
Actors become very good at gaining and losing weight quickly, though. They get help from personal trainers to lose the weight, and they gain it pretty recklessly. Apparently, Renee's trick is to eat massive numbers of donuts to bulk up. Wow, sounds like grueling work.
Rooney Mara was still fairly new to many people when she took on the role of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Although Rooney is naturally thin, she lost additional weight to play the anorexic hacker with short hair and loads of piercings and tattoos.
Although the piercings and hair could have been faked, Rooney chose to get actual piercings in both her nose and nipples, and also bleached her eyebrows and chopped off her hair. She earned an Oscar nomination for her commitment to the socially isolated character. Her decision to play Lisbeth by taking on her appearance definitely gave her a closer connection to the role.
Hillary Swank is one of the most skilled actresses alive, especially when it comes to physical transformations. For Boys Don't Cry, Hillary played a transgender man who was raped and killed after it was discovered that he was transgender. To make the most of the role, she lived as a man for a month by taping down her chest, stuffing socks in her pants and losing weight to highlight her masculine bone structure.
Although she was a relatively unknown actor at the time, her detailed and empathetic portrayal of the character won her the Best Actress title at the Academy Awards. After everything she went through, it's hard to argue she didn't deserve it.
20th Century Fox
We don't think of Tom Hanks as the kind of actor willing to do drastic things to his body for roles today, but there was a time when he did just that. For Castaway, Tom had to gain 50 pounds to convincingly play a middle-aged man. Once he's landed on the deserted island, his character loses 55 pounds and grows out his hair.
That's exactly what Tom did for the role, and the results speak for themselves. Castaway gave the actor a chance to physically transform his body in two different ways. At least on this movie he had an excuse to lose all the weight after he had gained it.
Peace Arch Entertainment
Jared Leto has undergone a number of physical transformations for roles over the years, but his decision to gain 67 pounds to play John Lennon's killer in Chapter 27 was definitely the most drastic thing he's ever done.
The actor gained the weight so quickly that it became impossible for him to walk to set. What's more, he was also diagnosed with gout. Needless to say, Jared somewhat regrets the decision to modify his body in such a way for work, and probably wouldn't do it again. Even actors who like to transform themselves for roles have limits in regard to what they'll do to themselves if it'll have lasting effects like it did for Jared.
In recent years, Jake Gyllenhaal has made more of a show of transforming his body for roles. For Nightcrawler, the actor lost 30 pounds, in part by running 15 miles a day. To play Lou Bloom, a man who hunts for shocking and salacious news in late night Los Angeles, Jake knew he had to come across as creepy and sniveling.
The weight loss really helped with that transformation. It made Gyllenhaal look slightly other-worldly. He still looked like himself, but not the handsome man that most of us are used to seeing. Instead, he was somehow scarier, and he seemed to be more willing to do anything to get what he needed.
Typically, George Clooney plays suave, handsome men who can do pretty much whatever they want. After all, he looks like George Clooney. Why would he want to hide that? In Syriana, the actor did just that. He gained 35 pounds to play Robert Barnes, a CIA operative.
Because George's character was also aging, the actor cut his hairline to reflect that. Although the role earned him acclaim, George has been very clear about how difficult it was, and it doesn't sound like something he'd ever do again. George Clooney is good enough to play any type of character even when he looks like himself. Physical transformations aren't necessary.