Rachel M. Johnson is a lover of all things pop culture. She's been writing about music and entertainment online for years.
Actors are very aware of how difficult their craft can be, and realize how much skill and dedication go into the filmmaking business. It can go far deeper than simply putting on a wig or wearing some makeup, to fully embrace a role. Many sacrifice their body for the art, either putting on or shedding weight or muscle that can often be startling. Let's pay homage to those actors that went to the extreme and back, in an effort to fully authenticate the characters they played.
(Note: No one should ever attempt any of these extreme diets to lose or gain weight. Celebrities have the best of the best to help them safely do so, and they should never try to be replicated.)
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Dallas Buyers Club tells the story of Ron Woodroof, an AIDS patient diagnosed in the 1980s when treatments were under-researched and the disease was highly stigmatized. He smuggled unapproved pharmaceutical drugs into Texas for his treatment and to fellow patients through the establishment of the "Dallas Buyers Club." For his role as Woodroof, McConaughey lost 47 pounds, going from 183 to 136 pounds. He also reportedly stayed indoors in his Texas mansion for six months to become paler and ceased socializing, in order to find creative ways of entertainment.
McConaughey's drastic physical transformation was alarming to many, as shedding that kind of weight can be startling. However, the actor stated that he did it in the most healthy way he could. "I met with a nutritionist. I gave myself four months to lose the weight. I had my programmed meals, lost 3.5lb a week—like clockwork—and got down to my desired weight, which turned out to be 47lb lighter."
Renee Zellweger, Bridget Jones's Diary
Renee Zellweger's blockbuster role as the hopeless romantic titular character in Bridget Jones's Diary required the actress to go from a size 6 to 14. When she was told she was too thin to play the plucky lead, Zellweger gained 20 pounds and learned an English accent while smoking herbal cigarettes. For the first film, the actress had a diet consisting of doughnuts and pizza; however that left her feeling ill. To prepare for the two sequels, Zellweger instead worked with a nutritionist in order to safely gain weight.
Zellweger ended up gaining and losing around 30 pounds for each film! She never understood the scrutiny over her weight transformation for the role, having stated, "I put on a few pounds. I also put on some breasts and a baby bump. Bridget is a perfectly normal weight and I've never understood why it matters so much. No male actor would get such scrutiny if he did the same thing for a role."
Jared Leto, Chapter 27
Actor and musician Jared Leto is no stranger to fully embracing a character, having gained and lost weight for many of his films. However, the lengths he went to for his role as John Lennon's assassin Mark David Chapman in Chapter 27 was very extreme. Leto packed 67 pounds onto his normally lanky frame to better adopt Chapman's doughy physique. He did so by drinking microwaved pints of ice cream mixed with soy sauce and olive oil! The abruptness of Leto's weight gain gave him gout, and he even required a wheelchair due to the stress from the sudden weight increase.
Leto himself would go on to admit his methods for his weight gain weren't the best. He once expressed, "I'm not sure it was the wisest choice. A friend of mine was recently going to gain weight for a film, and I did my best to talk him out of it. Just because you can lose the weight doesn't mean the impact it had on you isn't there anymore."
50 Cent, All Things Fall Apart
The famous Queens rapper 50 Cent shed nearly 60 pounds off his normally muscular frame when he took on the role of a football player diagnosed with cancer in All Things Fall Apart. The musician-turned-actor based his character on a childhood friend who had died of cancer and wanted to accurately portray the effects on the body. He went from a starting weight of 214 pounds to a frail 160. A liquid diet and constant exercise on the treadmill attributed to the shocking physical transformation.
Rumors and speculation began swirling that 50 Cent was sick, as his appearance alarmed fans. However, it was soon revealed he had been preparing for the role and had an overall goal in mind. "It was like, if I don't get close enough to what my best friend looked like to me at that point before he passed, then I'm not doing the story any justice."
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Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Natalie Portman's Oscar-winning role as committed dancer Nina in the psychological horror film Black Swan proved the extremes she would go to for her craft. The already slim Portman shed 20 pounds from her petite 5'3" frame, adopting a punishing diet and practicing eight hours a day. The actress was being taught under the guidance of former professional ballerina Mary Helen Bowers. Not only was her workout schedule intense, but she also dislocated a rib during rehearsals, but continued pushing through.
Portman herself acknowledged how difficult the role was, and the draining effect it had on her both emotionally and physically. "There were some nights that I thought I was literally going to die. It was the first time I understood how you could get so wrapped up in a role that it could sort of take you down."
Demi Moore, G.I. Jane
Though Demi Moore's G.I Jane physical transformation may not be as shocking as the others on this list, at the time it was quite buzz-worthy.Transforming into Lieutenant Jordan O'Neil, the first female Navy SEAL, was very intense for Moore. The actress trained with a real Navy SEAL, and woke up at 4 a.m. so she could complete her daily fitness and strength training before filming began.
Perhaps an even greater transformation then just the physical aspect, was when Moore shaved off her hair in a satisfying and freeing moment. That scene was lauded by audiences everywhere, even though the film itself was not embraced by the critics. G.I. Jane is a great example of how much work actors put in to fully immerse themselves in roles.
Christina Bale, The Machinist
In 2004's The Machinist, Christian Bale portrays the role of Trevor Reznik, a machinist with severe insomnia that ultimately leads to Reznik becoming extremely thin. In order to transform into the character, Bale had to undergo an intense weight lost regime. He lost a jaw-dropping 63 pounds for the role, going from a weight of 173 to a shocking 110 pounds. He followed a draconian diet, eating only a can of tuna fish and one apple per day for four months.
As if losing that much weight wasn't severe enough, at the end of filming Bale only had six months to regain the mass for his role in Batman Begins. The actor achieved this through weightlifting and bingeing ice cream and pizza.
Chris Pratt, Guardians of the Galaxy
For his role as the wise-cracking misfit Star-Lord in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, funny-man Chris Pratt ditched 60 pounds in six months to physically transform himself. According to the actor, he achieved this feat by, "Three or four hours a day of just consistent, ass-kicking hard work." Prior to being cast as the lead character, Pratt was most well-known for playing the adorably dim-witted Andy Dwyer on the sitcom Parks & Recreation. His weight fluctuated heavily in between the roles he took; he gained weight for Delivery Man then lost it for Zero Dark Thirty and Guardians.
Pratt seems to have embraced the healthier lifestyle and physique. In an interview with People, he expressed, "Being in good physical shape is the best to combat depression. You just have endorphins running around your body. It is the best anti-depressive that there is."
Michael Fassbender, Hunger
In the film Hunger, Michael Fassbender portrayed Bobby Sands, a young prisoner who led the second Provisional Irish Republican Army hunger strike in 1981, who ultimately died after 66 days without food. For the role, Fassbender went on a fast of his own: he lost 42 pounds from a combination of a 900-calorie-diet and exercise. The actor met with a nutritionist and was able to lose the weight as safely as he could, an underwent periodic medical checks.
Fassbender was aware of how intimidating the prospect truly was. While promoting the film, he had said of taking the role, "You don't want to do that if you think it's not going to be a good film, or it's not going to tell a story in the right way, or do justice to the amount of effort and time you put into it. But once I met Steve and Enda [Walsh, the playwright who co-wrote the script], I was like, I have to do this, I have to work on this."
Charlize Theron, Monster
Charlize Theron's transformation into real life serial killer Aileen Wuornos proved to audiences that she was much more than just a pretty face. The actress gained 30 pounds for the role, doing so by eating a diet of donuts and potato chips. Theron put on the weight in order to adopt Wuornos' lifestyle and overall physicality. Not only did she alter her body, she also had her eyebrows completely plucked, wore prosthetic teeth and had her hair "fried' and thinned.
The efforts were well worth it; Monster earned a whopping $60.4 million on an $8 million budget in 2004, and earned Theron the Academy Award for Best Actress. Of her physical evolution, she had said, "I was so concerned early on in the process with the physical aspect of it, because in diving into the emotional aspect of it so much. I was so concerned about wanting to stay so true to Aileen, every decision we made, we never forgot Aileen."
Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler
In the 2014 thriller film Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Louis Bloom, a stringer who records violent events at night in Los Angeles and sells the footage to a television news station. Before signing up for the movie, the actor decided to shed nearly 30 pounds in order to fully embrace his shady paparazzo character. To lose the weight, he completely stripped his diet to a jaw-dropping combination of kale salad and chewing gum. He also ran 15 miles a day to and from his home, and to the film set.
Gyllenhaal himself didn't initially realize how demanding and grueling the physical regimen was. In an interview with People, he had admitted, "The running thing, you're pretty hungry because you're not eating a lot of food. You're lonely because you're not meeting your friends for dinner. People go, 'Hey you want to meet for dinner after work?' I go, 'Well, I'm shooting all night.' All right, you want to meet for lunch?' I'm like, 'I can't!' So I'm gonna go run."
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Anne Hathaway was so committed to her role as Fantine in the 2012 musical Les Miserables, that she completely chopped off her brunette locks and shed 25 pounds to portray the struggling mother-turned-prostitute. Fellow cast-member Hugh Jackman also underwent a serious weight loss, and the two actors often confided in one another during the process. The pay-off for Hathaway was well worth it: she received the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her role as Fantine.
Hathaway would later go on to express how consuming the weight loss process was. "I had to be obsessive about it--the idea was to look near death. Looking back on the whole experience--and I don't judge it in any way--it was definitely a little nuts. It was definitely a break with reality, but I think that's who Fantine is anyway."
Chris Hemsworth, Thor
For his role as the hammer wielding, golden-haired Norse God Thor in the Marvel film, Chris Hemsworth packed on 20 pounds of muscle to nab the role. In order to transform his svelte physique, the actor hit the gum with trainer and former Navy SEAL Duffy Gaever, who opted for an old-school bodybuilding approach. Of Hemsworth's impressive transformation, Gaever said, "It was just red meat, heavy weights and some protein powder. He crushed every single workout. He simply decided to look like Thor."
Hemsworth is aware of his ever-changing physique, as he had to pack on mass to play Thor, and then lost it for roles in films like Vacation and In The Heart Of The Sea. During the promotion of the comedy Vacation, the actor expressed, "I feel like I've lived like an athlete these last few years because I've constantly had to bulk up for Thor, then lost it all again for something like this."
© 2019 Rachel M Johnson