Mike Grindle is a freelance culture writer with a love for film, music, and literature.
Who wouldn't want to be an actor? Getting paid handsomely just to pretend you are someone else? And, as a bonus, you get to be famous. But, of course, it's not all that easy. Even if you manage to become the one in every hundred aspiring actors that do okay for themselves, there's a lot of hard work involved, especially if you want some of that sweet critical acclaim.
Some performers, however, take things a step further and go all out for their art. From altering or transforming their bodies to full-method acting or undergoing intense training, there's no denying that some actors and actresses go well beyond their job description. Here we'll take a look at some of the most extreme examples.
10. Charlize Theron – Monster (2003)
In the early 2000s, actress Charlize Theron knabbed herself a breakthrough part portraying real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. The only problem is that Charlize Theron didn't look remotely like the woman. As a result, a complete and incredible transformation would be required.
To look the part, Theron first quit exercising to gain 30 pounds in a relatively short period. She then shaved off her eyebrows and had her hair intentionally damaged. To complete the look and give her the appearance of having blotchy skin, Theron had washed-off tattoo ink applied during makeup before scenes.
The result was nothing short of an incredible transformation that helped Theron on her way to receiving an academy award for her performance.
9. Demi Moore – G.I. Jane (1997)
G.I. Jane tells the fictional story of the first woman to undergo special operations training. Its lead, Demi Moore, was clearly enthusiastic about the role, going so far as to train with real-life NAVY seals in preparation for it, despite being told she wasn't obligated to do so.
Unfortunately, hard work doesn't always necessarily equate to great results, as this entry on our list arguably attests to. At best, the film received disappointing reviews and would see Demi Moore "win" a Razzie award for worst actress
8. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant (2015)
The survival epic, The Revenant, will be remembered as the film that finally won Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar, but he seemingly had to go through hell and back to do it first.
The film saw the actor working in remote and freezing conditions—sometimes while wearing wet bearskin, no less—all while scrambling each day to get ready for set due to the lack of adequate sunlight afforded to the crew.
As a result, DiCaprio put himself at risk of hypothermia on several occasions. Speaking on the film later, DiCaprio described the experience as being the "epitome" of pain.
7. Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables (2012)
Musicals are rarely considered "life-like," but the cast of Les Misérables went to great lengths to ensure that Les Misérables felt authentic. The lead, Hugh Jackman, both lost and gained weight to portray his character's journey, while Russell Crowe went through extensive research to get the details of his villainous persona just right.
Arguably, however, it would be the Oscar-award-winning effort of Anne Hathaway, which saw the actress put tremendous pressure on her body and mind, that proved the most taxing. Not only did the performance see Hathaway lose a large amount of weight, but it also took a toll on her mental health.
"I'd lost an unhealthy amount of weight in two weeks." Hathaway would comment later on, "I didn't know anything about nutrition. I taxed my body, and my brain bore the brunt of it for a while. I just felt very anxious and very lost at that time."
6. Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (2008)
Everyone has their favorite interpretation of the Joker, but there's no denying that Heath Ledger's twisted portrayal of the character was nothing short of groundbreaking. But the process of becoming the character resulted in Ledger pushing himself further than he had ever before for a role.
Not content to sit on the sidelines during development, Ledger became heavily involved in the Joker's makeup and design. He would go so far as to isolate himself in a London hotel for over a month, where he worked on perfecting the character's persona, mannerisms, and voice while also keeping a "Joker's diary," which he would later refer to in order to get into character.
The whole thing would take a toll on Ledger, who already had issues with insomnia which skyrocketed during his preparation. And in the wake of Ledger's death, rumors began spreading that his Dark Knight performance had played a hand in matters.
However, his sister soon dispelled such rumors, commenting that in the time leading up to his death, "He was having fun. He wasn't depressed about the Joker."
5. Natalie Portman – Black Swan (2010)
Ballet is no joke, as Natalie Portman discovered while preparing for her role in the psychological thriller Black Swan. Portman ate little more than carrots and almonds, all while training and rehearsing for eight hours a day. Understandably, it would all strain Portman's mind and body tremendously, resulting in injuries and the actress feeling mentally drained.
"There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die," Portman would admit in interviews later. But it would all prove to be at least somewhat worth it, as the performance led to an Oscar win for the actress.
4. Christian Bale – The Machinist (2004)
Christian Bale is no stranger to transforming his body for a role. Still, he took things to a completely different level in 2004's The Machinist, a film that sees Bale play Trevor Reznik, a man suffering from acute insomnia and bouts of paranoia, guilt, and delusion.
Director Brand Anderson planned to use baggy clothes and makeup to achieve Reznik's emaciated look. However, Bale's commitment to the role saw him go through an extreme diet that consisted of an apple, water, and coffee every day, in addition to the odd whiskey and many cigarettes.
All in all, Bale lost around 62 pounds and only weighed 120 pounds while filming. Discussing the film later, Bale would say that the extreme weight loss put him in a "Zen" state of mind.
3. Jim Carrey – How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Getting into character might not have been that difficult for Jim Carey when he played the grumpy and anti-social Grinch in 2000. That's because the process of becoming the Grinch proved quite literally equatable to torture.
When the first attempt at turning Carrey into the Grinch through prosthetics and makeup took over eight hours, producer Brian Grazer hired a CIA operative to train the actor in techniques for overcoming torture.
According to Carey, who compared the prosthetics process to being buried alive, the operative's advice included constant eating, punching oneself, and smoking. Carey took the latter advice to heart, starting a two-pack-a-day habit just to cope.
2. Mia Farrow – Rosemary's Baby (1968)
This classic horror sees Mia Farrow as the timid Rosemary Woodhouse, a pregnant woman slowly being pulled into a satanic conspiracy against her. But just as the character is put through a traumatic experience onscreen, Farrow would go through her own trials and tribulations during filming, both on-set and off.
Firstly, shooting proved a headache, with director Roman Polanski's attention to detail resulting in the film going over budget and schedule. However, perhaps the most significant disruption occurred when Frank Sinatra, Mia's then-husband, served the actress divorce papers on set via his lawyer.
Then there was the performance itself, which saw Mia walk into real-life oncoming traffic and consume raw liver, despite being a vegetarian.
1. Daniel Day-Lewis – My Left Foot (1989)
The concept of method acting divides opinion. But, whether you think it's pretentious nonsense or an incredible skill, there's little doubt that Daniel Day-Lewis is a master of it. However, in 1989's My Left Foot, the actor would push things further than he ever had before or has since.
The film saw Day-Lewis taking on the role of Christy Brown, a man with cerebral palsy who could only control his left foot. To accurately portray the character, the actor went full method.
Not only did he demand that everyone refer to him as Christy Brown, but he refused to leave his wheelchair, meaning production assistants had to carry him over masses of equipment between scenes. There were also some reports that assistants had to spoon-feed him during lunch breaks.
So committed to the role was Day-Lewis that he ended up injuring his ribs from constantly being hunched over in his chair. But, whatever you think of the whole thing, it's hard to argue with the results, as Day-Lewis would pick up an Oscar for his efforts.
© 2022 Mike Grindle