Most of the time we only see an actor’s work that appears on camera. This, unfortunately, dismisses the fact that an actor’s work begins weeks, if not months in advance. Production meetings and line memorisation is only a small part of the job, with some of the greatest actors and actresses taking dramatic steps in order to fully bring their character to light.
Sometimes these personal transformations can stem from severe and unhealthy methods.
We thought it would be a good idea to take a look at some of the most extreme actor transformations in film and television, how they achieved this transformation, and the potential dangers. As anyone who has tried to change their body type can tell you, the mental challenge is just as important.
1. Christian Bale: The Machinist (2004)
Lets start this list off with a prime example of an actor going to the physical extreme for his craft. Bale’s crash-diet took him from a 12st 3lb frame down to around 7st 5lb, a record breaking 63 pound loss for the role. To achieve this massive transformation, Bale underwent a diet consisting of one can of tuna and an apple per day. To help curb his appetite Bale also took up smoking.
His decision to lose so much weight actually shocked the film’s crew, while the director, Brad Anderson admitted to being thrilled with Bale’s dedication to the role. However the film’s producers eventually had to stop Bale, as he aimed to reach 7st 1lb. This dramatic weight loss eventually caused issues for Bale; particularly during some of the films more involved scenes. Bale has gone on record stating he had tremendous difficulty running during filming due to the severe weakening of his leg muscles. His crash diet not only burned off any fat on his frame, but most of his muscles as well. He certainly had the look of an exhausted insomniac.
This severe body transformation was only the first of many, further showcasing Bale’s dedication to character acting. His ability to adapt his body is equally as impressive as his acting. In fact, after The Machinist Bale went and gained all of his muscle back for his first outing as Batman.
2. Hugh Jackman: Les Miserables (2012)
Let’s get the Wolverine out of the way first. Hugh Jackman’s turn and dedication to his Wolverine role is well known. The man loves playing the popular mutant character and continually gets in better shape for each new movie. He’s the best at what he does, and what he does is bulk up.
Yet, it is Jackman’s turn as the French anti-hero, Jean Valjean, that should be looked at. In Les Miserables we see a side of Jackman never really shown. His skin turned pale, his face near ghoulish, and his strength looks to be sapped away. This looks like a strong make up job, but it is in fact purely Jackman.
For this role he only lost about about a stone, which doesn’t sound too bad…until you realize the method he went through. According to reports, Jackman severely dehydrated himself to lose all of the water weight around his face, and some across the rest of his body. Vigorous exercise during a period of 36 hours without liquids left Jackman in this state. Again, when you look at the numbers it doesn’t seem so bad, but it’s the method that makes this transformation notable.
3. Michael Fassbender: Hunger (2008)
In order to properly play Bobby Sands, an imprisoned member of the Irish Republican Army who died on a hunger strike, Michael Fassbender lost nearly 3st through a medically monitored diet. Eating only 900 calories a day, alongside hours of exercise, left the actor feeling trapped in a psychological prison. The role was his cell, while that calorie count was the always looming warden.
What makes this transformation standout is the uncensored rawness of Fassbender’s body. Because this film is based on a true story, Fassbender’s transformation straddles between dedicated and disgusting. Much like Tom Hanks’ transformation is Cast Away , the transformation ends up more impactful because we can see it happening on screen. We see Bobby Sands start to whither away, which better helps us understand what actors go through for their roles.
4. Vincent D’Onofrio: Full Metal Jacket (1987)
All of the roles we’ve discussed so far have been for fairly recent movies that required actors to lose some weight, so let’s mix things up a bit and look and weight gain.
Vincent D’Onofrio is an actor who has been on the up lately, having starred in huge success’ like Jurassic World and Netflix’s Daredevil . but many still remember D’Onofrio for his role in Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 classic Full Metal Jacket. D’Onofrio has always had a bigger build, but in order to play the tormented recruit, Pvt. Gormer Pyle, he gained 5st, breaking Robert De Niro’s then 60 pound record weight gain for Raging Bull . This gain, which consisted of seven months on a greasy diet, elevated D’Onofrio’s weight to 20st.
What’s most impressive about this gain is the fact that Full Metal Jacket was D’Onofrio’s Hollywood debut. Most people never heard of the actor before this film, meaning this was our original perception of his body. It just shows that an actor’s dedication surpasses fame.
5. Charlize Theron: Monster (2003)
Long before she was driving down the Fury Road, Charlize Theron’s willingness to transform her body was well documented. For her role as the real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003’s Monster, the former model shaved off her eyebrows, donned prosthetic teeth, covered herself is blotchy makeup, and packed on 30 pounds onto her once svelte frame. The results left Theron unrecognizable in the role, which won her the best-actress Oscar later that year.
Truth be told, there isn’t much more to say about Theron’s transformation other then she demonstrated that actresses are just as willing to undergo transformations for their roles as their male counterparts, and that a transformation doesn’t simply involve weight.
6. Chris Pratt: 2009: Present Day
Chris Pratt is the prime example of an actor’s willingness to transform their body for whatever role they play. Most people were introduced to Pratt through his role as the bumbling Andy on . Parks and Recreation . Yet, since the show started in 2009, he has played numerous parts that required him to change his body in between seasons.
Pratt packed on over 4st for his supporting role in 2013’s Delivery Man by attempting to eat everything in sight. But before that, Pratt underwent Navy Seal inspired training to get in shape for 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty . In 2011, he had to bulk up to play real life Oakland A’s baseball player, Scott Hatterberg in Moneyball . This isn’t even mentioning the muscle growth needed in order to play the leads in blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World . All of these roles required Pratt to undergo severe and different diets, each with different health complications.
The effects of Pratt’s yo-yo diets reflect the dangers of trying to rapidly change one’s body. Pratt himself stated that the changing of his body left him feeling impotent, fatigued, and emotionally depressed. “I had real health issues that were affecting me in a major way. It’s bad for your heart, your skin, your system, your spirit,” he said.
Because we live in an entertainment fuelled culture, it is easy to write off an actor’s work. We never see the months of preparation needed to bring the characters we love/hate to life, and it’s even more rare for us to hear about the consequences of their work. Too many times we ignore the dedication, hard work, and risk that “celebs” put in for their craft.
A special mention also needs to go out to Jared Leto and Jake Gyllenhaal, who are just some of the other actors who have put in some serious work for the craft. I’m sure they won’t be the last.