Robert De Niro is known as the original when it comes to extreme commitment to method acting. He transforms his body and his mental space to deliver amazing performances. In Martin Scorsese’s ‘Raging Bull’ (1980), he outdid himself. The film traced the Italian boxer’s career over several decades. De Niro was able to document the drastic changes in LaMotta’s appearance, gaining 60 pounds, the most any actor had ever put on for a film role.
For most shoots of ‘Raging Bull,’ De Niro had to maintain the physique of a boxer. But in the last few scenes, De Niro was required to portray an aging, overweight LaMotta. De Niro was never so committed to a role as he was to this one, and he won a Best Actor Award for it. To pack on the extra 60 pounds and keep it authentic, De Niro held off production of the film while he traveled to Italy to consume as much pasta as possible. When he returned, he was transformed into a doughy aging Italian man.
Daniel Radcliffe Starved Himself in ‘Jungle’
Daniel Radcliffe was faced with the challenge of portraying real-life Israeli adventurer, Yossi Ghinsberg, who was stranded in a Bolivian jungle for three weeks, in 1981. Radcliffe subsisted on a starvation diet of one chicken breast and one protein bar a day to prepare. “It’s not recommended, it’s a really unsafe way to lose weight.” Radcliffe admitted.
Ghinsberg survived by foraging fruit and eggs from nests in the Amazon. He was stranded without tools or training. He lost 35 pounds and suffered disease and infection until he was rescued from the rainforest by local people. Radcliffe’s diet, while extreme, lasted only two weeks. And he doesn’t claim to be a method actor. “I’m not a method actor, but it would seem weird if I was playing this guy stuck in the jungle and going home, having a lovely steak dinner at the end of the day.”
Jake Gyllenhaal Transformed in ‘Nightcrawler’
'Nightcrawler,' a film about an articulate but depraved paparazzo crime reporter named Lou, was showered with accolades. Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance earned him a Golden Globe Best Actor nomination. Playing a wildly ambitious low-life reporter, who chases cop cars and ambulances, or beats them there, to score sordid footage of the criminal element in action, was a dark mindset to embrace.
To get into Lou’s head, Gyllenhaal rode along with actual paparazzi ambulance chasers. He also got into character by transforming his body into the gaunt, sunken look, apparent on the reporter’s hollow face. So, he starved himself, subsisting on kale and chewing gum. On top of that, he would run 15 miles back home from the studio each night. He shrunk his 180-pound body down by 30 pounds.
Michael Fassbender Wasted Away for ‘Hunger’
After a 10-week regimen of a 900-calorie daily diet and aerobic exercise, Michael Fassbender lost 42 pounds to play Bobby Sands in 'Hunger.' Sands was a young prisoner who led the second Provisional Irish Republican Army hunger strike in 1981. He died after 66 days without food. The film won the 2008 Camera D’or prize. The exercise included yoga, walking, and skipping. Weighing just 127 pounds, Fassbender said, “It is such a psychological prison.”
The extreme weight loss, surviving on nuts, berries, and sardines, caused him to lose more than body fat. “What was also interesting was that my libido left me,” Fassbender said to the Sunday Times Culture magazine. On the other hand, he gained some too. “I was so focused, it was unbelievable. I felt I had the answers to so many things.”
Ryan Gosling Gets Fat for ‘The Lovely Bones’
Ryan Gosling packed on the pounds to portray Jack Salmon, the grieving dad in 'The Lovely Bones.' He gained 60 pounds on a quest to hit 210, guzzling melted Häagen-Dazs to aid the process. As it turned out, he and director Peter Jackson didn’t see eye-to-eye on the project. “We didn’t talk very much during the pre-production process, which was the problem,” Gosling admitted. The outcome? As Gosling puts it, “I was fat and unemployed.”
Ultimately, Mark Wahlberg landed the role in 'The Lovely Bones,' an adaption of Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel. Paramount Pictures cited creative differences for letting Gosling go, but in the end, he was just too fat. However, Fran Walsh, director Jackson’s wife and collaborator on the film, disagreed. She stated, “Ryan came to us two or three times and said, ‘I’m not the right person for this role. I’m too young.’” She claimed that they wanted to work with him telling Gosling, “We can age you up.” Gosling maintains that it was the extra weight that lost him the gig.