Some movie stars are trained in method acting, a performance style in which actors strive to fully immerse themselves in a character’s emotional landscape. The technique originated with Russian theater legend Konstantin Stanislavski and developed, in large part, at the renowned Actors’ Studio in N.Y.C. Method actors are known to go to extremes, but other actors do too. Character actors subscribe to a different method but dive into their roles similarly. Other actors are simply committed to portraying their part to perfection.
As viewers, we see the final product in movie theaters or at home, not realizing the commitment and sacrifice that went into crafting larger than life characters. Here, we are going to get a look at the extents Hollywood greats have gone through to bring us truly legendary characters. We have compiled 43 stories of individual actors who illuminate the behind the scenes struggles and tribulations they endured to deliver stupendous roles.
Jake Gyllenhaal Trains for ‘Southpaw’
Jake Gyllenhaal’s workout regimen was so intense, it ended his relationship with girlfriend Alyssa Miller. Working out six hours per day for six months left no time for any other kind of commitment. Putting on 15 pounds of upper body muscle, and 28 pounds of muscle-weight in total, meant starting at 4:30 a.m. in the gym with 2,000 sit-ups. For director Antoine Fuqua, who required two gym workouts per day, seven days a week, Gyllenhaal trained dutifully. Fuqua counseled Gyllenhaal about the commitment it would take to play the role of Billy “The Great” Hope.
Gyllenhaal ran 8 miles each day and trained with boxing coach Terry Claybon. Fuqua trained alongside Gyllenhaal, from the pre-dawn workout to the workout in the afternoon. After 1,000 sit-ups and an 8-mile run, they’d come back to jump rope training, another 1,000 sit-ups, and other muscle-building routines. Details included six to seven full meals per day, loading up on carbs in the mornings and muscle-building high protein in the evenings.
Christian Bale’s Extreme Dieting for ‘The Machinist’
Playing machinist factory worker Trevor Reznik, a troubled man with debilitating insomnia, Christian Bale had to get into the mind and body of a man whose struggle with sanity is compounded when he causes a freak accident that severely injures his co-worker. To fall to this character’s point of deterioration, Bale undertook an extreme weight loss regime. In total, he lost 60 pounds. If that doesn't sound extreme, consider he started at 173 and dwindled down to 110. It was hardly healthy.
He ate one can of tuna and one apple per day. One cup of coffee served as his only beverage besides water. He also exercised intensely, completing cardio, weight training, and intensive resistance workouts. Additionally, the coffee and these particular foods are metabolism boosters.
Chris Hemsworth Bulked Up for Thor
It surprises no one that the “Sexiest Man of the Year” title went to Chris Hemsworth. With Hemsworth’s first trainer, former Navy SEAL Duffy Gaver, the actor committed to a hardcore, old school method of heavy weights and red meat. People who noted the transformation thought Hemsworth used steroids, but Gaver says, “He didn’t touch a single substance.” It was just his raw will to beef up to Thor proportions.
These days, Thor’s got a new trainer. Luke Zoochi’s plan moved Hemsworth to lean and healthy meats and on to a strict new vegan regiment. Including it in the Thor workout plan has helped popularize “vegan bodybuilding.” With the original Thor workout, Hemsworth packed 20 pounds of muscle onto his upper body. The focus to his arms and shoulders was an intentional bodybuilding strategy as he was looking for the Nordic hammer-wielding strength of Thor.
Charlize Theron Fills Out Her Frame for ‘Monster’
It wasn’t a part Charlize Theron thought she could pull off, but ultimately, she won the Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of the deranged vigilante serial killer, Aileen Wuornos, in 'Monster' (2003). Getting into character, Theron put on 30 pounds. The commitment required eating a lot of donuts and potato chips, essentially living as unhealthy as Aileen Wuornos would.
Portraying the real-life serial killer revealed another side of Theron’s acting spectrum. She credits the support of 'Monster' director, Patty Jenkins, who told her she must take the part. “You have to,” Jenkins said. “You’re the only person who can.” It meant the world to Theron, who said, “I feel like when you work with people who believe in you fully like that, if you have that kind of faith in me, I will do anything for you.” Indeed. She pinned the part and won the Oscar.
Tom Hanks Transformed into a ‘Castaway’
Tom Hanks had to deliver two vastly different physiques for 'Castaway'. He had to pack on 50 pounds for filming the “before” images, and then shed 55 pounds in four months for the “after” images. Hanks said, “The idea of looking at four months of constant vigilance as far as what I ate, as well as two hours a day in the gym doing nothing but a monotonous kind of work-out was formidable. You have to power yourself through it almost by some sort of meditation trickery. It’s not glamorous".
To get an idea of what sort of diet he had to subsist on, it was mostly crab, fish, vegetables, few fruit-based carbs, coconut milk, and water. To satisfy a hunger craving, he chowed down on vegetables. It’s now known as the Castaway Diet.
The Sacrifices of Anne Hathaway for ‘Les Miserables’
Anne Hathaway won a Golden Globe, an Academy, a SAG, and a BAFTA for her role as Fantine, in 'Les Misérables'. But she lost a tremendous amount getting into the mind of an impoverished, emotionally-wrenched French woman who eventually dies of tuberculosis. True, Hathaway literally wasted away, stripping 25 pounds from a fit frame, but she also sacrificed a long-flowing brunette mane and her mental well-being.
With zero regrets for doing justice to Victor Hugo’s Fantine, Hathaway said, “I had to be obsessive about it—the idea was to look near death.” She survived on two squares of what she calls “dried oatmeal paste” a day. She submitted to consuming about 500 calories per day, a special diet that included a severe cleanse at the start of filming. It took a toll. “I was in such a state of deprivation—physical and emotional." The actress said it took her weeks to feel like herself again.
Chris Pratt Chisels Down for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’
'Parks and Recreation' star Chris Pratt was a little tubby playing Andy Dwyer, the slacker sweetie from Netflix TV. But what happened when all 300 pounds of him had to squeeze into Marvel’s Star-Lord costume? Long story short, Pratt had to swing a serious lifestyle modification to star in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'. Dropping 60 pounds in six months, while bulking up, was “three or four hours a day of just consistent, ass-kicking hard work,” said Pratt.
To accomplish it, Pratt enlisted the same professional trainer as Chris Hemsworth, Navy SEAL Duffy Gaver, and nutritionist Phil Goglia. Pratt consumed 4,000 calories per day and drank a ton of water. He drank water from morning to night. “I was peeing all day long, every day.” Pratt told Men’s Journal. After hitting his goal, Pratt posted on Instagram photo highlights of his newly chiseled physique. After all that hard work, Pratt says he’s staying ripped for life.
Jared Leto Lost 40 Pounds for ‘Dallas Buyers Club’
Co-starring with Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, Jared Leto played a transgender woman with HIV. Like McConaughey, Leto submitted to a severe weight loss routine. “I stopped eating, it wasn’t an easy thing to do. It was 30 to 40 pounds. After a while, I stopped counting.” Leto’s commitment to delivering a stupendous performance as Rayon in 'Dallas Buyers Club' paid off. He won an Oscar, a Golden Globe Award, and a SAG Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Shrinking down to just 114 pounds, he looked gaunt but feminine. But it took a psychological toll. “It changes the way you walk, the way you sit, the way you think,” he said. Leto’s respected as a method actor, who delves into his characters with research and physically demanding sacrifices like this. He packed on an unhealthy amount of weight for another movie, 'Chapter 27'.
Hillary Swank Transforms for ‘Million Dollar Baby’ in Just 90 Days
Swank played “Maggie” Fitzgerald, a Southern waitress who ends up in L.A. gym Hit Pit. Clint Eastwood, director and producer, co-stars with Swank. He’s a curmudgeonly trainer who begrudgingly trains her. In reality, her training already happened. It was one of the most difficult things she’s ever had to do. “I started working out five hours a day—I had to eat 210 grams of protein a day,” she said.
“The thing was, I needed nine hours of sleep a night because your muscles have to be able to rest in order to build or you actually reverse yourself. So, I slept nine hours a night, but I had to wake up in the night and drink protein shakes because I couldn’t go that long without eating,” Swank explained. She reached her goal in an astounding 90 days. Producers asked her to pile on 10 pounds of muscle weight, but she went above and beyond with over 20 pounds of pure muscle added to her frame. She earned a second Academy Award for the performance.
Jared Leto Packs It on for ‘Chapter 27’
Jared Leto piled on the pounds to play John Lennon’s assassin in 'Chapter 27'. To be precise, he packed on 67 pounds! Playing Mark David Chapman, the American Beatles fan who took the life of the world-adored English rock and roll icon, required more than a physical alteration. Leto needed to alter his voice and demeanor. “[Chapman] barely ever speaks above a whisper and everything is kind of choked off in the throat,” Leto said.
The dough-boy body Leto procured portrayed the killer in J.P. Schaefer’s Chapter 27 precisely, but it did not win any fitness awards. In fact, his physique earned him an Rx for Lipitor instead. Ending up with gout and doctor recommendations for Lipitor left Leto with almost zero regrets. “The script didn’t say, ‘Page 1: You gain 67 pounds, and you’re miserable for two months.’ The point is, Leto nailed the part.
Demi Moore Trained Hard for 'G.I. Jane'
On the brink of decline from a super-celeb apex, Demi Moore battled back with an extreme training regimen to transform herself into a female Navy SEAL who breaks into the exclusively male military club. Preparing to get into the character of Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil, G.I. Jane’s protagonist, took the same sacrifice and commitment SEALs train for. To keep it authentic, Moore trained with Navy SEAL coach Stephen Helvenston and celebrity trainer, Gregory Joujon-Roche.
She hit her cardio routine by 4 a.m. every morning and then moved on to muscle strengthening: one-arm push-ups, dumbbell bench presses, and shoulder workouts, nine weight training exercises in all. Cardio came from treadmill workouts or running in Central Park with a security guard entourage. Other efforts to get in the headspace of a SEAL included shaving her head, completing vigorous Navy SEAL obstacle courses, and doing push-ups in the mud.
Matthew McConaughey Shed Significant Body Mass for ‘Dallas Buyers Club’
Matthew McConaughey dropped almost 50 pounds to play Ron Woodroof, a Texas AIDS patient given 30 days to live, in the brilliant film 'Dallas Buyers' Club'. To look like a man emaciated from HIV, he not only cut his caloric intake but also burned 1,800 additional calories a day with heavy exercise.
His wife Camila restricted his eating by preparing his meals. He set a goal to lose four pounds per week. He lost a grand total of 47 pounds. To make sure his weight loss was as healthy as possible, he met up with a nutritionist. He had the desired appearance in mind.
Jonah Hill Packed on the Pounds for ‘War Dogs’
In 2016, Jonah Hill rounded his figure out an extra 40 pounds to look like real-life arms contractor and weapons dealer, Efraim Diveroli. But after the film wrapped, Hill was ready to get rid of the heavyset look, so he dialed up his '21 Jump Street' co-star Channing Tatum and asked him to hook him up with his trainer and nutritionist.
He took up Jiu Jitzu. At a gym in Manhattan, he has worked with a trainer doing boxing moves. He’s not as comfortable sharing his workout routine as other stars are. But Hill is happy to be in shape. “I really believe everyone has a snapshot of themselves from a time when they were young that they’re ashamed of. For me, it’s that 14-year-old overweight and unattractive kid who felt ugly to the world who listened to hip-hop and who wanted so badly to be accepted by this community of skaters.”
Natalie Portman Transforms Her Figure for ‘Black Swan’
Natalie Portman said preparing for her role in 'Black Swan' took a huge physical and emotional toll. “It was about a year of ballet preparation that sort of ramped up as the film got closer. It started out for a couple of hours a day, then five hours a day, then more like eight hours and it was very intense but really fun, too,” Portman said. At her side were some of the world’s top dancers, coaches, and teachers in the ballet universe.
Portman was 29 when she chiseled off 20 pounds to create Nina, a beautiful young ballerina whose relentless ambition drives her to the edge of sanity. Her diet, equally crazy, subsisted on very little besides rabbit food—a lot of carrots and almonds. Between extreme dieting and brutal 8-hour-long dance rehearsals, Portman said, “There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die.”
Matt Damon “ate nothing but chicken” in Preparation for ‘Courage Under Fire’
Transforming his body to play an army medic Specialist, Andrew Ilario, in 'Courage Under Fire' (1996) was an enormous sacrifice for award-winning actor Matt Damon. He said, “I had to run about 13 miles a day, which wasn’t even the hard part. The hard part was the diet.” The same thing every single day. “All I ate was chicken breast!", Damon shared on Reddit.
Losing the weight produced a drastic transformation. The Massachusetts-born actor got down to 139 pounds, which was a big drop from his normal weight of 190 pounds. It took a significant strain on his health; Damon was placed on adrenal gland medication for a year to repair damage from extreme stress. But it was worth it. Damon’s method acting commitment impressed director Francis Ford Coppola, who gave him the lead in 'The Rainmaker' the following year.
Renée Zellweger Beefs Up (Again) in ‘Edge of Reason’
Playing the titular character in 'Bridget Jones’s Diary' required a significant weight-gain commitment for Renee Zellweger, so when the sequel, Edge of Reason, came around, the same 30-pound weight-gain requirement did too. Zellwegger said, “I knew that it was essential in repeating the journey...And if you’re not going to become the character and be the character, then I don’t really see the point in undertaking the experience”. Gaining weight was not her concern, delivering her best “Bridget Jones” was all.
To fill out from a size 4 to a 14, she ate burgers with the crew, sampling all the local burger joints. Keeping the weight on was a bit more difficult than she thought, because the demanding schedule of the shoot kept her on her toes and burning calories. And, according to a crew member, some measures had to be taken. “In one scene they had to pad out her bottom,” said the crew member.
Vincent D’Onofrio Tips the Scales for ‘Full Metal Jacket’
To get into the role of an overweight Marine recruit, in Stanley Kubrick’s 'Full Metal Jacket', he had to pack on 75 pounds. It required some discipline. “My usual breakfast consisted of steak, three eggs, a half a loaf of bread and a quart of milk,” D’Onofrio said. In the film, D'Onofrio starts out as a slow-witted oaf. Everyone is surprised when the inept recruit transforms into a vicious demented killer after his spirit is crushed by the extremely ruthless drills and taunts of the villainous drill sergeant.
Prepping for the character altered not just his looks, but his life as well. “Women didn’t look at me; most of the time I was looking at their backs as they were running away. People used to say things to me twice, because they thought I was stupid.”And his body became foreign to him. “My thighs were tremendous, my arms were tremendous, even my nose was fat. I had a tough time trying my shoelaces, but this was the only way I could play Leonard, because I had to be weak-minded in the same way,” explained D’Onofrio. It affected his self-perception.
George Clooney Hit a Low Point on the Set of ‘Syriana’
George Clooney won the Best Actor Academy Award for his role as a CIA operative in 'Syriana' (2005), yet he endured more pain than he had ever known while filming it. In one of the stunts he performed, something went wrong. A spinal injury left him in excruciating pain. Clooney was lying in a hospital bed completely immobilized, and suffering headaches on par with that of a stroke. “You start thinking in terms of, you don’t want to leave a mess, so go in the garage, go in the car, start the engine,” Clooney considered.
The injury kept him from the publicity rounds for 'Ocean’s Twelve', released in 2004. In the end, surgery was able to correct the injury, but he still gets headaches occasionally. To prepare for the role of agent Robert Barnes, Clooney shaved back his hairline to age himself. He doesn’t look back fondly on filming the Oscar-winning role. "It wasn’t the fault of the film or director", he explained. “It’s just that everybody has that year where you age a decade, and this was that one for me.”
Emma Stone Becomes an Athlete in ‘Battle of the Sexes’
Training to become legendary tennis pro, Billie Jean King, in 'Battle of the Sexes', Emma Stone upped her game. She worked out with celeb trainer Jason Walsh, until her slight figure was transformed into the physique of a professional athlete. Walsh commended Stone for her work. He limited her diet to protein shakes, primarily.
She gained 15 pounds and the physique of a competitor. The tennis pro always bounced the ball twice before serving. Always. Stone mastered Billie Jean King’s signature bounce, and she nailed the part, even though it was her first time portraying a real person. She played King in the historic 1973 match against Bobby Riggs. Stone was set on getting it right. “Every scene was so immensely important,” said the 2017 Oscar-winning actress.
Zac Efron Builds His Body for ‘Baywatch’
The only thing more captivating than the theatrical release of 'Baywatch' in 2016, was Zac Efron’s abs and pecs. To get there, the star chiseled himself down to just 5% body fat. FYI: it’s nearly impossible, do not try this at home. Efron worked out four to five times a week, and he achieved the perfect beach body in just 12 weeks. He put on 10 pounds of pure muscle by following a vigorous diet and workout plan, with the strict guidance of celeb trainer Patrick Murphy.
The workouts were intense. There were some exercises that Efron did not find fun at all. These were the group circuits with power moves. Trainer Murphy described the brutal nature of group circuits saying they are about “20 alternating jump lunges in one place, 20 jump squats, 60 mountain climbers, power push-ups, followed by a run up five flights of stairs, then one-let squat hops using a TRX rope.”
Tom Hardy Dives into Charles Bronson
Bulking up to play the notorious British prisoner and fighter, Tom Hardy transformed himself into Charles Bronson in just five weeks. When asked about his method for gaining 40 pounds of muscle in just weeks, he said, “I did press ups, push ups, abs work and resistance training with the help of my boy Pnut, who is an ex U.S. Marine.”
According to Hardy, “I put on about 7 pounds a week—no steroids.” But he did mow though Häagen-Dazs, pizza, and Coca-Cola for dessert after his daily serving of chicken and rice. He had to put on pounds to look like the big brawler that Bronson was a young bloke. As an aside, Hardy shared what Charles Bronson thought when he heard Hardy was going to be playing him. Bronson said, “This kid will never be able to play me.” Hardy returned in two weeks; Bronson was impressed. In the end, Hardy said, he thought I did a good job portraying him.
Matthew Fox Gets Fit in ‘Alex Cross’
The character Fox strove to embody for the crime thriller, 'Alex Cross', was a psycho-serial-killer called Picasso. Fox endured a brutal diet and exercise regime and sacrificed any and all appetizing foods, consuming, at least, one bland meal per day. At the end of it, Fox told Men’s Journal, “It’s gonna take a long time before I can confront eating another plate of steamed broccoli and chicken breast.”
And the actor is not committing to the same workout routine any time soon! Fox had a specific look in mind—menacing and deranged. Looking back, he says being Picasso for two months was a draining experience, mentally and physically. But, “The physical preparation was almost a relief, in some respects, from the headspace,” Fox said, saying of the shoot, “It was one of the more challenging experiences I’ve ever had.”
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 of 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.
Robert De Niro’s Epic ‘Raging Bull’ Performance
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 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.
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.
Edward Norton Gets in Shape for 'American History X'
Getting back to his 'Fight Club' roots, Edward Norton played former neo-Nazi skinhead Derek Vinyard, in crime noir 'American History X'. His character was forced to change his role as a white supremacist leader after being thrown in prison for manslaughter. You have to be tough to survive prison, and Norton embodied the look with a shaved head and a lean and mean exterior.
We knew Norton more as an intellectual than a badass, prior to 'American History X', but the Yale grad managed to pack on the Popeye for this film. To make the transition, he mixed strength-building exercises like squats and presses with a high protein diet. Norton had help from Anthony Krotes, his weightlifting coach. Under his guidance, Norton gained 30 pounds of muscle, achieving the sculpted yet scrappy physique of Derek Vinyard. Norton received an Oscar nomination for his role.
Christian Bale Transforms for ‘American Hustle’
In 'The Machinist', Christian Bale shriveled down to nothing, but in 'American Hustle', he swung to the opposite extreme. He gained 42 pounds to play Irving Rosenfeld, the big city con man from the Bronx. To fully implement the appearance of the unsavory swindler, Bale went to other extremes. He slouched, first of all, and it took three inches off his height. However, slouching caused his back to herniate - another sacrifice.
He also shaved a receding hairline into his mop of thick tresses in order to give the comb-over the proper effect. His transformation was shocking. His co-star Robert De Niro can attest!
Ryan Reynolds Steps Up His Game with ‘Blade: Trinity’
Ryan Reynolds is a fitness geek, but before landing the role in 'Blade: Trinity', things were different. After bulking up with 25 pounds of rock-solid muscle in just 3 months, the 6’2” comic actor sees things differently. Reynolds said that the intense workout regimen taught him that nothing is impossible. He worked out six days a week on a 3,200-calorie diet, while accomplishing feats of the extreme.
He ran the N.Y.C. marathon in 3 hours and 50 minutes and climbed the 8,000-foot Machu Pichu. If that doesn't impress you, he can do standing back flips. Keeping the muscle on, he has scored roles in 'Deadpool', 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine', and 'The Green Lantern'.
Will Smith “floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee” to Play ‘Ali’
When Will Smith landed the role of Muhammad Ali, he didn’t look the part. He was 6’2” and 185 pounds, tall and lanky instead of big and brawny. Smith had to get into peak shape and build up 35 pounds of fist-jabbing muscle to his frame. “Beyond looking like a fighter, my goal was to learn to think like a fighter. To do that I had to eat like a fighter, sleep like a fighter, assess situations like a fighter. . . Become a fighter,” Smith said.
Smith’s training consisted heavily of strenuous endurance training. He had to do a lot of running, including running through snow in heavy boots. Weightlifting regimens were also a big commitment. He increased in strength from being able to lift 175 pounds to benching 365 pounds. It took him a year of solid training to reach his goals. Will Smith zeroed in for a knockout performance. It earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in the 2001 film.
Matthew McConaughey Plumped Up for ‘Gold’
Matthew McConaughey found getting into the character of Kenny Wells in 'Gold' was easier than he thought. The Oscar-winning actor packed on 47 pounds, and went from a dashing athletic build to the physique of a middle-aged guy on the Donald Trump eating-plan.
The eat-whatever-you-want diet was new to him. He said getting into the shape of a modern-day prospector scouring Indonesian jungles for gold was easy. McConaughey summed it up, “Cheeseburgers and beer will do the trick." He mused,“I wouldn’t even take the stairs to the second floor, that would be too much exercise”. His wife and kids loved the new chowing down lifestyle while it lasted. “I was Captain Fun—that was my nickname around the house, because I was saying ‘yes’ to everything."
Taylor Lautner Bulked Up to Werewolf Proportions in ‘Twilight: New Moon’
In the Twilight sequel, 'New Moon', Taylor Lautner comes back playing the part of a towering and muscular werewolf monster. To land the role, he had to gain 30 pounds of muscle, or as he says it, he had to “basically kill myself.” Lautner told Access, “I get into the gym every single day, seven days a week, two hours a day, eat as much as I possibly can".
Chiseling out the six-pack and a chest of beastly ripped flesh was a contingent for procuring the role. He met the challenge. “It’s motivation for my passion [for] the character. I knew it was a necessity for the character. I’m stoked to be a part of this,” Lautner said. After the $200 million success of 'Twilight', he’s all in. “It’s mind-blowing,” he said of the massive teen supernatural sensation.
Chris Hemsworth Dwindles to Nothing ‘In the Heart of the Sea’
From Thor to the skin-and-bones frame of a castaway, Chris Hemsworth swung to the other extreme in Ron Howard’s 'In the Heart of the Sea'. In the movie, Hemsworth plays First Mate Owen Chase, whose ship named Essex is crushed to bits by the notorious literary whale, Moby Dick. The crew is stranded for months.
Hemsworth lost 30 pounds to achieve the starvation look. The weight was stripped from the fit and trim frame we saw him don in 'Black Hat', so it was particularly difficult to lose. He and his cast mates were consuming just 500 calories per day by the time the open sea shooting commenced. Like real castaways, Hemsworth said extreme weight loss made them kind of lose it. “We kind of went insane, weighing ourselves every day.”
J.K. Simmons Gets Pumped for ‘Justice League’
J.K. Simmons couldn’t have done it without Aaron Williamson, his ex-Marine elite-level trainer. Although, embodying 'Justice League' Commissioner Jim Gordon took a lion’s share of the work from Simmons. On the other hand, Williamson is credited for bulking up the likes of Zac Efron, Sylvester Stallone, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jai Courtney, and Jamie Foxx.
None of Simmon’s previous roles had demanded a ripped-out physique. He took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 'Whiplash', playing an abusive teacher, so playing the commissioner of Gotham City and Batman’s go-to guy required a flip. The strength he built impressed trainer Williamson, who posted a picture of his ripped client saying, “Every time we train together I forget he’s 61 years old. So much respect for this guy.”
50 Cent Drops Down in 'All Things Fall Apart'
Rapper 50 Cent took time out of his music career to work on a passion project. He wrote, produced, financed and starred in 'All Things Fall Apart', a movie about a Heisman-hopeful football star named Deon, whose fortunes are tackled by cancer. To prep for the role, the rapper from Queens lost almost 60 pounds. His motivation stemmed from losing a friend from cancer.
When a picture of the rapper got out, his gaunt visage shocked everyone. He weighed just 160 pounds. The sacrifice he undertook to star in the film directed by Mario Van Peebles was brutal. He went on a liquid diet and spent three grueling hours a day on the treadmill. This went on for nine months. “I was starving,” he said. He also went through the painful process of tattoo removal to play the part, joking, “It cuts down on the amount of time I have to spend in makeup covering them up.”
Kit Harington Couldn’t Stop Bulking Up for His Role in ‘Pompeii’
You have to be all muscle and mass to play a gladiator. At least that’s what Kit Harington assumed when he took the role of the uber-muscular Milo, in 'Pompeii' (2014). “So I went into quite a heavy training regime five weeks before filming. I started by bulking up, and then when I got out there, I had four weeks to shred down and get toned,” Harington explained. It became addictive. “It’s the best shape I’ve been in, and I was hell-bent on getting in a certain way.”
Becoming obsessed, Harington found himself the victim of body dysmorphia, which is excessive anxiety about body appearance. When he hit the point of over-doing it, he succumbed to exhaustion. His trainer stepped in to help Harington scale back on his gym visits. Three times a day, six days a week, was a bit much. In the end, Harington said that he was proud of his achievement in strength and conditioning.
Emile Hirsch Deprived Himself for ‘Into the Wild’
Emile Hirsch played Chris McCandless, a man who starved to death in the Alaskan Wilderness hoping to be saved. To get into such a deprived state, Hirsch had to give up food. “I weighed about 156 pounds when I got the part, and I weighed 130 pounds throughout most of the film” Hirsch said. But, as the character he portrayed neared death, he lost significant body fat. “And then I went down to 115 pounds for the weight loss in the Alaska segment,” he said.
Wasting away like that was a mental and physical challenge. To do it, he explains, “was a lot of running and being very hungry and dreaming of candy all the time.” It was all he could think of! Even though he was starving, candy was all he craved. “It was like, Steak? No. Like a Take 5 Candy Bar. That was like the ideal,” Hirsch said.
Ben Kingsley Emulates the Mahatma for ‘Gandhi’
Ben Kingsley, who said he was “frightened but determined to get the role,” also said he had little time to prepare for it. “I was offered the role in September, left for India in October and started shooting in November,” Kingsley recalls. Once he arrived at the land of the Mahatma, he completely immersed himself. “I practiced yoga in the morning...In the evenings I did my shoots and, in the night, I took spinning classes,” Kingsley explained.
Learning to spin thread with an authentic wooden spinning machine, Kingsley thought, would be better than trying to fake it on automated spinning machines. Beyond those efforts, Kingsley shaved his head and lost 20 pounds, authentically, by abiding by Gandhi’s vegetarian diet. He also practiced meditation and studied yoga. This is what it takes, he believes.
Matt Damon Hones the Middle-aged Man Look in ‘The Informant!’
For Steven Soderbergh’s 'The Informant', Matt Damon transformed himself again. He put on about 30 pounds to play the part of informant Mark Whitacre, in the 2009 film based on a true story. "Don’t call him fat", Damon clarifies, “It wasn’t necessarily that I needed to be fat. It was that I needed to be doughy,” he said.
To pudge-up for the movie, Damon says, “I just stopped working out and basically just ate whatever I wanted.” Adding, “I ate a lot of In-N-Out, a lot of burgers, beer...When you’re in your 20s, you can do that kind of stuff. When you’re in your 30s, it’s a whole different ballgame.”
Rooney Mara Transformed Herself for ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’
Getting into the headspace of Lisbeth Salander found Rooney Mara dyeing her hair black after chopping it off, taking on facial (and other) body piercings, submitting to severe weight loss, and committing to a 150-day shoot living alone in Stockholm. The character, created by novelist Stieg Larsson, is a dark and repressed young woman. Mara went for the pale and anorexic look to portray her. The final effect had bystanders averting their eyes, a relief for a celeb.
She also researched Asperger’s, because some speculate it is part of Lisbeth’s antisocial bent. When asked if the weight loss she endured was unhealthy, Mara said, “Umm . . . not really.” She barely ate, but that’s not difficult for some. What she struggled with was shooting the violent rape scenes. “I don’t know how to describe it,” she said. “I think, physically, it was hardest,” she told Vogue in 2011.
Ewan McGregor Plumps Up in ‘Fargo’
Sitting at dinner with 'Fargo' creator Noah Hawley in Los Angeles, just three months before production was scheduled to begin, Ewan McGregor was 45 years old and in the shape of his life. That’s when he learned for the first time that his physique was not going to be compatible with his new role. “You need to put on weight,” Hawley told him.
His new routine went something like this: “From October until January, when we started filming, I just started eating whatever I wanted. I made sure that I had carbs with everything and French fries with everything. I didn’t have any technique other than eating a lot.” McGregor avoided standing on a scale, so he never weighed himself. When he went to pick up some Levi’s that fit him, however, the change was obvious. The size of the new pair was three inches bigger than his regular size.
Colin Farrell Plumped Up for 'The Lobster'
In just eight weeks, Colin Farrell put on 45 pounds of fat. He accomplished this by sitting around and doing nothing while loading up on pizza, Haagen-Dazs, cheeseburgers. There was no portion control. He revealed to Hollywood Reporter he would put a tub of ice cream in the microwave to melt it to a drinkable state. But it wasn’t all fun and games. “Two cheeseburgers, fries and Coca-Colas, and two slices of chocolate cake at 10 a.m. is not that fun” Farrell said.
The Irish actor played a comedic role about a guy who must find love within 45 days or be turned into the animal of his choice. In the surreal comedy, Farrell’s character chooses a lobster. At the world premiere of the film, Farrell saw himself on the screen without a shirt for the first time. “I gasped,” he said. “I’d forgotten what it looked like.” Not pleased with his “dad bod,” he got back into shape immediately.