You Won’t Recognize These Actors Who Made a Drastic Change for a Movie Role
Behind all the glitz and glamour that surround the biggest Hollywood box office hits, there is a lot of physical and mental preparation that the actors and actresses endure in order to prepare for their roles. Sometimes, they undergo such drastic physical and lifestyle transformations that they are hardly recognizable to those who know them best. The actors you’re about to read about pushed the boundaries and went beyond just wearing a wig and putting on makeup. They showed their complete dedication to becoming a certain character by making a drastic change for a movie. We must warn you, though: Don’t try these extreme regimens at home, folks!
1. Rooney Mara in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
To transform into Lisbeth Salander, the ingenious and peculiar investigator for the mystery crime film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Rooney Mara bleached her eyebrows, dyed her hair black, and added some fake tattoos with the help of makeup artist, Pat McGrath.
The hardest part for Mara were the piercings she had to get in order to complete the look. She told W magazine how bizarre it was because she didn’t have one piercing before that. “They put four holes in each ear, and weirdly, that hurt the most,” Mara exclaimed. She also took things a step further by undergoing arduous training and a strict diet to lose weight, even though that wasn’t required of her for the role.
2. Bradley Cooper in American Sniper
Bradley Cooper added some serious bulk to his physique for his role as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in American Sniper. The star gained 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of muscle in order to really get into character. “His size was such a big part of who he was,” Cooper emphasized to Men’s Health when referring to Chris Kyle.
With just two and a half months to train for the role, Cooper conducted some military training along with lots of weight training. The weight training might have been cumbersome for someone like Cooper, but he said that it proved to him just how much focus and sacrifice it takes for one to be in the military.
3. Charlize Theron in Monster
In order to morph into the serial killer Aileen Wuornos for the film Monster, Charlize Theron went to great lengths to get into character. “I knew I had to transform my body to get myself into her physical skin — the way she moved in her body. And so, I think, for me as an actor, I really… I love that aspect,” Theron told Stumped Magazine. She went on to say that she knew prosthetics and a fat suit wouldn’t do the trick for her to really get into character.
The tall and slender actress shaved and bleached her eyebrows, had her hair thinned, and was given dentures to wear on set. In order to achieve a weathered look of her skin, the makeup team also airbrushed layers of translucent tattoo ink onto Theron. The actress also gained 30 pounds (13 kilograms) by consuming a diet of donuts, potato chips, and other fatty foods in order to make herself look more credible for the role. The weight gain wasn’t required seeing that Wuornos wasn’t overweight, but Theron felt it necessary to release all restraints in her life in order to get into the mind of this serial killer.
4. Natalie Portman in Black Swan
The psychological thriller film Black Swan wasn’t only mentally taxing on the actress Natalie Portman. She also had to shed 20 pounds (9 kilograms) to play the perfectionist ballerina for the role that earned Portman an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Besides for the strict diet Portman maintained for her role as Nina Sayers, the actress also had to train and go for dance lessons for eight hours at a time every day. At the film’s premiere, Portman spoke of how hard it was training for so long saying, “There were evenings in which I thought I was going to die, really die. The training was rigorous and we started a year ahead of time.”
5. Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables
Anne Hathaway took her character Fantine for the musical film Les Miserables very seriously and took extreme measures to lose about 25 pounds (11 kilograms) for the role. By the time she had finished filming for the hit musical, she felt physically and emotionally run-down. In order to play the tragic role of a dying prostitute in the 19th century, Hathaway shaved her hair and lost a lot of weight because she didn’t want to rely on props and makeup.
Hathaway lost 10 pounds(4.5 kilograms) before filming commenced with a strict cleanse diet, and then dropped another 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms) by basically starving herself during the two-week break of filming. She only ate two thin squares of dried oatmeal paste every day because according to Hathaway, “I had to be obsessive about it – the idea was to look near death.” She told Vogue that looking back, it does seem a bit ludicrous, but that’s what Fantine would most probably have experienced herself.
6. Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby
In order to play Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby, Hilary Swank was given 90 days to take up the art of boxing and build the physique of a woman who had boxed for most of her life. For the duration of that time, Swank underwent two to three hours of boxing training every day.
Besides for boxing, Swank also trained with weights because the producer wanted her to gain 11 pounds (5 kilograms) of muscle for the role. Swank managed to gain 22 pounds (10 kilograms) instead with a grueling exercise regimen and strict diet. It’s no wonder she picked up an Academy Award for Best Actress along the way.
7. Christian Bale in American Hustle
Christian Bale gained 44 pounds (20 kilograms) and shaved off part of his hair to play the role of con-artist-turned-FBI-agent Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle. He ate cheeseburgers, lots of donuts, and whatever he could get his hands on, he told People magazine.
In addition to gaining weight, Bale also damaged a disc in his back as a result of having to walk with a crooked back. The injury actually made him lose 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in height because of the herniated disc.
8. Renée Zellweger in Bridget Jones’s Diary
To prepare for her role as Bridget in the three film versions of Bridget Jones’s Diary, the slim and trim Renée Zellweger had to pack on 33 pounds (15 kilograms) of fat by munching on burgers, donuts, and lots of candy so that she consumed about 4,000 calories a day.
The first Bridget Jones two films were released between 2001 and 2004, but right in between, Zellweger returned to her thin self for her role as Roxie Hart in the musical film Chicago by hitting the gym every day and eating her usual healthy meals. When asked what she felt about yo-yo dieting, Zellweger said, “My body is whacked by the time we finish one of those..…It sounds like heaven…”For two days it’s bliss…Then after a week your glucose levels are going crazy.” She went on to say that it really doesn’t feel great and you feel all over the place.
9. Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes
Emma Stone played Billie Jean King, one of the most famous and greatest tennis players in history, in the movie Battle of the Sexes and had to gain 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms) of muscle weight in order to fit the role.
The actress entered a strenuous fitness training camp focusing on shoulder and butt strength with her trainer Jason Walsh so that she built up the desired amount of muscle. This training helped her pick up on the art of tennis pretty quickly. Stone was determined and resilient from day one of training as she knew she had to transfer her petite build into an athletic shape.
10. Demi Moore in G.I. Jane
It’s no easy feat playing the character of the first female Navy SEAL, but Demi Moore managed to prepare for her role as Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil in G.I. Jane with lots of martial arts and cardio and strength training. That’s not to mention that Moore even participated in real Navy SEAL training to physically and mentally get into character.
Moore shaved her hair for the film and woke up every morning at 4 a.m. to kick start her day with a run in Central Park in New York. While trainer Gregory Joujon-Roche helped her get into shape, Navy SEAL instructor Stephen Scott Helvenston got her into the correct mindset to play Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil.
11. Daniel Radcliffe in Jungle
The talented Harry Potter star might not have gone to some of the lengths other actors take to shed weight, but Radcliffe is no stranger to method acting, and therefore entered the mind and spirit of Israeli adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg in the film Jungle by interviewing Ghinsberg himself.
Ghinsberg survived three weeks in the Amazon jungle of Bolivia in 1981, but lost 44 pounds (20 kilograms) owing to starvation, disease, and infections. Radcliffe revealed to The Telegraph that he lost weight on a diet of one chicken breast, one protein bar, and copious amounts of coffee and cigarettes per day for four weeks. He had to repeat this diet twice because the final scenes of the film where shot in both Colombia and Queensland, Australia, so Radcliffe’s weight inevitably fluctuated in between.
12. Gwyneth Paltrow in Shallow Hal
For Gwyneth Paltrow, it was more about what she learned playing Rosemary in Shallow Hal than what she actually had to do to get into character. Paltrow had to don a fat suit for the movie as there was no way she could become that overweight, and she learned great life lessons from that experience.
Paltrow related to W magazine how disturbing and humiliating it was to see how strangers reacted to her in a fat suit. “The first day I tried the fat suit on, I was in the Tribeca Grand and I walked through the lobby. It was so sad….No one would make eye contact with me because I was obese.” She went on to say how horrible the clothes they make for overweight women are.
13. Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw
To play the talented fictional boxing sensation Billy Hope, Jake Gyllenhaal trained six hours a day for six months to add 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of muscle to his frame. With the help of one of the most famous boxers in the world, Floyd Mayweather, Gyllenhaal achieved the perfect look for the role.
Gyllenhaal’s transformation for Southpaw was quite incredible seeing that this came soon after his dramatic 20-pound weight loss for the movie Nightcrawler. “It’s no different than getting into character for anything. It’s more about believing where you are and being present where you are,” he told People.
14. Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich
It was no easy feat for the blonde bombshell to dowdy up to play Lotte Schwartz in Being John Malkovich. Her makeup artist Gucci Westman said it was definitely challenging to make the actress look plain and unrecognizable.
The actress donned a frizzy ’80s-esque wig and paired that with very shabby outfits to play the unattractive pet-obsessed wife of the unemployed puppeteer Craig Schwartz. The transformation made sense seeing that Lotte gets in touch with her transgender desires.
15. Nicole Kidman in The Hours
Makeup artists had to works for hours to transform Nicole Kidman into novelist Virginia Woolf for the film The Hours. The key element to the transformation was the prosthetic nose which rendered the actress practically unrecognizable.
In fact, Kidman looked so different that many preview audiences didn’t know it was her. It took three hours every day to change Kidman’s appearance. The nose aside, many Woolf aficionados were quite offended by Stephen Daldry’s interpretation of the modernist writer’s personality.
16. Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
The esteemed Academy Award Winning actor Matthew McConaughey lost 38 pounds (17 kilograms) in order to play Ron Woodroof, the Aids patient who battled against the U.S. government after it banned a drug for those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
Mconaughey survived 29 days of filming Dallas Buyers Club on a diet solely consisting of Diet Coke, egg whites, and a piece of chicken every day. The actor related to the media how he started to lose his eyesight when he hit 143 pounds (65 kilograms). “You have to re-program all of your habits, and the days get so long. You think it must be lunchtime already, and it’s only 9:30 in the morning,” he stated.
17. 50 Cent in All Things Fall Apart
The famous rapper 50 Cent lost a dramatic amount of weight and muscle to embody a football player diagnosed with cancer in the film All Things Fall Apart. The rapper, who weighed around 220 pounds (100 kilograms) before filming, shed 54 pounds (24 kilograms) for the role through a liquid diet and three hours of running daily. He looked so thin that the rapper’s manager wanted him to see a doctor immediately.
He told the magazine Parade that it was really difficult for him to play the character Deon because it was based on one of his best friends. “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,” declared 50 Cent.
18. Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn
Michelle Williams conducted a lot of research and spent lots of time in front of the TV watching, rewinding, and pausing films and interviews of Marilyn Monroe in order to perfectly imitate her for the movie My Week with Marilyn.
Besides for taking on the speaking voice of Monroe, Williams gained a bit of weight to plump up her face and wore padding around her hips to attain the exact bodily proportions of Monroe. Williams even stayed in the Monroe persona between takes.
19. Ryan Reynolds in Blade Trinity
To get his monster abs for the movie Blade Trinity, Ryan Reynolds had to make a major transformation from his usual diet and exercise regimen. The actor had to train in three-hour sessions, six days a week and eat an orderly diet of 3,200 calories a day to prepare for the role in only three months.
The actor achieved a chiseled physique and bulked up 26 pounds (12 kilograms) in order to look like the supernatural vampire hunter and detective Hannibal King. Reynolds workouts focused on abs, chest, and arms, followed by sessions that focused on even more specific body parts.
20. Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry
Long before the Oscar-winning film Boys Don’t Cry hit the screens, Hilary Swank embarked on a grueling four weeks of transforming into Brandon Teena, a real-life transgender man from Nebraska. He was born a woman and was violently raped and killed by in 1993 for dressing and portraying himself as a man.
Swank experienced firsthand the challenges gender-confused people go through. She strapped down her breasts, lot a bit of weight, and adopted a scuttling kind of strut to perfect her portrayal. Swank also fought with a tremendous amount of fervor for the scene of Brandon wrestling with his new guy friends.
21. Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club
Jared Leto’s transformation into Rayon, a transsexual AIDS patient, for Dallas Buyers Club was just as dramatic as his co-star and brother in arms Matthew McConaughey’s. Leto shed all his facial and body hair, taking about 20 years off his face.
The star also lost 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms) for the role so that he weighed just 110 pounds (50 kilograms). When asked about his weight loss process Leto said, “I just stopped eating, it was hard, and every day I lost a few hundred grams and eventually I stopped counting.”
22. Tom Hanks in Castaway
To play a man stranded on an isolated island for four years after his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean, Tom Hanks had to lose weight. Before filming Castaway, the actor actually packed on 33 pounds (15 kilograms) so that his weight loss would be more extreme.
In order to get into character, Hanks didn’t shave for months and only ate crabs, vegetables, and very little fruit. He only drank coconut milk and water. The movie was filmed in two parts over 16 months, and Hanks lost 50 pounds (23 kilograms) between shooting both parts. Hanks also exercised six days a week, doing two hours of cardio.
23. Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy
Chris Pratt was a little plumper before playing Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy. The actor made sure he did everything right with a diet of 4,000 calories a day topped with lots of water and vigorous three to four hours of daily training.
Pratt hired a nutritionist and trainer to get in shape for the film. He opted for eating healthy food instead of starving himself. “I actually lost weight by eating more food, but eating the right food…so when I was done with the movie my body wasn’t in starvation mode,” Pratt told People magazine.
24. Matthew McConaughey in Gold
After shedding 38 pounds (17 kilograms) for his role in Dallas Buyers Club in 2013, Matthew McConaughey added back all that weight and then some to play Kenny in Gold. “I enjoyed getting into Kenny and doing my research and all of a sudden I looked in the mirror and was like, ‘You put on a lot of weight, McConaughey,'” said the actor at the film’s premier.
McConaughey gained 47 pounds (21 kilograms) for the crime adventure film inspired by true events. The star spoke on The Graham Norton Show about how he found it quite refreshing to pile on the pounds instead of having to shake them off for a movie. He said he enjoyed eating cheeseburgers and beer for breakfast for six months.
25. Chris Hemsworth in Thor
The Australian actor Chris Hemsworth entered a tough fitness regimen to transform his body in order to play the lead role as Norse god Thor in Marvel’s movie Thor. He told News.com.au how he had to eat every two hours between workouts.
Hemsworth’s workouts consisted of barbell curls to get huge arms, chest workouts to pump up his pecs, battle ropes to sculpt his biceps and shoulders, kickboxing to work his back muscles, boxing and MMA to work on his fighting moves, and cardio to get that six pack, just to mention a few.
26. Christian Bale in The Machinist
The Machinist portrays a case of insomnia so bad that the mental well being and weight of the sufferer, factory worker Trevor Reznik, are severely affected. Christian Bale lost 63 pounds (29 kilograms) on a diet of only 250 calories consisting of tuna, an apple, water, and black coffee every day for four months.
To accelerate the weight loss, Bale got into character with lots of fitness training. Funnily enough, soon after he played this role, he had to bulk and buff up for his role as Batman and then gain around 40 pounds (18 kilograms) for his role as Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle. Now, that’s a lot of weight fluctuation and dedication!
27. Jared Leto in Chapter 27
Jared Leto played a mesmerizing performance as John Lennon’s assassin Mark David Chapman in the film Chapter 27. He gained 67 pounds (30 kilograms) within just two months. He achieved the weight gain by eating pasta, pizza, and pints of chocolate Häagen Dazs ice-cream.
After he lost the weight he told Starpulse that he wouldn’t really recommend that other actors gain so much in this manner because losing the weight might not be a challenge, but it’s not certain the extent of damage this kind of yo-yo dieting can cause.
28. Robert De Niro in Raging Bull
To play the professional boxer Jake LaMotta, nicknamed “The Raging Bull,” Robert De Niro put on a whopping 60 pounds (27 kilograms) in order to look like the overweight LaMotta in his later years. De Niro wasn’t going to let the process be anything less than fun.
He basically ate his way around France and Italy to gain weight before returning to film the later scenes of Raging Bull. Cheese and pasta were certainly the name of the game, and the actor found it quite amusing.
29. Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler
To ready himself to play the emaciated crime photographer with the sunken cheeks and eerie stare in the 2014 thriller Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal starved himself for three months and lost 30 pounds (14 kilograms). At the premier of the movie, he explained how it was a tough but fascinating journey to see what weight loss does to the brain more than the body.
Gyllenhaal would also run 15 miles at night and only nibble on small pieces of kale salad, crackers, and meat. The actor also got into the character of Louis Bloom by living a nocturnal life and neglecting his hygiene and physical appearance.
30. Matt Damon in Courage Under Fire
To embody the medic and heroin addict Andrew Ilario in the 1996 film Courage Under Fire, Matt Damon shed 55 pounds (25 kilograms) and ran six miles every day. ABC News quoted him as saying, “I went too far. I got sick and I wouldn’t do that again because it was too much.”
Damon went on to say that losing so much weight actually helped with the acting because his hot flashes and dizzy spells really got him into character. Damon ate nothing more than egg whites, a baked potato, and chicken. He had to work with doctors after the movie to nurse himself back to health.
31. Vincent D’Onofrio in Full Metal Jacket
Vincent D’Onofrio gained 70 pounds (32 kilograms) to play the overweight and unintelligent character of Private Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence in Full Metal Jacket. The character was originally supposed to be a skinny redneck, but Stanley Kubrick changed his definition of the character.
Besides for packing on a lot of pounds, D’Onofrio also injured his knee which was partly due to the excess weight the actor was carrying around at the time. Nine months later, however, the actor sported a brand new muscular physique for his role as Dawson in Adventures in Babysitting.
32. Tom Hardy in Bronson
Tom Hardy had to do a lot of ab work, push ups, press ups, and resistance training in order to play a notorious prisoner Michael Peterson who was renamed Charles Bronson by his fight promoter. Hardy was trained with the help of his ex-US Marine trainer Pnut to gain muscle in his neck, chest, and forearms.
Before the filming of Bronson, Hardy’s eating habits weren’t the healthiest. He’d drink loads of coffee, eat a sandwich during the day, and have a huge meal before bed. When he had to train for the movie, Pnut substituted those habits with lots of protein shakes to keep Hardy’s energy levels high.
33. Chris Hemsworth in In The Heart of the Sea
With a couple of crackers, a celery stick, and boiled egg a day, Chris Hemsworth managed to shrink to a gaunt version of himself for his role as Owen Chase in In The Heart of the Sea. The actor told Men’s Health that the cast couldn’t lose weight before filming, but rather had to lose weight while shooting.
Hemsworth recalled how most of the conversations of the cast had something to do with food or what they would eat when they finished filming because they were so hungry. By the end of filming, the actor who played the bulky Norse god Thor, had lost 33 pounds (15 kilograms).
34. Kit Harington in Pompeii
Kit Harrington had to get into gladiator shape in order to play character Milo, a formerslave turned gladiator in the action film Pompeii. While Harrington definitely got into shape to boast his chiseled chest, the transformation came at a great price.
Harrington actually developed body dysmorphic disorder because he became totally obsessed with going to the gym three times a day for six days a week. The process completely exhausted him and his trainer had to tell him to stop because it was becoming too obsessive.
35. Will Smith in Ali
When Will Smith portrayed the legendary boxer and heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in the 2001 film Ali, his co-star Paul Rodriguez assumed that he took anabolic steroids to buff up for the role. While that was just speculation, the actor did train six hours a day for five days a week to get into fighting shape.
Before kicking off his weight lifting sessions, Smith used to go for early morning runs. He gained 25 pounds (16 kilograms) of muscle, increasing his weight from 185 pounds (84 kilograms) to 220 (100 kilograms). He made such a dramatic change because as a tall guy, he needed to really bulk up to look like a heavyweight champion.
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