Acting has evolved into one of the most iconic professions in the world, with actors routinely taking on complex roles and creating incredible performances. It’s true that some roles require a certain level of commitment and dedication from actors, who are willing to put their bodies and minds through hell to get accurately portray characters in films.
This article is dedicated to those brave souls who have gone to great lengths to bring movie roles to life, often pushing their body and minds past their limits for the sake of art. Here are some of the shapes cinema has taken when actors have stepped up to the plate and committed to some of the most difficult roles.
Heath Ledger – Joker
Heath Ledger faced perhaps the most difficult role of his career when he agreed to play The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Ledger went the extra miles to authentically portray the character, locking himself up in a London hotel room for six weeks with nothing but a diary and a voice recording device.
Ledger was compelled to craft his own version of the infamous villain, noting that regardless of previous performances he wanted to bring something new to the character. He’d method-act around the clock, talking and laughing to himself, yelling vile lines and laughing maniacally.
The Australian actor even chose to go without food or sleep to create an environment of semi-psychosis. Though this extreme activity came with a price, as Ledger’s performance was lauded by fans and critics, it could be argued that it may have contributed to his early death, just six months after the Oscar-winning movie’s release.
Robert De Niro – Raging Bull
Robert De Niro famously gained 60lbs for the role of boxer Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.
In preparation for the role, De Niro had to completely change his lifestyle, packing on the extra bulk by consuming over 5,000 calories a day and working out for two-hours a day for six days a week.
The transformation process of going from looking trim to jacked was tireless and labor intensive, but the end result was absolutely incredible, as De Niro’s physique even surpassed that of a professional boxer. However, it all came at cost, as the actor suffered minor heart-attack prior to finishing the film.
Christian Bale – The Machinist
For his role as Trevor Reznik in The Machinist, Christian Bale lost a shocking amount of weight in order to correctly portray an insomniac victim, who was suffering from severe insomnia.
The Welsh actor went to extreme lengths, dropping his body weight from roughly 180lb to a mere 120lb – losing approximately 63% of his body fat. This was achieved by severely restricting his calories to a mere 500 a day, in addition to intense physical exercise and swimming on an empty stomach.
The drastic physical transformation of Bale was captured by all, showcasing just how committed the actor was to offering a memorable performance. The consequences of his intense commitment were physical, as the actor was left emaciated and frail, even facing temporary impotence.
Tom Hanks – Cast Away
Tom Hanks is known for his drive and commitment when it comes to his roles, but nothing could have prepared him for the brutality of his role in Castaway.
The actor, as is his custom, decided to take his dedication to an entirely new level, spending over 400 hours learning to master the skill of fire-starting. He also underwent a rigorous exercise regiment and even received tips from the US Coast Guard before mastering the art of constructing a raft.
The physical challenges aside, Hanks had to undergo months of isolation, with only a volleyball for company. Though his intense work and the long days of solitary ultimately paid off, it wasn’t without some pain and suffering, as the actor eventually asked for medical help to cope with his leg injury and other issues brought about by being stressed for a long period.
Charlize Theron – Monster
In preparation for her role as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the 2003 drama Monster, Charlize Theron went through a rigorous physical transformation, gaining over 30lbs of fat and muscle to accurately portray the character.
To gain the weight and acquire the necessary muscle, Theron ate anything she could find and added daily training to her schedule. The weight gain took its toll on the actor, as it took months for her to recover from the forced stuffing and training.
When speaking of her experience in the film, Theron once said, “The biggest challenge was by the time I was done with that transformation I was so in love with the character. Every single thing about playing that character was really hard for me to let go.”
Actors are expected to face many obstacles and step outside of their comfort zones to offer unique performance pieces. Putting themselves through this kind of extreme pain and suffering may be an arduous process at times, but it is a sign of immense dedication toward their craft.
The actors on this list have committed to every aspect of their art, with no expense spared in their relentless pursuit of physical and mental excellence. It’s for this reason that these actors should be commended for their commitment and bravery, which can best be seen in the quality and realism of their work.