When I was a kid, I dreamed of being an actress. The idea of seeing my name in lights was worth anything. Well, then I grew up and learned to appreciate my anonymity. I also learned that being an actor isn't quite as simple as playing pretend and enjoying craft services all day.
These talented men and women took their method acting to the next level to help their role. Is it worth it? Probably, but I wouldn't be able to do it.
Shia LaBeouf - 'Fury'
In an interview with the British GQ (and later covered by The Independent) Logan Lerman, LaBeouf's costar in the upcoming film Fury, stated that LaBeouf was going to some serious lengths to make his work seem more real. After being unsatisfied with the way the cuts done with makeup looked on his face, he took matters into his own hands by actually cutting his face with a knife. And this wasn't a one-time deal either. He continued to cut his face to ensure that they always looked fresh and realistic.
But that's not all! LeBeouf also had his front teeth pulled out by a dentist, didn't shower, and became an expert in operating tanks. According to Lerman, "He really spent every moment on set. He's the guy operating the turret in every shot, even when you don’t need to be in there as an actor. You know, you can have somebody else inside. But he was there, for every shot." I'm not saying that pulling teeth and cutting your face is too much, but not showering? Well, that's just ridiculous (please note the sarcasm). In all seriousness, while it's dangerous and a bit extreme, I do respect the lengths that he's willing to take if it will help get into character!
Robert De Niro – 'Cape Fear', 'Taxi Driver', 'Raging Bull'
Robert De Niro is one of those actors that has always pushed things to the limit and committed himself wholly to the role. He's one of those actors who is willing to make a total physical transformation. In Raging Bull he worked on becoming muscular, only to then gain 60 pounds to play the older version of Jake LaMotta. When he played Max Cady in Scorsese's film Cape Fear, De Niro went to a dentist and payed to have his teeth shaved down. And when he starred in the movie Taxi Driver he spent a month working 12 hour shifts of driving a Taxi around New York City.
Could De Niro have just stopped brushing his teeth for a while and worn a fake set? Probably. Was gaining and losing all of that weight good for his health? Probably not. Did he acquire some strange stories being a NYC taxi driver? Most certainly. But hey, you can't argue with 2 Academy Award wins and 5 more nominations.
Joaquin Phoenix – 'I’m Still Here'
If you can remember, back in 2009 everyone thought Phoenix was going through some really weird stuff. He grew out his hair, started mumbling strangely, and claimed to be quitting Hollywood to become a rapper. He even had an awkward interview with David Letterman, in which he was very strange and standoffish. It was uncomfortable.
As it turns out, this was all part of creating his pseudo-documentary titled I'm Still Here alongside Casey Affleck that wanted to study Hollywood, fame, celebrity, the media, and the fans. Talk about dedication! He had everyone thinking he was ruining his career, but, luckily, it was all an act. Was it worth putting his acting career on hiatus for a year? That part I'm not totally sure about.
Rooney Mara – 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'
Rooney Mara is a stunning, young actress who has been phenomenal in a number of roles. But the one that really took her out of herself was playing the dark, tattooed, and pierced computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Yes, she had to chop off much of her hair, bleach her eyebrows, and change up her usual wardrobe choices from pastels to black. But since the role forced her to be nude through a lot of filming, and she thought that the piercings were a necessary part of her costume as well. And that if she was wearing fake piercings, it would feel fake to her. So, naturally, she got her ears, lip, nose, eyebrow, and nipples pierced. Funnily enough, Mara claims that the most painful piercings were the ones on her ears! Silly me, I had my money on the nipples (wow, that came our wrong).
Jared Leto – 'Requiem for a Dream', 'Chapter 27', 'Dallas Buyers Club'
Jared Leto has lost and gained mass amounts of weight for his roles time and time again. Whether it be hanging out with real-life crack addicts and losing 25 pounds to play Harry Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream (2000) or stopping eating entirely to drop all the way down to 114 pounds, in less than a month, to play a transexual with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club (2013), Jared isn't messing around.
Most notably, the usually very thin actor gained 67 pounds to play John Lennon's assassin, Mark David Chapman, in the film Chapter 27 (2007). This sudden weight gain was so extreme that the strain on his body kept him occasionally wheelchair bound on set. He was also prescribed Lipitor, a medication that would help lower his cholesterol.
Daniel Day-Lewis – Everything ever
Daniel Day-Lewis is the king of method acting. I actually find myself googling him frequently because I keep forgetting what he looks like in real life. He immerses himself in the role before filming at a whole new level. Describing the depth and intensity in Gangs of New York, My Left Foot, There Will be Blood, Lincoln, and The Last of the Mohicans would take forever, so I'll just stick to a few.
In My Left Foot, he played a man with cerebral palsy who could only use his left foot. Day-Lewis spent eight weeks in a wheelchair and all of the filming. He also spent time in hospitals interviewing people living with paralysis. In The Last of the Mohicans he underwent survival and weight training. He then spent a few weeks living solely off of the land, as his character would have. And while filming Gangs of New York, he caught pneumonia because he would only wear the threadbare coats that would have been available in the 19th century. Day-Lewis proceeded to refuse treatment as the medication didn't exist in that time period. Hardcore!
Christian Bale - 'The Machinist', 'Rescue Dawn', Dark Knight Series, 'The Fighter', 'American Hustle'
You absolutely cannot talk about intense transformations without bringing up Christian Bale. Another notorious method actor, Bale has committed himself to his roles well beyond what is considered healthy. Literally. When he was cast as Trevor Reznik in The Machinist (2004), director Brad Anderson asked him to lose around 10-15 pounds. But what does Bale do? He lost 60! He dropped from around 180 to 120 by eating only a can of tuna and an apple a day. Did that keep the doctor away? Probably not, because he looked so hauntingly thin.
Then in 2005 Bale increased his weight to 220 pounds to play the muscular Batman, then 135 for Rescue Dawn (2006), then back around 220 to play Bruce Wayne again in Dark Knight just two short years later, and down again to around 145 for his role in The Fighter (2010), which won him an Oscar. This roller coaster of weight loss and gain is almost too much to keep track of! In 2013 he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for playing Irving Rosenfeld in American Hustle in which he gained 43 pounds. Talk about some serious commitment.
Natalie Portman & Mila Kunis – 'Black Swan'
In 2010 both Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis put their bodies to the test when they took on the roles of two thin, athletic ballerinas. Granted, both actresses were crazy tiny to begin with, but they each dropped another 20 pounds. Kunis ended up weighing in at a mere 95 pounds!
Portman also started training in ballet a year before filming. She would practice between 5 to 8 hours a day to be able to have the strength and form of a ballerina down pat. Of course, they both ended up nailing their roles. Portman even went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Just goes to show that hard work really pays off.
Heath Ledger – 'Dark Knight'
While preparing for his, now iconic, Oscar-winning role as the Joker, Heath Ledger spent weeks locked up in a hotel room, in near solitary confinement, getting in touch with his character. This included talking to himself, working out different voices, and writing nonsensically in a journal as if he really was the Joker. This caused him to develop paranoia and insomnia.
It’s largely believed that preparing for this role is what led to his accidental overdose on prescription drugs, but of course it’s impossible to say for sure. But we do know that it was a tragedy to have lost him so early on in his already amazing career.
That's what I call dedication. In the end, I think that a lot of these ended up paying off for the sake of the artistic process. And if these actors feel that going to these extreme measures is really necessary to giving their absolute best performances, then I say go for it! Now, that being said, it's important to note that these people are professionals and that no bout of critical acclaim would be worth giving up pizza to me.