ByNicholas Kuhlman, writer at
Nicholas Kuhlman

10. Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis’s many strikingly authentic performances and three Academy Award wins can easily be attributed to the staggering amount of effort he puts into embodying each character, and just about every film to star him has at least one story that proves Lewis will go far and beyond what is considered traditional acting. In his first Oscar winning performance as Christy Brown in 1989s My Left Foot, Lewis reportedly did not leave his wheel chair in between takes, and had crew members carry him around set, and to and from a car that would drive him to the set. In his next role in 1992s The Last of the Mohicans, where he played Hawkeye, the adopted son of a Native chief, Lewis refused to use a trailer or eat any food available on set. According to director Michael Mann, Lewis chose to spend his down time in the woods, as well as carrying a rifle around at all times so that he could hunt his own dinner. Lewis would later get pneumonia on the set of 2002s Gangs of New York, when he refused to where any modern clothing, or even a coat for that matter during the harsh New York winter they filmed in. Lewis’s most recent role and Oscar win came in 2012s Lincoln, where he began to embody the president eight months ahead of filming. According to cast members, Lewis would text them on a regular basis, using the language of the era and the style of Lincoln, even concluding each message with an A for Abraham. In the end, the method led to one of the best performances of Lewis’s career, while the rest of the cast concluded that their conversations with the President were good fun.

9. The Cast Of Heat

Michael Mann’s phenomenal 1995 heist film Heat, which stared Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, and a slew of other big names, is famed for a number of reasons, one of which is the authentic action and heist scenes that are prominently displayed throughout the film. The authentic scenes are due to at least half a year of preparations; with three of those months including live weapon training with British SAS Officers. In fact, Val Kilmer got so good behind the weapon that Michael Mann can be seen in behind the scenes features saying that they were able to film Kilmer firing in two different direction, while reloading his weapon, all in one take. In addition to the weapon training, actors who were cast to star as criminals spent time with ex-bank robbers, while those set to star as police went on ride along with the LAPD. Mann also sent the core group of thieves to case out the bank on several occasions and prepare as if they were actually about to rob the bank. By the time filming wrapped, the actors probably could have actually robbed a bank with all of Mann’s intensive practice.

8. Robert De Niro

De Niro’s filmography is full of some of the most iconic performances in the history of film, but one wonders if De Niro would have been able to create such perfect portrait of his characters without his dedication to method acting. For his first major role in the famed Godfather Part II, De Niro lived in Sicily prior to filming, learning the language and dialect in order to perfect his portrayal of Vito Corleone. It doesn’t stop there though, and much like Daniel Day Lewis, there is a method story for every one of De Niro’s iconic roles. De Niro also worked as a night cab driver in New York, while shooting Taxi Driver, surgically filed his teeth down for his role as sociopath Max Cady in Cape Fear, and gained sixty pounds while undergoing professional boxing training before staring as Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. While it might seem a little more funny than practical that De Niro actually drove a cab around New York City at night, one has to admit that De Niro captivated us with each of these staring roles, and made us forget that it was simply a movie with an actor unfolding before us.

7. Jared Leto

Jared Leto recently made headlines worldwide as his obscure, if not slightly disturbing, methods of becoming The Joker for DC’s Suicide Squad were revealed. Admittedly, one would need to do some very strange things to ready themselves for a portrayal of The Joker, but Leto may have taken method acting to a whole new level, by including his unsuspecting cast mates in his preparations. According to co-star Will Smith, who plays the assassin Deadshot, he never actually met Jared Leto, since the actor never broke character while on set, and in their down time Leto kept himself as isolated as possible from the ensemble. In addition, Smith also claims to have received a package containing bullets, sent from Leto himself. More disturbing though, is the gifts that Margo Robbie received from The Joker, which included a live rat, condoms, and finally love letters. The Joker isn’t the first time or likely the last time Leto has immersed himself in a character. In 2013s Dallas Buyers Club, where he played a trans woman, Leto stayed dressed as a woman on and off set, and even earlier than that Leto reportedly skipped sleeping in order to hang out with drug addicts on the streets of New York in order to prepare for his role in Requiem for a Dream.

6. Christian Bale

Although Christian Bale has claimed time and again that he is not a method actor, he has also time and again made astounding transformations, both physically and mentally. During a lunch meeting with American Pyscho author Bret Easton Ellis, Bale insisted in staying in character as the film’s killer, Patrick Bateman, for their entire meeting, eventually prompting the killer’s creator to ask him to break character. The British native also is said to have used such an authentic American accent, that when he spoke at the wrap party, cast members thought he was playing a joke on them. As previously mentioned, Bale has made some substantial physical alteration in order to become a character as well. Many people will likely remember an extremely buff Bale that is frequently seen in The Dark Knight franchise, but few people know that Bale dropped sixty-three pounds for his role in The Machinist, a year earlier. In 2004, Bale went on a diet of salad, apples, chewing gum, and cigarettes, in order to drop down to 121 pounds for his role. A year later, after being cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Bale bulked up and went on rigorous diet and training regime that resulted in the actor gaining over one hundred pounds. Bale has also admitted to sticking to his flawless American accent for press tours, when portraying an American character, in order not to confuse the audience.

5. Heath Ledger

Another alum of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Heath Ledger’s final and most iconic role came with 2008s The Dark Knight, where he gave a manically brilliant portrayal of the iconic Batman villain, The Joker. Although the topic of Ledger’s methods used during The Dark Knight are still surrounded in controversy, Ledger reportedly isolated himself in an apartment for months, in order to experiment with different voices, and working to perfect the ultimate Joker personality. This also included keeping a diary, which was written from the perspective of The Joker, the last entry being the words “bye bye”. The end result of Ledger’s work as The Joker was not just an Oscar win, but that he created a character so unique and ambitious, that it will live on in film for years to come, no matter who takes up the character’s mantel. Besides for his work in The Dark Knight, Ledger also stared in a variety of films, which showcased his incredible talents as an actor, and his ability to never repeat the same formula for a different character. Ledger is still fondly remembered as an actor who could embody the essence of his characters, with Brokeback Mountain co-star Linda Cardenellini saying it was a gift and a privilege to work alongside Ledger, and I’m Not There director, Todd Haynes, comparing Ledger with the legendary James Dean.

4. Rooney Mara

Rooney Mara has never been one to star in the traditional by the books roles, and one role in particular had her undergo both a physical and mental transformation in order to truly give the character their complexly dark personality and feel. The role was that of Lisbeth Salander, in the American adaption of Swedish novelists Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Mara began her transformation by getting four piercings in each of her still un-pierced ears, as well as a nose, eyebrow, lip, and nipple piercings in the style of the character. Mara also cut her hair short before dying it black, and got several temporary tattoos, including the trademark dragon on her back. After having the appearance down, Mara moved to Sweden, and took up many of Lisbeth’s hobbies, including skateboarding, kick boxing, and most prominently computer coding. By the time the film premiered, Mara looked, sounded, and became the part. Mara’s stunning physical transformation, mixed with her haunting performance gave her an Oscar nomination, and audiences one hell of a character that is impossible to forget.

3. Shia LaBeouf

It likely comes as no surprise that Shia LaBeouf has done some crazy preparations in order to get in character for a role. In order to prepare for his role in the 2013 film Charlie Countrymen, LaBeouf proudly admitted to doing acid, so that the scene where his character goes on a drug trip was as close to the real thing as it possibly could be. What tops his true to life drug trip though, is what LaBeouf did to prepare for his role in the World War II tank drama, Fury. LaBeouf started his preparation for Fury by joining the National Guard, and living on base for a month, before meeting his cast and crew. LaBeouf kept up the same dedication throughout filming, and actually paid a dentist to remove some of his front teeth, while subsequently refusing to bathe during the four months of filming. After filming wrapped, LaBeouf proudly admitted that his facial scars seen during the film were as real as they looked, since he did them himself. Apparently dissatisfied with the make up crews work, LaBeouf cut up his own cheek, and refused to let it heal, in order for them to always be real.

2. Jim Carrey

Comedic actor Jim Carrey received a Golden Globe, and widespread critical praise for his portrayal as late comedian Andy Kaufman in the 1999 biopic Man on the Moon. The masterful performance can undoubtedly be credited to Carrey’s undying dedication to never break character, ever. After multiple interviews inquired as to how Carrey was able to pull off such a perfect performance, the actor admitted that he was in character as either Kaufman or his comedic alter ego Tony Clifton twenty-four hours a day. The filmmakers were able to capture more than 200 hours of Carrey in character, including Carrey acting in classic Kaufman fashion, as he scared tourists during Universal Studio tours, and pulled pranks on co-star Danny DeVito. During filming, Carrey strived for as many of the events in the film to feel as true to life as possible, including Kaufman’s feud with WWE wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler. Intent on receiving the same treatment that Kaufman received, Carrey provoked Lawler by spitting in his face during a guest spot on a WWE broadcast. Lawler undoubtedly attacked Carrey, and later while filming the famous slap scene on the David Letterman Show, Lawler also undoubtedly didn’t hold back.

1. Adrian Brody

In order to star in Roman Polanski’s heart wrenching biopic of Polish-Jewish pianist, Władysław Szpilman, Adrien Brody did far more than practice piano for four hours a day. In order to truly convey the hardships suffered in Poland in the wake of WW II, Brody sold his car and New York apartment, ditched his cell phone, and even starved himself, so that he could truly appreciate the hardships that Szpilman spent years experiencing. In the end, Brodey admitted that it was a humbling experience, and that nothing, not even losing his girlfriend in the process, depressed him, more than being hungry all the time. Brody’s dedication and persistence to endure and survive similar hardships to that of Szpilman truly did make for a humbling performance, and no one can argue that Brody’s performance is nothing short of perfection. After The Pianist finished filming, Brody was left with the ability to play Chopin by heart, but the actor claims that the excruciating months of preparation is what made his character so genuine.


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