Taking notes, doing your research, and maybe giving yourself a pep talk is how many people prepare for "regular" jobs, like working in an office. But when it comes to celebrities, there isn't too much that's "regular" about them or their lives. When an actor is preparing for a role, they often go to extreme (and strange!) lengths to really get in character and deliver an epic performance. Whether they do it for the potential awards, the public recognition, or for their own personal satisfaction (or all of the above!) some actors go above and beyond in preparing for roles, and this is how they do it.
15 Christian Bale
You likely know Christian Bale best from his role as Bruce Wayne in "The Dark Knight" film trilogy, and you'll likely recall him as a super buff and tough Batman. However, in The Machinist, a 2004 physiological thriller Bale starred in, he was shockingly gaunt. Bale, who is 6'0 lost an astonishing 60 pounds for his role. Just last year, it was revealed that Bale didn't actually have to lose quite that much for the role, but a typo led to him shedding the extra pounds. According to actor Michael Ironside, who also appeared in the film: "The writer is only about five-foot-six, and he put his own weights in. And then Chris did the film and Chris said, ‘No, don’t change the weights. I want to see if I make them.’ ... So those weights he writes on the bathroom wall in the film are his actual weights in the film." That's dedication!
14 Dustin Hoffman
In 1988, Dustin Hoffman played Tom Cruise's autistic brother who also has Savant syndrome in the dramatic film Rain Man. For the film, Hoffman really dug in and did his homework in order to the role justice. He studied autistic savants for MONTHS, and even read countless studies and manuscripts to learn more about them. Hoffman eventually spent time at psychiatric facilities to immerse himself in what life is like for a patient there, and he got to know the patients, as well as their families quite well. Turns out, Hoffman's work paid off, as he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, and his portrayal of an autistic person was understandably acclaimed.
13 Gene Hackman
Gene Hackman portrayed a real-life cop, Popeye Doyle, in the 1971 film The French Connection. The gritty cop drama required Hackman to really understand what the life of a police officer is like, specifically in New York. To do so, Hackman and his co-star Roy Sheider rode along with New York City cops for not a day, not a week, but a whole month. During this time, hackman even had to assist in restraining a suspect. Sounds like that might not be legal, but it paid off. The film won four Academy Awards, including Hackman's trophy for Best Actor. In 1975, Hackman reprised his role as Popeye Doyle in The French Connection II.
12 Meryl Streep
There doesn't seem to be anything the iconic Meryl Streep can't do, and she also does it all very well. In 1982, she took on the challenging role of a Polish immigrant named Sophie who had survived a Nazi concentration camp. The film, Sophie's Choice, is a tragic film based on a novel of the same name about a woman who moves to New York after World War II to rebuild her life. Throughout the movie, there are flashbacks to her past, and it is revealed she had to choose between saving her son's or daughter's life upon arriving at Auschwitz. Even though it was just for one scene, Meryl Streep reportedly lost 25 pounds and cut all of her hair off to add to the authenticity of one scene in particular at Auschwitz. She also learned to speak fluent German and to speak with a Polish accent for the role. Her hard work paid off when she won an Oscar for her role in 1982.
11 Heath Ledger
In 2008, Heather Ledger overdosed on drugs and lost his life at only 28 years old. In just 28 years he was able to create both an enviable and an admirable body of work which many actors won't accomplish in 80 years. One of Ledger's last roles, and one of his most acclaimed, was as The Joker in the Dark Knight film series. This role has been done by many talented actors over the years, and Ledger brought a whole new life to it and wowed audiences around the world. Recently, the journal Ledger was keeping while he prepped for his role as the The Joker surfaced, and it offered some chilling insight into just how seriously he took getting into the role. The journal was written from the perspective of The Joker, and some of the passages that were shared with the world were indicative of just how much he turned himself into The Joker. He wrote a list of "things that make me (The Joker) laugh" and it included: "blind babies, land mines, AIDS, beloved pets in bad road accidents, statistics, pencil cases, brunch, the periodic table of the elements."
10 Daniel Day Lewis
Daniel Day Lewis is an acclaimed actor known for fully immersing himself into roles, and literally living as the character he is portraying during the entire filming period. Lewis has gone so far as to get actual tattoos for his characters, rather than wearing fakes, and has trained physically and mentally for months in preparation. His most notorious role prep, however, was for his role as Bill the Butcher in Martin Scorsese's 2002 film The Gangs of New York. One interview with Lewis explains: "He trained as a butcher, caught pneumonia while on set (having refused to change his threadbare coat for a warmer one because it hadn't existed in the 19th century), and wandered about Rome (where Gangs was filmed) in character, fighting strangers. "I had to do my preparation," he says with a grin. "And I will admit that I went mad, totally mad. I remembered the days of fighting on the Millwall terraces and they stood me in good stead for Bill the Butcher. He was a bit of a punk, a marvellous character and a joy to be – but not so good for my physical or mental health." If you're willing to get pneumonia for a role, there's not much you won't do!
9 Jim Carrey
He may be known primarily as a goofy and comedic actor, but Jim Carrey has actually taken on several serious roles that he has been largely applauded for. In 1999, Jim Carrey portrayed comedian and actor Andy Kauffman in Man on the Moon. Because Kaufman was a complex person who had struggled with with fame and other issues, Carrey knew it would take a lot of work to do the character justice. During filming, Carrey insisted on being called Andy Kaufman and even performed some of the same physical stunts (including initiating fights!) that Kaufman had. Jim Carrey's hard work led to him winning a Golden Globe for Best Actor in 1999!
8 Joaquin Phoenix
Joaquin Phoenix is somewhat of a Hollywood anomaly. He acts in huge roles and is very successful, but in many ways he stays out of the spotlight, unlike many other famous faces. In 2009, however, things changed. Phoenix announced he was retiring from film to pursue his goal of being a rapper. He made countless appearances completely in character (messy beard and big, dark sunglasses included) and even did interviews on huge shows like The Late Show with David Letterman acting completely out of character and odd. Turns out, it was all a part of the act for a film he was making called I'm Still Here which follows the drama and hilarity of Phoenix pretending to pursue a career in rap and convincing the public it wasn't a joke.
7 Jared Leto
Though he's been a famous actor and musician for years, Jared Leto took his career and reputation to a whole new level when he accepted the role of a transgendered AIDS patient in the 2013 film Dallas Buyers Club. To prepare for the role, Leto lost 30 pounds, from his already slender figure. Leto reportedly stayed in character whenever he was on set, not breaking when the director called "CUT!" His reasoning for this, he explains, is: “That phrase ‘staying in character’ to me really means commitment, focus, and for a role like this that’s so intense and challenging and extreme in a lot of ways, it demanded my full attention. I couldn’t imagine every time the director yelled ‘Action!’ that I would recall all of the aspects, the physical and emotional characteristics of the character, at a moment’s notice.” Leto ended up winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2014, so his dedication proved very fruitful to his career.
6 Forest Whitaker
Already an acclaimed actor, Forest Whitaker rose to new heights when he flawlessly portrayed the former president of Uganda, Idi Amin in the 2006 film The Last Kind of Scotland. Not only did Whitaker gain a whopping 50 pounds for the film (of fat, not muscle!) he also learned to speak Swahili. For those who have ever tried to learn new language, this is no small feat. Whitaker even tried to convince himself Swahili was his first language, rather than English, to help get himself in character. He also met with Amin's family and visited the places Amin would frequent.
5 Val Kilmer
Legendary musician Jim Morrison, who tragically died at the age of 27, came to life on the big screen when Val Kilmer portrayed him in the 1991 film The Doors. To convince filmmakers that Kilmer was right for the part of Morrison, he spent his own money on creating a video that showed him playing Morrison at different stages in his life. He even learned 50, yes -50!- songs from The Doors that he could perform. Turns out, he WAS picked for the part, but only needed to perform 15 of the 50 songs he learned on screen. Kilmer was credited for his scarily-accurate portrayal of Morrison and the movie was fairly well-received, as well.
4 Nicolas Cage
So, we've heard of actors losing or gaining a drastic amount of weight for a role, or even cutting all of their hair off and getting tattoos for it. But having their teeth pulled for a role? That's on another level! Nicolas Cage went to that level when he starred in the 1984 film Birdy, in which he played a Vietnam War veteran who had been badly injured. His character's head needed to be wrapped in bandages for several scenes, and Cage insisted on keeping them on all the time. Even wilder, he had FOUR teeth pulled to accurately portray the dental injuries his character had sustained as well. OUCH!
3 Rooney Mara
She was relatively unknown when she took on the role of Lisbeth Salander in the movie version of the book Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but she shot to stardom thanks to her epic portrayal of the film's troubled heroine. In the book, Lisbeth is described as having really short black bangs, and a plethora of piercings and tattoos. For the role, Mara had eight piercings done on her ears, several in her nose and lip, and even bit the bullet and got her nipple pierced for the role. On top of that, she got a haircut most girls wouldn't dream of, and bleached her eyebrows for the role. Her portrayal of Lisbeth was widely applauded so hopefully the lengths she went to for the role were worth it!
2 Billy Bob Thornton
If getting body piercings or having teeth pulled for a role didn't sound painful enough, wait until you hear what Billy Bob Thornton did to get into character for the 1996 film Sling Blade. In the film, Thornton plays Karl Childers, a mentally-challenged man who has just been released from a mental state hospital 25 years after killing his mother and her lover. Childers has a very awkward walk that looks almost painful, and to keep this walk looking consistent, Thornton placed crushed glass in his shoes before he wore them. It must have worked, because he earned an Academy Award nomination for his role. Hopefully he's one man who sympathizes with women wearing heels now!
1 Adrien Brody
When it comes to pushing the limits in preparing for a role, Adrien Brody comes to mind for a lot of people thanks to his role in the 2003 drama The Pianist. In the film, he plays Władysław Szpilman, a Polish man who is struggling to stay alive during World War II. The role required a physically and emotionally demanding performance from Brody, and he delivered. In fact, he delivered so well he became the youngest person to win the Oscar for Best Actor. So, how did he prepare for the role? First, he lost 31 pounds. While that would be enough to scare many people away, Brody even gave up his apartment and all of his belongings (including his car) to try to come close to the type of loss Szpilman experienced.