When making Marathon Man, Dustin Hoffman showed up on set looking haggard and out of breath. He explained that to be believable as his character, he’d stayed awake for three nights and run two miles. Laurence Olivier made the classic response “dear boy, why don’t you simply try acting?” It’s also a great example of how far some actors go for a part. It’s one thing to lose or gain weight for a role, but the most unique actors take it to jaw-dropping extremes.
Some do it for just one role and the experience shakes them up majorly. Others make a habit of going into character to a degree even their co-stars can’t believe. Indeed, a few cases are so wild that it makes one wonder about the sanity of the actor in question. Here are 20 cases of actors who went a bit too far to win a role.
20 Jamie Foxx Went Blind
Playing a blind person is always tricky but playing a blind musical icon is even tougher. To handle the role of Ray Charles in Ray, Jamie Foxx didn’t just teach himself to mimic Charles’ style of piano playing and speech. He also wore special coverings that basically glued his eyes shut 14 hours a day so he was truly blind.
Not only that, Foxx lost 30 pounds for the period when Charles was a heroin addict and even had his teeth chipped to look like Charles. He won the Oscar for his great performance as many hailed Foxx for turning into the famed musician.
19 Margot Robbie Became a Skater
One wouldn’t expect Margot Robbie to become a serious method actor, but the gorgeous Aussie starlet silenced the doubters with her turn in I, Tonya. To play Tonya Harding, Robbie trained over six hours a day at skating with scores of bruises to show for it. She also underwent a physical transformation to look like Harding while still keeping up the skating. In fact, Robbie badly injured her neck during a fall which thankfully wasn’t serious. While CGI pulled off the better skating moves, it was Robbie who pulled off the transformation.
18 Christian Bale Slimmed Down Then Bulked Up
Christian Bale is famous for being so into character that he did an on-set tirade without breaking his American accent. For his breakout role in The Machinist, Bale lost a whopping 60 pounds and the producers had to stop him from losing even more. He then packed on about 70 pounds of muscle to play Batman. Bale also gained 40 pounds for American Hustle and for his role in Vice. He’s an incredibly handsome man, but Bale has a habit of going too far for roles.
17 Tom Hanks Became a True Castaway
Cast Away began filming in 1998 with Tom Hanks having gained an extra 50 pounds for his role as a mailman who ends up stranded on an island. The filming was then delayed for a year so Hanks could lose not just all that weight, but another 20 pounds as well as grow his hair and beard out for real. He also put himself out in the sun for a legitimate burnt tan and even got a staph infection, but refused the medicine his character wouldn’t have. Hanks rarely goes full method, but this was remarkable.
16 Mickey Rourke Went Hardcore Wrestling
For years, Mickey Rourke was a sad case of a once-great actor who’d fallen on hard times. In 2008, he resurrected his career with The Wrestler. To play the once-great wrestler now making do, Rourke hit the gym to get himself into fighting shape while remaining believable as a down and out guy. He also took part in some local wrestling promotions, including a match with the infamously hardcore Necro Butcher. Rourke also let himself get bloodied for real to make this role so believable.
15 Natalie Portman Learned Ballet
When cast in Black Swan, Natalie Portman was unsure of the role as she hadn’t danced in years. So she did the logical thing of spending an entire year immersing herself in ballet training. She spent eight hours a day in rehearsals while losing 20 pounds and quickly realizing the agony dancers put themselves through.
She suffered cracked feet, a pulled muscle, and even gave up her trailer to pay for an on-set medic. While a body double handled the more intense sequences, Portman truly did earn the Oscar for her hard work.
14 Anne Hathaway Starved Herself
Known for her great beauty, Anne Hathaway was ready to toss that aside for her role as Fatine in Les Miserables. It’s well known how Hathaway had her hair actually cut on camera for the film, but she also cut herself down to a diet of basically two thin squares of dried oatmeal paste a day. That included a fast and some alterations to her teeth to fit the part. Hathaway has confessed she was unhealthy for weeks after filming, but did end up winning an Oscar to make that pain worthwhile.
13 Lee Pace Pretended to Be Paralyzed
Even B-list actors can go seriously method. Lee Pace had only one movie credit before 2004’s The Fall and went to extremes for it. Playing a paralyzed man sharing stories with his son, Pace stuck to the bed constantly as the director told everyone he’d been left a paraplegic by a motorcycle accident. The actors and crew had no idea Pace was perfectly healthy as he was in bed or a wheelchair constantly. Naturally, there was a huge shock when on the last day of filming, Pace just walked right off set to let everyone know he’d been faking it.
12 Michael Fassbender Became a Skeleton
While he’s bounced between Oscar films and blockbusters like X-Men, Michael Fassbender says he doesn’t do a lot of method acting. Maybe that’s because of how far he went for The Hunger. To play an imprisoned IRA member who goes on a hunger strike, Fassbender actually did eat the absolute bare minimum possible every day and sometimes none at all. He lost nearly 60 pounds via that diet and exercise to the point of being very weakened. Little wonder he won’t go that extreme today.
11 Joaquin Phoenix Went Nuts
Currently, Joaquin Phoenix is winning rave reviews for his lead role in Joker. It should come as no surprise that Phoenix is believable playing a nutcase. In 2009, Phoenix announced he was retiring from acting to become a hip-hop artist. This included a truly bizarre appearance with David Letterman where it looked like Phoenix was completely out to lunch and many worried he had lost his mind. It all turned out to be a massive act for the mocumentary I’m Still Here. Phoenix has bounced back, but is still haunted by how far he went to make a movie.
10 Shia LaBeouf Became a Full Soldier
Few would have expected the goofy kid from Even Stevens to turn into a wildly serious method actor. Yet LaBeouf has been notable for going to extremes for roles. None sum that up quite like the World War II drama Fury. LaBeouf refused to bathe for days on end just like his tank soldier wouldn’t, which made his cast mates uncomfortable. Wilder was when, rather than getting makeup for a scene of his character wounded, LaBeouf actually took a knife to cut his own face. It’s another reason many are wary of LaBeouf’s reputation.
9 Charlize Theron Became Unrecognizable
While she had talent, in 2003, Charlize Theron was best known for movies showing off her body a lot. Which was why critics were stunned by her turn as Aileen Wuornos in Monster. Theron gained 30 pounds, shaved off her eyebrows, and mastered a different accent for the part. She also put up with a makeup job that left her so unrecognizable that many didn’t even know it was her on first viewing. It earned Theron an Oscar and it's still a stunning achievement.
8 Jim Carrey Became Andy Kaufman
Andy Kaufman was known for often acting so in character that people couldn’t tell when he wasn’t performing. So it makes an odd sense Jim Carrey would do the same thing when playing Kaufman in Man On the Moon. It wasn’t enough for Carrey to emulate Kaufman’s voice and mannerisms, though. He acted just like Kaufman constantly, even when the cameras weren’t rolling and refused to break character at all, even to family. Carrey has even claimed it was as if Kaufman’s spirit possessed him which is downright freaky.
7 Adrien Brody Gave Up His Life
While he’d had a few roles here and there, Adrien Brody was pretty much an unknown when he landed the lead role in The Pianist. Losing 30 pounds to play a Holocaust victim was one thing, but Brody went the next step by finding out just how it felt to be a guy who’d lost everything. He did it by selling off his car and apartment, giving up his phone, and even breaking up with his girlfriend. Thankfully, he ended up winning an Oscar to make all that method worth it in the end.
6 Leonardo DiCaprio Went Native
In 2016, an Internet meme died when Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar. The actor went all out for his role in The Revenant and not just by staying in the woods a lot. As if the shoot involving dunking him in freezing water wasn’t enough, DiCaprio, a proud vegetarian, ate actual raw bison. He also slept in animal carcasses to prep for the scene where his character does the same. He may be a very handsome man, but never say DiCaprio hasn’t suffered for his art.
5 Halle Berry Didn’t Bathe For Weeks
Halle Berry had actually been homeless before landing her first acting gig. So she knew what her addict character in Jungle Fever was going through. Berry took the next step by refusing to bathe for two solid weeks so she would look believable as a woman who’d lost almost everything. Berry has admitted it took a lot out of her and has cut down on such methods since. However, that must have made for one smelly set.
4 DeNiro Became a Real Taxi Driver
While he’s settled into smaller movies and the occasional SNL appearance, in his prime, Robert DeNiro was well known for his intensity getting into character for roles. For Taxi Driver, DeNiro didn’t merely research how to be a cab driver. Instead, he actually got a New York cab license and drove around for several weeks, picking up fares. He’s famous for gaining and losing weight for roles yet this showcased how dedicated DeNiro was to making a role seem real.
3 Nicolas Cage Had His Teeth Pulled
Nicolas Cage is known for some pretty wild roles, but the man could get pretty method at times. To play a soldier in Birdy, Cage could have easily faked a scene where his character gets injured and needs oral surgery. Instead, Cage had four of his teeth pulled out for real. Think that’s crazy? Cage also insisted it be done without anesthetic as his character wouldn’t have any and spent weeks going around in public with bandages on his face. No wonder the man settled into nuttier roles later in his career.
2 Hillary Swank Pretended to be a Boy
Hillary Swank was down in 1998, having just been fired from 90210. She realized her big break could be playing Teena Brandon, a real-life teenager who posed as a man in Boys Don’t Cry. Swank went all out, cutting her hair and dressing as a man around her neighborhood. She did such a good job that her neighbors thought Swank was her own brother visiting. It paid off with an Oscar win. Swank then trimmed herself down to play a boxer in Million Dollar Baby and even acted through a staph infection to earn a second Oscar.
1 Daniel Day Lewis in….Everything
Method acting can be put into two categories: Daniel Day-Lewis and everyone else. The actor doesn’t play a role, he becomes the role. For My Left Foot, he refused to leave his wheelchair and had others feed him. He hunted his own game for The Last of the Mohicans. He built a house from scratch to live in without technology for The Crucible. He caught a deadly cold on the set of Gangs of New York because he refused to wear a modern coat between takes. His efforts have earned him three Oscars yet it’s still astounding how Day-Lewis utterly vanishes into his parts.
Sources: Variety, TVtropes.com, cracked.com, vox.com