FASCINATING FACTS: 18 Facts About Actors Who Went to Extreme Lengths For Movie Roles

There is dedication and then there is dedication that defies the limits of human endurance. When an iconic role comes along, there is a huge competition among actors and expectations are raised above the bar. Some actors want to impress, while others believe there is no other way to go about it than to plunge themselves deep into the character, even if it’s as deep as an abyss.

It’s the satisfaction they get when they know they have given everything they possibly could, or previously thought couldn’t, that drives them. Here are some facts about famous actors who were just that dedicated to their roles and never once flinched about it.

1. For his role in The Machinist (2004), Christian Bale went on a daily diet of one can of tuna fish or an apple, black coffee and water.

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Christian Bale plays an insomniac who experiences physical and psychological deterioration because of the lack of sleep. To get the right appearance for the role he lost almost 62 pounds (28 kg) by taking very low calorie food and underwent vigorous exercising to speed it up. It’s also reported that he smoked cigarettes, ate salads and chewed gum for the role. What’s more, after the filming is done he had to rapidly gain weight and muscle in just six months for his role as Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins.(source)

2. Shia LaBeouf joined the US National Guard, had a cross tattooed, became a chaplain’s assistant, spent a month living in a forward operating base, pulled his tooth out, knifed his face and spent days watching horses die to prepare for his role in Fury (2014).

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From being a child artist in Disney Channel to being a critically acclaimed actor, Shia LaBeouf has come a long way. According to an interview, when the movie’s director told his cast to give all they’ve got Shia LaBeouf had no reservations to how much he wanted to give. Needless to say he received much praise for his role in the movie.(source)

3. Tom Cruise worked as a delivery man delivering packages without being recognized to prepare for the role of Vincent, a contract killer who has to move unnoticed in a crowd, in the movie Collateral (2004).

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The movie Collateral features Tom Cruise as a contract killer who hires a cabbie for the whole evening while he carries out his kills. Apart from Tom Cruise practicing staying anonymous in a crowd, Jamie Foxx trained as a cab driver to prepare for his role as the cabbie. They were both even given documents by the director Michael Mann containing the characters’ backgrounds for better portrayal in the movie. There is also a cameo appearance of Jason Statham who delivers a bag to Tom Cruise and then disappears.(source)

4. Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays Hugh Glass, lived in the harshest possible climates, slept in animal carcasses and ate raw bison liver to prepare for his role in The Revenant (2015).

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The Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu was very particular about filming the film perfectly which led to the cast and crew having to travel far to remote locations with -25centigrade just to film for 90 minutes. Leonardo DiCaprio perhaps had it worse than all the others. He even had to plunge in and out of freezing river water for the movie.

In an interview given to The Hollywood Reporter, the director said the movie would have been nothing if they sat comfortably drinking coffee and using green screens to film the scenes instead of actual locations.(source)

5. For the movie My Left Foot (1989), Daniel Day-Lewis as good as lived on the wheelchair during the filming to stay in character. The slumped posture that he adopted for his character gave him two broken ribs.

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Daniel Day-Lewis is known for going to extremes to prepare for his role. My Left Foot, in which he plays Christy Brown, an Irish writer and painter suffering from cerebral palsy, is only one such movie. For his role in In the Name of the Father he lost 30 pounds and lived on prison rations. He also spent a lot of time in the set’s cell and was interrogated by real police for three days. He didn’t stop there, he asked the crew members to throw abuses and cold water at him as well.(source)

6. Heath Ledger spent about a month locked up in a hotel room to prepare for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008).

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In a German documentary called Too Young To Die, Heath Ledger’s father shared how dedicated he was about acting. Heath Ledger kept a diary full of notes about his character the Joker for the movie. There is also a page in his diary where he writes about the hospital scene. According to father, when he was a kid his sister would make him play the nurse by getting him dressed for the part. The role also took a psychological toll on him as he delved deep into the sociopathic mind of his character.(source)

7. Tom Hanks, along with his costars, had to endure a period of severe training for Saving Private Ryan (1998). For 10 days they had to undergo weapon drills, close combat training, maneuvers, and the language and signals of WWII.

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That wasn’t all they had to do. They were told to use their character names during that time. They had to train in terrible weather conditions, getting wet and freezing cold. They had hike five miles a day carrying 40 pounds of gear on their backs. The hardships brought them together as a team which helped them play their roles effectively. According to Tom Hanks, the exhaustion and longing for it to stop was exactly what the characters had to feel in the movie.(source)

8. For the movie Ray (2004), Jamie Foxx in addition to shedding 30 pounds had to wear prosthetic eyes over his eyes for 14 hours a day during the entire shoot.

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The movie revolves around the life of rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles who lost his sight at the age of four due to glaucoma. Charles invited Jamie Foxx to play the keyboard, which Foxx managed to do well enough. It is said that Charles was trying to test him as a person rather than as a musician. He gave him some complicated pieces to play. Though Foxx couldn’t entirely succeed Charles was convinced that reportedly hugging himself in joy that he got what it takes to play the role.(source)

9. Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad was actually taught how to cook meth by the DEA to prepare for his role.

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Walter White is a chemistry teacher diagnosed with lung cancer who turns to manufacturing meth to provide for his family in the show and wonderfully played by Bryan Cranston. According to an interview he gave, they were taught the whole process to make the scenes look believable, though they never really cooked it for real. Cranston would also isolate himself from the rest of the cast and crew so that he could focus on the scene when the camera rolls.(source)

10. Vincent D’Onofrio holds the record for most weight gained, 70 pounds, for his role as a fat clumsy marine Pvt. Leonard Lawrence in the movie Full Metal Jacket (1987).

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D’Onofrio sent his audition tapes, because a suggestion from his friend, to the director Stanley Kubrick. He received the role after three more tapes after which he gained the weight required for his role. Until then it was Robert De Niro who held the record for gaining 60 pounds for his role in the movie Raging Bull (1980). He also managed to lose the weight in nine months after the filming was complete with a diet of chicken nuggets and seeds to be ready for his next movie.(source)

11. To get the role of Jim Morrison, Val Kilmer learned 50 songs from Doors for the movie The Doors (1991). He sang so well that when the real Doors members heard the songs they couldn’t tell if it was Kilmer or Morrison.

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That was not all he did. Val Kilmer spent thousands of his own money to make an eight minute music video of him singing and dressed up like Jim Morrison at various stages of life. Later when he got the job Paul Rothchild, record producer of The Doors, took him away and spent hundreds of hours telling him anecdotes, various moments, and the thinking of Jim Morrison. Kilmer also visited the studio where Rothchild gave suggestions about pronunciation and other idiomatic things that would make him sound like Morrison.(source)

12. Robert De Niro did whatever it took to get it right for his roles in any movie he was in. He gained 60 pounds for Raging Bull (1980) and learned to box for his role as Jake LaMotta.

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There probably is a long list of things he had done to make sure he gave everything to the character he portrayed. He learned to play saxophone for the movie New York, New York, he lived in Sicily for The Godfather Part II, he gained weight yet again for The Untouchables, and even worked as a cab driver for weeks for Taxi Driver. He even threw anti-Semitic remarks at Jerry Lewis, during the filming of The King of Comedy, who got so angry that he forgot there were cameras and grabbed De Niro’s throat, which was exactly what was needed for the scene.(source)

13. Jared Leto lost 30 pounds and underwent a whole set of transformations, including having all his body hair and eyebrows waxed, for his role as Rayon in Dallas Buyer’s Club (2013).

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In just around four months of time Jared Leto transformed himself into the transsexual AIDS patient he portrays in the movie. He went on a serious diet routine and removed his iconic beard as part of it. He also posted the progression of his transformation on Instagram. He also met transgender people to prepare for his role and it is said that he grounded the portrayal on these meetings. He spent all the time on set in character, so much that the director stated he doesn’t know Leto because “Jared never showed me Jared”.(source)

14. Renée Zellweger gained 20 pounds, learned English accent and worked undercover in a publishing firm in London to prepare for her role as Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001).

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In the beginning many have expressed reservations about casting an American for a character that is British. However, when the film was finally released her south-eastern English accent was considered to be of high standard. Renée Zellweger received much critical acclaim and many awards for her role as Bridget Jones, including a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.(12)

15. For her role as Nina in Black Swan (2010), Natalie Portman trained for 8 hours a day as part of rehearsals and had to be on a diet of carrots and almonds.

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According to the director Darren Aronofsky, it was Natalie Portman who had it worse when compared to the rest of the cast because of the kind of diet she had to be on. She lost 20 pounds during the course of training that lasted for six months. Though there have been many controversies, especially regarding the dance sequences, it is hard to deny that her portrayal of the good and the repressed dark sides of the character were just perfect.(12)

16. Anne Hathaway had to lose 25 pounds to look like she is starving and nearing death as well as cut her long hair on camera for her role as Fantine in Les Misérable (2012).

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The producers of Les Misérables didn’t want to audition Anne Hathaway in the beginning because she was too young for the role. But she persisted and went in to sing the song “I Dreamed a Dream”. The producers were astonished at her singing abilities and of course they had to cast her. Later she started on her strict diet regimen that sometimes consisted of thin squares of dried oatmeal paste.(source)

17. Adrien Brody lost 30 pounds, gave up his apartment, sold his car, disconnected his phones and moved to Europe for the role of Wladyslaw Szpilman in the movie The Pianist (2002).

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Brody also read the memoirs of Szpilman to understand the “pain and horror of the Holocaust”. Szpilman had to scavenge for food while trying not to be spotted by the Nazis. Brody felt that he couldn’t’ have acted without knowing the emptiness and desperation one has when starving. He said that the sadness of being apart from the people and the things from his usual life had put him in the character. He also took piano and dialect lessons to play the character.(source)

18. Matt Damon went on an extreme diet regimen along with physical exercise to lose 40 pounds for his role in Courage Under Fire (1996). His health got so deteriorated that he had to be put under medical supervision.

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At the time of filming Matt Damon was not a well-known actor. His regimen consisted of chicken breast, egg whites and one baked potato per day, with coffee, cigarettes and six and a half miles of running twice a day. It took almost two years for him to completely recuperate from the damage it did to his body. His dedication, however, managed to impress the movie’s director Francis Ford Coppola who gave him the main role in The Rainmaker. His performance also impressed Steven Spielberg who roped him in for Saving Private Ryan.(12)


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