Acting is tough at the best of times. Between inhabiting the headspace of a stranger, adopting mannerisms and speech patterns and burying your own identity as deep as possible, the career of a thespian can take a toll on mind and body. However, there are instance where actors have dived so deeply into their roles that they have become unrecognisable in both their physical appearance and the character they project. Here are some of the best examples of this sort of commitment to the craft.
Bale has changed his bodyweight and appearance for so many films, that really he could have a listicle about this subject all to himself at this stage. Over the years he’s appeared as an emaciated insomniac (The Machinist), a whip-thin crack addict (for his Oscar-winning turn in The Fighter), an overweight conman with a sizable paunch (American Hustle) and, well, Batman (Nolan’s trilogy) in which he looked like he could bench-press a car.
Both his ripped physique and hairline have gone for his latest role as Dick Cheney in Vice, making him look uncannily like the former US VP.
Locally-born Hollywood A-lister Charlize Theron is as well known for her beauty as she is for her acting chops, so fans were rather shocked by her appearance in the serial-killer biopic, Monster.
To play Aileen Wournos, a former prostitute who was put to death in Florida for the murder of six men, Theron shaved her eyebrows, used prosthetic teeth and gained 14kgs. She underwent a complete transformation and that, coupled with her epic performance as Wournos, netted her the Oscar for Best Actress at the next year’s Academy Award.
Oldman has always had a reputation as something of a chameleon. The British actor has appeared in roles as diverse a dreadlocked pimp who thinks he’s black (True Romance), a balding Republican senator (The Contender), one of history’s most iconic assassins (JFK) and even a wheel chairbound madman with half a face (Hannibal).
But all of these transformations pale in comparison to his Oscar-winning turn as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. Hunched, covered partially in aging skin prosthetics and puffing on cigars, Oldman is a dead-ringer for the UK’s wartime leader. In fact, the costume and make-up department were told to dial back their efforts, so some semblance of Oldman was still vaguely recognisable on film.
Jared Leto is easily one of the prettiest boys in Hollywood and for the longest time that worked against him as casting directors usually slotted him into films as eye-candy. This all changed when he took on the role of Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon in 1980 in New York, in the movie Chapter 27.
Leto put on 30kgs of extra body fat for the role, reportedly drinking pints of ice cream mixed with soya sauce and olive oil every night. The actor’s abrupt weight gain gave him gout and he had to use a wheelchair onset. The lengths some will go to for respect for their craft astound us.
Matthew McConaughey is probably the closest thing that Hollywood has these days to this generation’s Harrison Ford. With his goofy grin, effortless charm and swoon-worthy physique, the man is as at home in a rom-com as he is in an action movie as he is in dramas that run the gamut from heartfelt (Mud) to dark as hell (Killer Joe).
For The Dallas Buyer’s Club, though, McConaughey threw out not only his trademark charm, but most of his bodyweight. Playing a spikey and mostly selfish AIDS sufferer, Ron Woodroof, McConaughey lost 20kgs for the role and looks more an more gaunt throughout the film, even though his character softens as time goes on.
Robert De Niro
One of Hollywood’s most famous method actors, Robert De Niro commits to every role he takes – and in the past it could take a toll on the man’s body.
Perhaps the most famous example of this was in Raging Bull, where De Niro not only got into boxing fit shape to play Jake Lamotta – the boxer was his trainer, incidentally – but also embarked on a binge-eating tour of Italy and France to play Lamotta in his overweight retirement. Rumour has it he gained between 66 to 97kgs in extra weight.
Tom Cruise (clip NSFW)
Hollywood’s most famous leading man doesn’t get a hell of a lot of credit as a serious thespian. Cruise is more known for action movies that contain enough high-octane to put Michael Bay into orbit. Even his serious dramatic work isn’t really given much recognition (he’s been nominated for an Oscar three times in his career and never won once).
Still, as Tropic Thunder shows, Cruise is not only willing to throw his looks into the skip to commit to a role – appearing in that film as a balding, overweight Hollywood mogul – he also boasts some pretty serious comic chops. Who’d have thought?
Hugh Grant (clip NSFW)
To most people, Hugh Grant is instantly recognisable as any movie’s resident British fop. Whether he’s in a thriller (Extreme Meaures), a film noir (Bitter Moon) or one of the numerous rom-coms he’s starred in, Grant comes over as a softly spoken Brit in various states of awkwardness.
This makes his turn in Cloud Atlas such a shock. Along with the rest of the cast he plays multiple roles through the movie’s splintering narrative, but most viewers have to wait until the end of the film to find out that he plays the cannibal Kona Chief. Yes, that’s Hugh Grant, slicing through a settler’s throat and licking the blood off his blade.
Most movie-goers associate Chris Hemsworth with Marvel’s god of Thunder. The Australian actor has made a name for himself playing Thor, but he’s popped up in other films such as A Perfect Getaway and Blackhat looking equally buff as he does in the films where he’s wielding Mjolnir.
So taking a look at the work he did on his body for the maritime epic In The Heart Of The Sea is quite an eye-opener. To say he looks emaciated is an understatement – in his Instagram picture he actually looks quite ill and a million miles away from how he looks in the Avengers flicks.
One of the most recognisable stars in the world, Meryl Streep transformed for her role as a rabbi in the series Angels In America.
Using a cracked voice and hiding behind a wiry beard and prosthetic, Streep is the very picture of an aged pontiff. Blink and you won’t even believe it’s her.