Occasionally, an actor will take on a role where the character that they play has a body type drastically different to that of their own. Whether this is stick figure skinny, Homer Simpson chunky or Action Man ripped, these performers will have to put in months of hard work to transform their body. Losing or gaining drastic amounts of weight in a short time can be incredibly dangerous, but you have to commend these performers for their commitment and dedication to their craft (particularly when it means that their usual good looks are taking a hit).
12. Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
Matthew McConaughey is one of the most respected working actors, and this has been significantly boosted by his brilliant and Academy Award-winning performance in 2013’s biographical drama Dallas Buyers Club. McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a cowboy diagnosed with AIDS during the ’80s where little was known about the disease, but he smuggles unapproved drugs into Texas after he finds that they improve his symptoms. McConaughey threw himself into the role and lost 47 pounds, seeing him drop to 136 pounds. He also stayed inside to become paler for the role. Surprisingly, McConaughey achieved this weight loss through eating pudding each day. Now before you get excited, it should be noted that this was just a tiny tapioca pudding each morning with very little else throughout the day. It was a stunning performance, and it certainly helped to establish him as one of the top working actors.
11. Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables
Typically, it is males that go through the most striking body transformations for roles in Hollywood. That is not to say that actresses do not, and the likes of Charlize Theron, Mila Kunis, and Natalie Portman are a few that have added or lost weight for roles in recent times. But perhaps the most striking female body transformation was that of Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables, where she plays a prostitute who is dying of tuberculosis. Not only did Hathaway lose 25 pounds for the film, but she also had her signature long dark hair cut during a scene. For the weight loss, at times her diet was so strict that it saw her eat just two thin squares of dried oatmeal paste each day and the results certainly were striking. Although a challenge, she also stated that getting to transform is one of the best parts of acting.
10. Matt Damon – Courage Under Fire
Most of the actors on this list were fortunate that they did not suffer any health issues following their transformation, but Matt Damon was not so lucky. He dropped over 40 pounds for the role of Specialist Lario in Courage Under Fire, who is addicted to heroin in the later scenes. Damon slimmed down to 110 pounds through food deprivation and running 13 miles a day (6.5 in the morning and 6.5 in the evening), with his diet mainly comprised of chicken, egg whites, baked potato, coffee and cigarettes. After the film, doctors found that the rapid weight loss had caused his adrenal gland to shrink, and he had to spend a lengthy time on medication before his metabolism was back to normal. The commitment did not go unnoticed and got him a role in The Rainmaker, what many state as his breakout role. He has since added muscle, and even fat, for roles.
9. Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler & Southpaw
It is always impressive when an actor manages to take on characters with very different physiques within quick succession of one another, which is what Jake Gyllenhaal recently did with 2014’s Nightcrawler and 2015’s Southpaw. For Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal played a twisted Lou Bloom who begins shooting footage of accidents and crimes in L.A. and selling it to news channels. Gyllenhaal dropped 30 pounds for the role to give his character a gaunt and haunting appearance, and this was achieved through running 15 miles a day and chewing a lot of gum. Gyllenhaal fittingly described the character as a “coyote.” Next up was Kurt Sutter’s boxing drama Southpaw, where Gyllenhaal played a middleweight champion, requiring him to gain 28 pounds of muscle. It is a remarkable transformation, and it was achieved through proper boxing training which Gyllenhaal has since fallen in love with and continues to do.
8. Tom Hanks – Cast Away
The physical and mental deterioration (plus the fine beard growing) of Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) in Cast Away is crucial to the film. During pre-production, Hanks gained a huge 50 pounds to make him appear like an overweight, middle-aged man. The majority of the film was shot, and then production was halted for a year so that he could drop the 50 pounds and grow the beard to film the scenes where he had been on the island for four years. It is a striking visual transformation and emphasizes the length of time that his character is stranded, and for Hanks to both gain and then lose 50 pounds in a short period shows what a passionate actor he is (earning him an Academy Award nomination). It was not the first time that Hanks had undergone an extreme transformation, as he also dropped 25 pounds when filming Philadelphia.
7. Russell Crowe – Body of Lies
Although Russell Crowe hasn’t been his toned Gladiator self for a while, it must have been hard for Crowe to stuff his face and put on 63 pounds in all the wrong places for his role in 2008’s Body of Lies. In the film, Crowe plays a CIA agent who is past his prime and this saw him go up to 257 pounds for the role. Although it must have been challenging to pack on the pounds, Crowe said that he enjoyed the process and would frequently indulge in cheeseburgers for breakfast. As you age, it becomes harder to shed weight which is what makes this transformation one that demonstrates Crowe’s dedication to his profession. Following the film, he was able to drop the weight and fortunately did not suffer any lasting damage. It did take him around two years to get back to a healthy weight, however.
6. Rob McElhenny – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Although this list focuses on actors transforming for film roles, it would be wrong not to mention Rob McElhenny as Mac in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Initially a slim yet muscular frame, for season seven McElhenny put on 50 pounds of fat (or “cultivating mass” as the character puts it) and grew his beard to take the show in a new comedic direction and away from the trend of characters typically getting more attractive and glamorous on TV shows. McElhenny ate around 5,000 calories each day, and on the show his character would always be snacking or carrying around a garbage bag full of chimichangas. The other creators were concerned for his health and described his weight gain as “disgusting.” McElhenny then dropped 23 pounds in a month, and returned to his former weight the following season through a strict workout regime and healthy diet.
5. 50 Cent – All Things Fall Apart
The internet was stunned when images of rapper 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson) emerged during filming of 2011’s All Things Fall Apart, as he was almost unrecognizable after dropping an enormous 54 pounds. For 50 Cent, his muscular frame was an important part of his image, so to see him drop this for a film was particularly surprising (especially as acting is not his primary occupation). It is said that he went down from around 214 pounds to 160 in nine weeks, and this was achieved through liquid dieting and running on a treadmill for three hours a day. In the film he plays the character of Deon, who is a football player that is diagnosed with cancer. The film was written by Jackson and based on a childhood friend who died from cancer. Although not a huge success, Jackson’s commitment to the role earned him a tremendous amount of respect.
4. Chris Pratt – Guardians of the Galaxy
For many of us, Chris Pratt will always be the loveable, chubby and hilarious Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation. However, these days he is a bona fide action star with an Action Man-esque physique. He has completely transformed his career in addition to his physique, and is now a respected (and still very funny) actor. His fluctuating weight has been a hot topic in Hollywood, and this is because it has been so striking. During Parks and Rec, Pratt weighed in around 300 pounds but managed to shed 60 pounds in six months and achieve a very muscular tone for his role as Peter Quill/Star-Lord for Guardians of the Galaxy. He actually achieved this by eating more, but eating the right food (and no beer). Along with an improved diet, Pratt also had workouts that included P90X, running, swimming, boxing, kickboxing and completing a triathlon.
3. Jared Leto – Chapter 27 & Dallas Buyers Club
Jared Leto has impressively gone both ends of the spectrum for roles, and this began in 2007 with Chapter 27. In the film, Leto plays Mark David Chapman, the murderer of John Lennon. In order to approximate his physique, Leto gained a mammoth 67 pounds which gave him gout and forced him to use a wheelchair due to the stress he was putting on his joints. He fully submerged himself in the role, and although it did not achieve critical success, his performance and transformation was praised. He went on a liquid diet and returned to his normal healthy weight, but in 2013 he would join Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, where he dropped 30 pounds to play the role of Rayon, a drug-addicted transgender woman with AIDS. He also waxed all of his body and shaved his eyebrows off, and did not break character during the filming period.
2. Robert De Niro – Raging Bull
An actor every performer on this list will have been inspired by, Robert De Niro is famous for his dedication to his characters. Most famously this occurred in Scorsese’s Raging Bull, which is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. De Niro plays Jake LaMotta, an Italian-American middleweight boxer who is an explosive and self-destructive character. Not only did he have to get in fighting shape for the role, but he also had to add a staggering 60 pounds to play LaMotta when he is ageing and out of shape. The film was shot in two parts to enable De Niro to go from a lean and muscular frame to a much larger and unhealthier one, a process which took around four months. In this time, De Niro went on a binge eating trip around Northern Italy and France where he ate mainly Italian food.
1. Christian Bale – The Machinist & Batman Begins
Christian Bale is famous for throwing himself into his roles, most notably in the 2004 psychological thriller The Machinist. Bale plays the role of Trevor Reznik, who suffers from insomnia which leads to emaciation. In four months of preparing for the role, Bale went down to just 120 pounds (54 kg), losing a worrying 62 pounds in the process. Bale wanted to drop down to just 99 pounds, but the filmmakers refused due to health concerns. The result is shocking, and also crucial to the film’s success. In order to slim down so drastically, his daily diet consisted of water, an apple, one cup of coffee and the occasional whiskey. Amazingly, Bale’s next role was a muscular Batman in Batman Begins, which saw him gain 100 pounds in six months through daily weight training and a strict diet. Although incredibly dangerous, his commitment commands the upmost respect.