Taking on a fictional identity can be a difficult task for even the most talented actor. They sometimes need to resort to strange techniques that effectively break them into character. They place themselves in danger situations, jeopardize their physical and mental health, and change their appearance for the worst – all for the sake of a movie role.
If you’ve ever seen Birdy, you’ve seen some of the finest Nicolas Cage acting on the silver screen. To get into character, Cage had two of his teeth removed without the help of anesthesia. The award-winning actor wanted to accurately portray the pain of a Vietnam war veteran and found a way to kill two birds with one stone – he scheduled a dental procedure (to remove his two remaining baby teeth) to coincide with the timing of the film’s scene.
For One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Jack Nicholson and a few other cast members actually checked themselves into an insane asylum! Rumor has it, that some of the situations Jack experienced in the real mental ward made its way into the movie. The cast has never discussed their time at the asylum and we fear they never will. Although, it is safe to say that the film’s extras were taken from the insane asylum where Jack and the supporting cast prepared for their role. Are you able to spot them in the film?
To prepare for a role that would end his life so tragically, Heath Ledger isolated himself for six weeks in a hotel room. The deceased actor lived as the Joker in private, constantly practiced and eventually perfected the demeanor and walk of the Joker, all while keeping a diary from the character’s perspective. Ledger’s complete immersion into the psyche of the Joker damaged him emotionally and led to dangerous psychological implications. Unfortunately, Heath was found dead in his home of an overdose after giving the performance of his life, all too literally spoken. Posthumously, he awarded the Oscar for best supporting actor in The Dark Knight.
We’ve seen Christian Bale’s share of weight loss transformations over the years, all done in preparation for different roles, but for The Machinist the actor took things to the extreme. Bale starved himself until he lost 63 pounds before playing the anorexic character. The award-winning actor nearly died getting himself into character, and was ordered by medical professionals to nourish himself at least slightly before losing anymore weight. He couldn’t run for over a minute before losing his breath and his muscles had been eaten away by the remainder of his body as it entered survival mode. We’re certainly glad Christian is back to his normal self now.
Natalie Portman poured her heart and soul into the making of Black Swan. She reportedly spent 5 hours a day for a period of one year before filming to master the art of ballet. Portman also adhered to a strict diet so she could achieve the perfect ballerina body, consuming only 1200 calories per day. Mila Kunis had joined in on her co-star’s efforts to perfect the dance they would be bringing to life in front of the cameras. After a morning of ballet lessons, Natalie would move on to swimming and cross-training exercises. Now, that’s what we call dedication!
Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greatest method actors of our time. For his outstanding performance in Lincoln, D-Lewis never broke character, even when he wasn’t on set. He would wake up in the morning as Abraham Lincoln, go to bed as Abraham Lincoln, and communicate almost identically to the 16th President with friends and family on all occasions. Co-stars claim that the brilliant actor would call and text them while still remaining in character. Imagine playing Mary Todd Lincoln and getting texts from Honest Abe at 3 in the morning. We’re surprised a man of his generation could figure out how to work such advanced technology.
Adrian Brody won the role of a lifetime when he played a Jewish musician who loses everything to Nazis in The Pianist, but maybe he went a little too far off-screen. Brody wanted to to experience the agonizing pain of losing everything in life – he gave up all of his possessions, became homeless, disconnected his cell phone, and sold his car. Then, he went the extra mile and broke up with his longtime girlfriend! Brody was with the unnamed woman for 2 years and felt that he could tap into a state of true despair by letting her go. Well, at least the man won an Oscar for his sacrifice.
Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro wanted to fit the profile a deranged sociopath in Cape Fear, so he made a major sacrifice in the looks department before filming began. He paid a dentist $20,000 to stain and grind his teeth down as much as possible. De Niro wanted his mouth to look as deformed as it could, and he definitely succeeded! The notorious actor decorated his body with tattoos and gained a massive amount of muscle for the part. His role as Max Cady was a critically acclaimed performance and earned him several award nominations.
Halle Berry looks stunning no matter what, even when she’s playing a drug addict in Jungle Fever. To really prepare for the role, Berry didn’t bathe for a month. She also made frequent visits to drug dens, always accompanied by a member of law enforcement. We bet many of the boys in blue lined up around the block to escort Halle around the dangerous parts of town, even if she was a little smelly at the time.
Dustin Hoffman & Meryl Streep
Meryl Steep didn’t choose to prepare for her character’s most pivotal scene in Kramer Vs. Kramer the way Dustin Hoffman expected her to. Off-screen, Hoffman surprised Streep by slapping her across the face and making her intentionally upset (so she would cry on camera). This probably wasn’t the nicest thing he could have done for her, but we’re sure she ended up thanking him after she received an Oscar nomination for her performance. A face slap is a small price to pay. Isn’t it, Meryl?
As it seems, preparing to play the Joker is an adventure for every actor willing to take on the part. Jared Leto played a psychotic version of the killer clown in Suicide Squad as opposed to Hath Ledger’s anarchist version of the Joker, and he made a lot of people angry in the process. Jared Leto never broke character and would send disturbing gifts to his co-stars’ dressing rooms. For example, he sent Margot Robbie a dead rat as a token of his love for Harley Quinn. Will Smith especially hates the actor now – mainly because Leto urinated in his breakfast cereal one morning before filming a scene.
Charlize Theron went from blonde beauty to crazy killer in the film Monster. She may have won an Academy Award for her performance, but had to wear a whole lot of facial prosthetics and gain 30 pounds in order to do so. Theron stuck to a diet of donuts and potato chips, which sounds like every woman’s dream… especially if you have PMS. Many people speculated that the star was wearing was wearing a body suit for the role, but that ended up not being the case!
Tom Cruise is a strange man sometimes, so of course, he prepared for his leading role in Collateral in a rather strange fashion. To become an invisible assassin, Cruise dressed up as FedEx delivery man and walked into random buildings and businesses undetected. He would strike up conversations with random people and no one ever knew he was Tom Cruise. Who knew Tom Cruise was capable of keeping a low profile? Now, that’s unexpected.
Ryan Gosling & Michelle Williams
Blue Valentine is a brilliant movie about the breakdown of blue collar families everywhere. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams prepared for the role by becoming a real family. The actors lived with their on-screen daughter for a month prior to filming, celebrating holidays and fake birthdays to create memories that strengthened their bond on camera. The movie’s final scene show’s Dean and Cindy in agony over the prospect of divorce, and the actors say that the tears were real because of the time they had spent off set as a family.
So, Harrison Ford’s character in The Fugitive performs open heart surgery. He really does, we promise. It just happens in the blink of an eye, so you probably missed it like the rest of us. To prepare for this scene, Ford actually assisted in an open heart procedure in real life. His medical training probably came in handy when he injured himself on set soon after; the actor tore a ligament in his leg and went on with the show regardless of the pain. Ironic, isn’t it?
Matthew McConaughey & Jared Leto
Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto went to drastic measures as they prepared for their roles in Dallas Buyers Club. Both of the actors had to lose a colossal amount of weight to fit the profile of characters struggling with the AIDS virus. Matthew lost almost 40 pounds for the film by eating one piece of a chicken, a can of diet coke, and egg whites every day. Leto, who once again never broke character while filming, starved himself until he lost at least 40 pounds.
Rooney Mara was unrecognizable by the time filming was set into motion for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The brunette, bright-eyed actress transformed her entire body into the alternative, body-modified version Lisbeth Salander. Mara chopped off her long, luscious locks (more like buzzed it off), dyed it black, and bleached her eyebrows stark white. She pierced her eyebrow, lip, and nose, but she didn’t stop there! She pierced both of her nipples to live up to the character’s image in the book. That’s true sportsmanship, people.
Billy Bob Thornton
We always knew that Billy Bob Thornton was capable of doing some strange things, but this one takes the cake. While filming Sling Blade, Billy Bob put crushed glass in his shoes to make his limp more painfully believable. All of his hard work paid off when he was awarded with an Oscar the following year, beating out Daniel Day-Lewis in the Best Actor category. That’s a major accomplishment in itself.
The Cast of Saving Private Ryan
The cast of Saving Private Ryan underwent an extreme, 10-day boot camp prior to filming the war movie. All of the actors took part in the boot camp, led by a veteran Marine, except for Matt Damon who played Private Ryan. Steven Spielberg left Damon out on purpose, though. The director thought the rest of cast’s off-screen resentment for Matt Damon would translate well on camera, and the negative emotions would target the character of Private Ryan explosively. That’s why Spielberg gets paid the big bucks, folks.
One of Charlie Sheen’s first movie gigs was a short, yet hilarious scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Charlie played a strung out, teenage dirtbag sitting in a police station when he meets Ferris’ sister, Jeannie. To really look like this hot mess, Charlie didn’t sleep for 48 hours before filming the scene. He was in the movie for a total of 5 minutes (maybe not even that long), and prepared more for his minor role than most of the starring actors did. Eventually, Charlie found other ways to look like a total wreck without having to stay up all night. No offense, Mr. Sheen.
Gene Hackman wanted to get some real life experience before starring in The French Connection. Before filming, Hackman spent a month riding around in a patrol car with a law enforcement officer who said he became a little too involved with his character. While on patrol, the actor tried to arrest an unruly suspect before receiving back up from the officer accompanying him. But hey, if we’re going to be arrested by anyone we’d prefer it was Gene Hackman.
Thinking about Anne Hathaway’s performance of ‘I Dreamed a Better Dream’ in Les Miserables gives us goosebumps! Hathaway prepared for her award-winning role by dropping 25 pounds on a lettuce diet and had to stop shooting for two weeks because of her body’s fragile state. Hathaway broke her arm as a result of the frailness; she was riding a bicycle and fell off while the movie was still in production. After she claimed her Oscar and the film was released, Anne returned back to a normal, healthy diet.
Val Kilmer took his portrayal of the rock legend, Jim Morrison, very seriously. Kilmer lived as Morrison for a year before The Doors starting shooting to understand the tortured singer’s psyche and lifestyle. He wore vintage clothes belonging to the Lizard King, spent his free time at all of his old hangouts, and memorized at least 50 Doors songs in the span of one year. Val underwent extensive psychotherapy after the movie was complete just to get out of character.
Being given the opportunity to Marilyn Monroe is a big deal for any Hollywood actress. For Michelle Williams, she demanded perfection and wanted to get the role just right. Williams watched hours upon hours of recorded interviews where she mimicked and studied Marilyn’s voice and body language. She also packed on the pounds to get Marilyn’s curvy figure and size 14 status. The greatest method to her madness though, was how was she practiced walking with a belt buckled around her knees to get the famous Marilyn “wiggle” down.
Robert De Niro
If you didn’t expect to see Robert De Niro on this list twice, think again. To really get into character for Taxi Driver, De Niro actually became one. He used to spend his weekends driving a cab, sometimes for 12 hours at a time. When customers would enter the cab and recognize the star behind the wheel, they would of course ask him if he was really Robert De Niro! One customer got this classic reply- “Well, that’s acting. One year the Oscar, the next you’re driving a cab!.” Clearly, De Niro’s sense of humor is interchangeable no matter what role he’s preparing himself for.
Shia Labeouf went all out to prepare for his role in Fury. The former child star told Dazed magazine just how far he went to become his character; “The day after I got the job, I joined the US National Guard. I was baptised, accepted Christ in my heart, tattooed my surrender and became a chaplain’s assistant to Captain Yates for the 41st Infantry. I spent a month living on a forward operating base. Then I linked up with my cast and went to Fort Irwin. I pulled my tooth out, knifed my face up and spent days watching horses die. I didn’t bathe for four months.” Well done, Shia. Well done.
Andy Serkis took the opportunity to do some soul-searching amongst the gorillas in Rwanda when he was offered to play the role of King Kong. He immediately jumped on a plane, against the advice of film director Peter Jackson, and followed the mountain gorillas around their home-turf for two weeks as he studied them. Before he embarked on this dangeous adventure, he had been studying apes at the London Zoo which evidently wasn’t enough for the actor. Serkis was nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Caesar in Rise of Planet of the Apes. Monkeying around turned out to be a good thing for this actor.
Boys Don’t Cry earned Hilary Swank rave reviews and her first Academy Award. The film centered around a transgender female- male who falls in love with Chloe Sevigny (who wouldn’t, though?). A month before the movie started filming, Swank decided to get into character early. She lived as a man for the month – cut her hair, dressed the part, and introduced herself as a male in public. It was Hilary’s debut performance and she only made $3,000 total for the part, but it definitely paid off in the long run.
Marlon Brando made his acting debut in the 1950 film, The Men. To prepare for his big break, Brando lived in a veterans hospital for a month to get into character. He reportedly didn’t leave his bed almost the entire time he was there. When he was out of his bed, he was being transferred around the facility in a wheelchair and treated as any other patient. No one in the hospital knew that Marlon was an actor researching a role for the first three weeks of his stay, then once his cover was blown, he exited the home one week later.
In The Reader, Kate Winslet plays a concentration camp guard who has an affair with a teenage boy… while speaking English with a German accent. To properly prepare for the role, Kate decided to speak with a German accent as much as she could, whenever the opportunity presented itself. By the end of filming, Winslet’s children were practically fed up with hearing their bedtime stories in a German accent. We can’t necessarily say we blame them, though. Unless the story was Hansel and Gretel, could have fitting.