It’s one thing to mentally prepare to play a character in a movie or a play. It’s another thing to physically transform yourself in order to better identify with the role. Some transformations are only skin deep; extensive makeup or prosthetics may be sufficient to pull of the necessary look. Other transformations are more involved; many actors may take part in weeks, if not months, of preparations for a role. This can include intense training, specialized diets, and exhaustive exercise routines. The end result of an actor going through such a transformation is not only a more accurate visual resemblance, but also a confidence or familiarity with that character’s actions, skills, or demeanor.
This week, we are looking at some important movie roles where an actor lost weight on purpose for the role. There are many different reasons for them to do this, and in each case we’ll look at why they made the change, how they completed the change, and how effective it was for each respective film.
Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
This is a two-for-one with two actors losing weight for their roles in a single film. Matthew McConaughey lost 38 lbs to play Ron Woodroof. Jared Leto reportedly lost close to 30 lbs to portray Rayon, a transgender woman. Both characters are HIV-positive, which is why each actor decided to lose weight for their performance. McConaughey said that for the role he stayed at home, trying not to socialize and to get his skin to look pale. Meanwhile, Leto stopped eating and interviewed HIV-positive and transgender people to better understand their struggles. During filming, Leto never went out of his character. Both transformations and the resulting performances were incredibly successful. Both McConaughey and Leto each won Academy Awards for their acting in this film.
Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy
Pratt is an actor who has gained and lost weight many times during his career. After the TV show Parks and Recreation, Pratt lost 30 pounds to portray a baseball player in Moneyball. He then gained the weight back for a role in the movie 10 Years, before losing weight again for Zero Dark Thirty the following year. Then he gained weight again for the 2013 comedy, Delivery Man, before being cast in Guardians of the Galaxy as the main protagonist, Peter Quill. Pratt worked for six months with an intense workout schedule and diet in order to lose an estimated 60 lbs and gain muscle for the superhero role. The transformation was a success as the film went on to catapult Pratt to A-level status.
Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler
Gyllenhaal lost nearly 30 pounds to portray Lou Bloom, a creepy unethical freelance photographer. Gyllenhaal wanted his physical demeanor to match the character’s moral depravity. He also literally wanted to feel hunger much in the same way that the character strived for a juicy story. To accomplish the physical transformation, Gyllenhaal reportedly ran 15 miles to and from the film set every day and restricted his diet to kale and chewing gum. Gyllenhaal’s psychopath performance was praised by critics, and he was nominated for several best actor awards, including a Golden Globe.
Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis in Black Swan
Another two for one where two actresses not only lost weight for their roles in a film, but also went through extensive training and physical preparations. Natalie Portman reportedly lost about 20 pounds to portray ballerina Nina Sayers, and Mila Kunis lost a similar amount of weight during her preparations to portray Nina’s counterpart, Lily. Both actresses studied intensely over a six month period to learn how to dance as a ballerina. Along with the dance lessons, they both underwent an extensive exercise regime in order to tone their bodies correctly. Portman has said that she barely ate during this time, working out by swimming and cross training at least 6 days a week. Professional dancers who have viewed the film have commented that both Portman and Kunis do a tremendous job in their roles, and all of their work allowed them to provide a performance that is very accurate. The film was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, and Portman won the award for Best Actress.
Christian Bale in The Machinist
One of the most infamous weight loss stories in recent cinema is the work that Christian Bale did to prepare for his role in The Machinist. Bale plays Trevor Reznik, a man whose insomnia has emaciated his body. For the role, Bale lost close to 60 lbs in four months with a diet consisting of one apple and/or can of tuna a day. He had lost so much weight that his body began eating away at his muscle tissue. Bale went so far as to lose 20 more pounds than was recommended by his nutritionist. Bale claims that a picture of Hank Williams being released from jail is what had inspired his transformation. Bale’s performance was praised as disturbing, with his physical demeanor being especially effective.
Chris Hemsworth in The Heart of the Sea
For Ron Howard’s 2015 retelling of the story that inspired Moby Dick, Hemsworth lost 33 pounds in 4 weeks. In the film, Hemsworth plays Owen Chase, a sailor who becomes stranded at sea along with part of his crew for over 90 days. Hemsworth noted “In order to do [the story] justice…we had to suffer in some way and we did.” To accomplish the rapid weight loss along with the rest of the cast, he participated in a 500-600 calorie per day diet eating only boiled eggs and salads. Physcially, Hemsworth pulled off the look, although the film itself struggled to earn much praise.
Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables
For the latest film adaptation of the classic French novel, Anne Hathaway was cast as Fantine, a woman whose misfortune leads to starvation and illness. To complete the look, Hathaway lost 15 pounds before filming began, and then lost another 10 pounds during production so that the character would appear to be wasting away. Her diet consisted mainly of salads and it was later reported that her diet left her so frail that she broke her arm in a fall during production. In the end, all of the struggle was worth it. Not only did the film earn a nomination for Best Picture at the Oscars, but Hathaway won the award for best supporting actress.
50 Cent in All Things Fall Apart
Curtis Jackson, aka “50 Cent” lost 54 pounds in 9 weeks for a role in the film All Things Fall Apart. In the film, 50 Cent plays Deon, an american football player who is diagnosed with cancer just before the NFL draft. To pull off the transformation, he restricted himself to a liquid diet and spent hours each day on the treadmill. 50 Cent says that he began looking into the stories of other actors who lost significant weight for a role as inspiration, especially Christian Bale for the Machinist and Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. Additional inspiration came from a friend who passed away due to cancer. Unfortunately, audiences did not appreciate 50 Cent’s performance in the film, and it did not find a lot of success.