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There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about an actor simply preparing for a part in an upcoming movie. Preparation for roles varies and may include anything from learning to speak with an accent to spending a few hours with the individual a character is based on. Most actors and actresses are getting paid big bucks for their craft so the least they can do is some friggin’ homework. However, the following actors are shining examples of individuals who truly went all out for their roles. Strap in Weirdos (that’s what we lovingly call Weirdworm readers now) it’s going to be an interesting ride.
Taking on / Taking off the Pounds
Underneath all the glitz, glamour and plastic surgery celebrities are in fact (mostly) human. Thus, they tend to gain or lose weight just like us regular folks. In some cases, such weight gain or weight loss has nothing to do with preparation for a new role; it’s just a part of life.
The harsh truth is, you never know which trim and fit actor at the top of their game today may well tip the scales twenty or so years from now.
For the purposes of faithfully playing their characters, several actors have opted to not wear humiliating fat-suits (cough - Eddie Murphy - cough) and have instead packed on pounds the natural way. Matt Damon, Renee Zellweger, Jared Leto, Denzel Washington, George Clooney and Charlize Theron have all plumped their ways into successful roles.The correct answer is one! Shockingly they are all the same person. Here are two of the most shocking examples of weight gain and weight loss…
Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro took the cake (literally) when he gained a record sixty pounds to play an older version of his character, Jake La Motta, in the 1980 Scorsese boxing biopic Raging Bull. Production of the film was actually halted for four months so that De Niro could stuff his face. In addition to the massive weight gain, De Niro also brushed up on his Bronx accent and took the time to hook up with the real Jake LaMotta and his ex-wife, Vikki. Jake LaMotta even served as De Niro’s trainer and helped get him into shape. De Niro’s hard work was rewarded with an Oscar win for Best Lead Actor. The film itself was also nominated for eight Academy Awards.
Next is an actor we have to mention otherwise he may kick our asses. That person is the dark knight himself Christian Bale. Talk about dedication, Bale went in the complete opposite direction of De Niro. He lost over sixty pounds for his role as Trevor Reznik in the underrated 2004 psychological thriller The Machinist. Interestingly, the director of the film Brad Anderson never officially requested that Bale lose as much weight as he did. Bale characteristically just took it upon himself to do so. According to Christian, "I had what could be called a kind of stupid feeling of invincibility, like, 'Oh I can do it. I can manage it."
But by 2005 Bale had earned the lead role in Batman Begins. However, neither director Chris Nolan nor anyone on the planet wanted to see a scrawny Batman and so Bale had to bulk up. He was given six months to gain back a considerable amount of weight. According to Bale, "When it actually came to building muscle, I was useless. I couldn't do one push up the first day. All of the muscles were gone, so I had a real tough time rebuilding all of that." Ultimately, with the help of a personal trainer, he succeeded in gaining one hundred pounds. However he actually gained more weight than the director desired and was forced to drop his weight back down yet again. Perhaps Bale’s body is actually a balloon which inflates and deflates on command?
Our next section features many actors who made unique efforts in preparation for their lead roles.
One would be hard-pressed to find a more memorable character than Raymond Babbit as played by Dustin Hoffman. Of course the film we’re speaking of is Rain Man, the 1988 comedy/drama directed by Barry Levinson. The movie told the story of a self absorbed yuppie jerk, Charlie Babbitt, (played by Tom Cruise of course) who discovered that his father passed away and bequeathed his multimillion-dollar estate to his son, Raymond, an autistic idiot savant who Charlie never even knew existed.
To prepare for the role, Hoffman spent time doing character studies with a young autistic man, Peter Guthrie as well as the late Kim Peek who is the main inspiration behind the character. Kim Peek was classified as mentally retarded as a child, but was later discovered to possess remarkable brainpower which led medical experts to dub him “The Living Google”. As anyone who has seen the film knows, such quirky traits are definitely what made the character so endearing. Hoffman’s studies of the autistic individuals’ distinct mannerisms earned him an Academy award.
Another actor who went all out for his role was Gene Hackman in the 1971 crime drama, The French Connection. The film was about gritty New York detectives Popeye Doyle and Buddy Russo, who were based on Narcotics Detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso. In real life Grosso, his partner and other New York detectives helped break up an organized drug ring in 1961 and seized 112 pounds of heroin. Not quite as much as what investigators found in Lindsay Lohan’s stash, but still a respectable amount.
To prepare for the role of Popeye Doyle; Hackman and co-star Roy Scheider actually spent a month in a patrol car on the beat with genuine New York detectives Grosso and Egan. In doing so they truly got a feel for their characters. Interestingly, Hackman reportedly became disgusted at some of the more off-putting sights he saw during these patrols. During one incident he even had to help restrain an unruly suspect and get him into the squad car.
They don’t come any more well regarded and respected than actress Meryl Streep. In 1982 she starred in Sophie's Choice, which was a drama based on a novel by William Styron. The film was about a Polish immigrant, Sophie, who was a survivor of Nazi concentration camps. Meryl put other actors and actresses to shame with her dedication for this particular role. She cut off her hair and lost 25 pounds specifically for a scene in Auschwitz.
Not enough for you? How about this - she also learned how to speak German fluently and learned a Polish accent. And you thought just shaving for work was a drag.
Lastly we have to give Sylvester Stallone some props for his effort in bringing Rocky Balboa back to the big screen almost twenty years after we all thought he’d hung up his gloves in Rocky V. Virtually the entire storyline of Rocky Balboa (we really wish he would have just called it Rocky VI) parallels Stallone’s struggles and triumphs in regard to his age and finally getting the movie made. Keep in mind that Stallone was about 60 when the film shot and he trained for six months to get in shape for his iconic role.
Filming of the climatic boxing bout certainly wasn’t as smooth as it used to be for the Italian Stallion. At one point during filming, Stallone was knocked unconscious by Antonio Tarver, the real-life boxer who played his rival Mason Dixon. To add authenticity to the match between Rocky and Dixon, the scene was filmed with the actors really physically knocking the crap out of each other. According to Stallone himself, no punches were pulled during shooting, and every grueling hit that made it into the film was the real deal.
In this final section we’ll be taking a look at some actors who took things far beyond working out, gaining weight or learning new languages. They took a much more insane path to prepare for their roles….
They don’t come anymore awesome than the late actor Heath Ledger whose role as the Joker in Dark Knight earned him a posthumous Academy Award. At this point, the story of how he prepared for his iconic role as the clown prince of crime is the stuff of legend. According to Heath himself, “I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices - it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath - someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts. He’s just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown, and Chris Nolan has given me free rein.” What Heath accomplished in his role as Joker will live on not only in the memories of comic book fans but film enthusiasts alike for many years to come.
For the popular role of Andy Kaufman in the 1999 movie Man on the Moon, Jim Carrey went above and beyond the call of duty to get into character. The flick in question was a biographical film about the offbeat entertainer Andy Kaufman. Indeed, Carrey was reported to be obsessed with playing the comic idol. Carrey seemingly paralleled Kaufman’s weird ways during the entire shoot. His unusual antics on the set included his refusal to be called by his real name throughout production. He insisted on being dealt with only as “Andy Kaufman” on and even off the set. He also insisted on doing many of the dangerous wrestling stunts himself. Then there was the supposed issue with Jerry Lawler who played himself in the movie. Jerry had a memorable “beef” with Andy in real life.
According to Jerry Lawler's autobiography, “It's Good To Be The King... Sometimes” one notable incident involved Jim Carrey inexplicably spitting on Jerry, much like Kaufman did in 1982. In response Lawler grabbed Carrey by his hair and locked him in a sleeper hold. Naturally the entire incident was a complete work much like the classic Lawler/Kaufman feud. However we figured we’d mention it since it certainly shows Carrey was game for keeping the prankster spirit of Kaufman alive and well.
Last but not least is Joaquin Phoenix, an actor who clearly earned his spot on our list. The work in question is I’m Still Here, the 2010 mockumentary directed by his pal Casey Affleck. Obviously nobody has worked harder creating an elaborate character out of himself than Phoenix has over the last year and a half. How far did he take his insane charade? Well according to the man himself, "I don't want to play the character of Joaquin anymore," he stated that “Joaquin” had become a "puppet" who completely lost control of his public self.
The clever marketing for the mock documentary followed the actor's so called retirement from acting and his leap into a hip-hop career as a rapper. The fun officially began in January, 2009 at a Las Vegas nightclub. Phoenix remained totally in character for subsequent public appearances. His notoriously awkward appearance on David Letterman was quite possibly the highlight of his stint as a bearded, sunglasses-wearing, drugged up, wack-job.
Such fond memories…
Fast forward one year later and things were thankfully somewhat back to normal. Letterman’s final jab at Phoenix is classic…
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