Top 10 Physical Transformations Undergone By Actors Preparing For A Single Role

Top 10 Films goes “method” with a look at ten actors who have pushed the boat out when it comes to delivering performances that feature impressive, and in some cases, unrecognisable physical transformations.

Adam McKay’s latest political dark comedy Vice comes to UK cinemas this week starring the virtually unrecognisable Christian Bale and Amy Adams. We take a look at some of the most impressive transformations undergone over the years by dedicated method actors who have shunned fat-suits and prosthetics, instead committing to serious weight change in order to look right for the parts they portrayed.

10. Chris Pratt – Guardians Of The Galaxy

Park and Recreation’s chubby layabout Andy Dywer spent much of the Emmy-nominated show fantasising about being FBI action hero Burt Macklin. This certainly became more of a reality for Chris Pratt after shedding 27kgs in six months in order to become Marvel’s ‘Star Lord’ in Guardians of the Galaxy.

9. Matt Damon – Courage Under Fire

Matt Damon - Courage Under Fire

Eating only chicken breast and running 13 miles a day for weeks meant that Damon was able to cut down 27kgs for his role as Army Medic Ilario in Edward Zwick’s 1996 movie.

8. Charlize Theron – Monster

The South African actress put on 13.5kgs for her Oscar-winning portrayal of real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the 2004 film Monster. She felt that the weight-gain brought her closer to the mentality of a woman who had ‘let herself go’ in all senses of the phrase.

7. Tom Hanks – Cast Away

Cast Away, Film, Tom Hanks, Robert Zemeckis

Before the film started shooting, Tom Hanks gained 23kg of weight in order to look like middle-aged FedEx executive Chuck Noland before he was stranded on the island. Tom then took a year to lose enough weight to play the cast away. In the weeks building up to filming the island scenes he didn’t shave or cut his hair at all.

6. Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

McConaughey lost nearly 20kgs in order to play AIDS patient Ron Woodruff in the Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club. His diet enabled him to lose 1.5kgs a week until he reached the right weight for the role.

5. Hillary Swank – Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Baby, Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood’s iconic 2004 boxing movie saw Hillary Swank gain 8.5kgs of Muscle in just three months before shooting began. Her intense regimen in the run up to the film involved waking up in the middle of the night to drink protein shakes.

4. Natalie Portman – Black Swan

Black Swan, Film, Aronofsky/Natalie Portman

The already tiny Natalie Portman lost 9kgs for her role in Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 psycho-ballet-thriller.

3. Christian Bale – Vice

Christian Bale - Vice

One of the major talking points surrounding Adam McKay’s latest film is the incredible transformation Christian Bale undertook to become Haliburton-exec-turned-US-Vice-President Dick Cheney. When asked what his diet for the role consisted of, he explained that he’d “just been eating a lot of pies”. You can see Bale’s transformation in Vice as it hits UK cinemas on January 25.

2. Christian Bale – The Machinist

Christian Bale - The Machinist

Bale famously lost 30kgs of weight for his role as insomniac Trevor Reznik in The Machinist. His diet in preparation for the role consisted of no pies and just a tin of Tuna and an apple a day whilst exercising extremely hard.

1. Robert De Niro – Raging Bull

De Niro pioneered the incredible transformations undergone by the aforementioned actors in this list for his role in Scorsese’s Raging Bull. He gained 27kgs to play an older Jake La Motta in the Oscar-winning 1980 movie. His transformation was so alarming that Scorsese shut down filming for a few weeks as he feared for the actor’s health.

Honourable mentions

Ewan McGregor – Fargo

The usually-fit Scottish actor had just finished filming Trainspotting 2 when he was asked to gain weight for his dual roles as the Stussy brothers in the spin-off TV show of the Coen brothers’ 1996 Oscar-winning film. In order to change shape before filming for the third season of the show started McGregor packed in the carbs with every meal.

Ryan Gosling – The Lovely Bones

Ryan Gosling was replaced by Mark Wahlberg in Peter Jackson’s 2009 film The Lovely Bones after a disagreement with the director about the appearance of Jack Salmon. Ryan thought that Jack Salmon should be pushing 100kgs. Unfortunately, the Oscar-winning director did not. Gosling said that once he left the project, he was no longer a committed method actor, but instead just “fat and unemployed.”

Written and Compiled by Amilia Totten

Over to you: what are your favourite actor transformations?

Vice is in UK cinemas from Friday January 25

Amilia Totten
About the Author
Amilia Totten is a freelance writer, photographer and erstwhile time-waster. Her eclectic film favourites include the latest Hollywood blockbuster to European avant-garde and the joys of Bollywood.

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  1. Dan Grant Reply

    Love this piece. Really glad you included Damon in Courage Under Fire. DeNiro is a great choice for number one.

    I’ll add a few more as well:

    Stallone for Copland.
    Charlie Sheen when he did the Hot Shots Movies
    Chris Evans for Captain America
    Ben Stiller for Tropic Thunder
    James Brolin for Deadpool 2

    Yes, all of these are roles they beefed up for but they are worth mentioning as well

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