Movies that caused serious damage to actors' bodies

We've heard of suffering for your art, but some actors take it to extremes. These stars eagerly embraced the challenges of physically taxing roles—and seriously damaged their bodies in pursuit of dramatic perfection.

Rebel Wilson in Isn't It Romantic (2019)

Rebel Wilson is best known for her roles in comedies, and while she's been known to drop some great dance moves while playing Fat Amy in the Pitch Perfect movies, she hasn't had many opportunities for high-action stunt work. She still fell victim to a scary on-set accident, however, when she fell and suffered a concussion while filming the 2019 romantic comedy Isn't It Romantic.

Wilson shared on Instagram that she had a mild injury and had to be taken to the emergency room while she was filming the movie, which follows an unlucky in love woman who somehow finds herself trapped in a romantic comedy. Fortunately, it seems her injury wasn't bad, as she was back on set and filming later that day. Wilson did say she was going to stay away from crazy stunts for a few days, though, which seems like a smart plan.

Jennifer Lawrence in mother! (2017)

Darren Aronofsky knows how to make viewers very, very uncomfortable, as he showed with his work on Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan. The director's intense roles have been known to mess with actors' heads, and that appears to be the case for the star of his 2017 film mother! Jennifer Lawrence, starring opposite Javier Bardem, revealed that she hyperventilated so hard while filming one scene that she actually dislocated a rib.

Mother! is a creepy psychological thriller in which unwanted guests invade the home of Lawrence's character, with terrifying paranormal results. Considering how much the actress screams in the trailer, it makes sense that there would have been frights behind the scenes—and it sounds like one scene got very serious, with Lawrence saying she had to be put on oxygen. Even worse? The take was blurry, and Aronofsky said they'd need to reshoot it.

Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables (2012)

Who knew it was so dangerous to play a doomed singing prostitute? Anne Hathaway won Best Supporting Actress for Les Miserables in 2013. There was little danger of her breaking any limbs, since the depressing French musical isn't known for its big dance numbers. But Hathaway had to make great physical sacrifices anyway.

Hathaway's character Fantine begins the movie as a very poor factory worker, so she lost ten pounds before filming started. As the musical progresses, Fantine ends up a desperate dying prostitute on the streets of Paris; Hathaway wanted the character to look as realistically near death as possible, so she lost another 15 pounds during filming. "I just had to stop eating," she explained, "all for a total of 13 days' shooting."

The extreme dieting didn't just take a physical toll, but an emotional one as well. "Looking back on the whole experience—and I don't judge it in any way—it was definitely a little nuts," Hathaway said. "It was definitely a break with reality, but I think that's who Fantine is anyway."

After delving deep into the world of a woman who resorts to cutting her hair and selling her body to try to keep her child alive, only to die without ever telling her little girl goodbye, Hathaway wasn't quite right. "I was in such a state of deprivation—physical and emotional. When I got home, I couldn't react to the chaos of the world without being overwhelmed [...] It took me weeks till I felt like myself again." Honestly, it would be pretty hard to feel chipper after getting your hair violently chopped off and sing-crying into a camera for 13 days.

Mila Kunis in Black Swan (2010)

This intense look into the world of ballet was, unsurprisingly, pretty hard on the bodies of its stars. Mila Kunis, who plays the understudy that Natalie Portman's character becomes obsessed with, lost 20 pounds to look like a ballerina. That might not sound too drastic, but it sent the 5'4" Kunis down to 95 pounds.

Kunis lost the weight by sticking to a strict 1200-calorie diet. On the low end of safe diets, it's not necessarily damaging—but Kunis added smoking tons of cigarettes to the mix. Add to that four hours of ballet training every day for seven weeks, and you have the recipe for a messed-up body. By the end of the film, Kunis had a torn calf ligament and scars on her back from being lifted.

After the shoot, Kunis said she gained the weight back instantly. (Hopefully by eating a full pizza the day she wrapped, because honestly, she earned it.) But her body "has never been the same. My shape is different…When I gained it back, it went to completely different areas." The shoot was so hard on her, she'd be very reluctant to take on another role that required such physical transformation. If you have any scripts about people chilling on beach, give Kunis a call.

Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby (2004)

When you sign up for a boxing movie, you figure you'll end up with a lot of bruises. What you might not realize is that you'll have to drink raw eggs Rocky-style every morning for weeks on end. Hilary Swank was always fit and athletic (she was the Next Karate Kid, after all), but she said her training for Million Dollar Baby was much harder than anything else she'd ever done.

Swank needed to gain weight to play Maggie Fitzgerald, and reached her goal by eating 4000 calories a day. That didn't mean trips to Shake Shack and Ben & Jerry's for breakfast; she needed to build muscle and take in a lot of protein. "I don't know if you guys are aware of intake of protein," she explained. "I had to eat 60 egg whites in a day and I couldn't. So every morning I would drink them. I had to eat every hour and a half. So in the night, I had to wake up and drink protein shakes."

Getting up in the middle of the night to eat sounds kind of fun, but not when you have to train five hours a day. By the time they shot the film, she'd gained 23 pounds of muscle. Though she got a few bloody noses during training and got hit in the face more than once, she didn't sustain any lasting damage—although she probably still has a hard time eating egg whites.

Gerard Butler in Chasing Mavericks (2012)

Gerard Butler seems to specialize in making movies that could kill him, but he never imagined a wave would bring him the closest he'd get to death.

Chasing Mavericks is a surfing film about a young man who's insistent on riding the most dangerous waves. It required a lot of real surfing for the cast, including Butler, who had limited experience but was excited to learn. In the end, Butler did most of the surfing himself, only using doubles for the biggest of waves.

One day as the surfing shots were coming to a close, Butler was out on the water and wiped out—and the wave knocked him down so deep, he wasn't able to come up before the next one crashed down on him. "I was down for that wave and I was down for a long time just turning, turning," said Butler. "And then the next wave came over and I began to think 'Wow, I'm going to die making a movie.'"

Taken away in an ambulance, Butler immediately wanted to get back to the shoot, but they took him to the hospital anyway. Though he only sustained a bit of a scrape, the feeling that you're about to drown is not something you shake off easily. "I've been in car accidents, I've been smashed on the edge of a roof—almost went over—I've been hit by a lot of stuff, almost lost my eye on my last movie," he recalled. "I was hit by a bullet casing. This was I think by far the most dangerous in my life, I think that was the closest I've come."

Adrien Brody - The Pianist (2002)

Another actor who got the Oscar for torturing himself, Adrien Brody knew The Pianist would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—so he fully devoted his life to it. Brody's character, Wladyslaw Szpilman, lost his home and family during the Holocaust and survived by scrounging food from a Warsaw ghetto, and Brody went to extremes to get into that survivor's headspace. He sold all his possessions, gave up his apartment, packed two bags and a keyboard, and moved to Europe.

Director Roman Polanski made Brody practice piano for four hours every day. He ate as little as possible to lose weight and achieve the skeletal figure of a starving man. In six weeks, he got down to 130 pounds—incredibly thin for a 6'1" man. He felt the suffering was worth it. "I couldn't have acted [loss] without knowing it," he explained. "I've experienced loss, I've experienced sadness in my life, but I didn't know the desperation that comes with hunger."

The shoot was full of physical and mental anguish. Brody missed his friends and family, and had to spend each day in near isolation pretending to live through the Holocaust, which left him in a depleted mental state. "There were times when I was concerned that I might not be able to get out of it sane, because I didn't realize how far it had taken me," he admitted. "It took over half a year after the film was done to settle back into things." Honestly, Brody's lucky he was ever right in the head again. Going from starving on a ghetto set to winning an Oscar and becoming a huge star has to leave a person feeling a little more than unsettled.

Jeremy Renner in Tag (2017)

Jeremy Renner plays a superhero on the big screen—and he looks like one in real life too, smiling through the pain after announcing that he fractured his right wrist and left elbow while filming a stunt for his comedy Tag.

Renner posted pics of himself getting fixed up from his injuries in June of 2017, and confirmed at a film festival the following month that they occurred on the set. The actor, who didn't specify what the dangerous action entailed, said he's a "problem solver" who'd find a way to continue doing his job without interfering with his injuries. Renner also insisted he was doing everything he could to heal so he could get back to work on filming his role as Hawkeye in Avengers: Infinity War and its untitled sequel. Which is easier said than done—it's hard to shoot a bow and arrow with casts on both your arms.

Robert De Niro in Cape Fear (1991)

Robert De Niro is no stranger to putting his body through hell for a role. He famously gained 60 pounds to play Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, and for Cape Fear, his transformation was more specifically extreme. To play a frightening criminal out for revenge, De Niro trained for six months to get his body fat down to a single digit. When he filmed the shirtless scenes, he cut weight like a fighter, refusing to drink any water during the shoot. He would only swish seltzer through his mouth and spit it out when he was dying for a drink.

Not content to settle for his bulked-up physique, De Niro felt his teeth looked too pristine for the role, so he paid a dentist $5000 to get them shaved down to look more grungy. Unfortunately, repairing teeth was a little harder—he paid $20,000 to get his movie star smile back.

Shia LaBeouf in Fury (2014)

Most of Shia LaBeouf's notoriety comes from his exploits when he's not filming, but it turns out he can be just as outrageous on the set. LaBeouf plays a soldier trapped near enemy lines in the WWII drama Fury, and—completely unprompted by the director or producers—he decided to maim himself for the role.

Though it's not in the script, LaBeouf decided his character needed to be missing a tooth. Most dentists wouldn't pull out a person's tooth for no reason, so he had it taken care of in a shady place in Reseda.

Co-star Logan Lerman reported an even stranger story. "[LaBeouf] walks out into the hallway and says, 'Hey man, wanna see something fun? Check this out…' and he takes out a knife and cuts his face," he recalled. "For the whole movie he kept opening these cuts on his face. That's all real." Cutting your face to play a Bible-quoting soldier in the '40s seems a little nutty, but co-star Brad Pitt claims LaBeouf is one of the best actors he's ever worked with. You don't have to draw blood to really make it in this business…but it seems like it might help sometimes.

Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Matthew McConaughey has always been known for his incredible good looks since first starring in the cult classic Dazed and Confused and then in films such as A Time to Kill and rom-coms How The Wedding Planner and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. But these days, the actor seems hellbent on transforming that handsomeness into something else—and it all started with his Oscar-winning performance in the 2013 Dallas Buyers Club, telling the true story of hustler Ron Woodruff, who in 1985 Dallas, worked around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after himself being diagnosed with the disease.

The then 44-year-old dropped nearly 50 pounds for the role, and, in turn, won an Oscar for the performance. Describing the experience of losing the weight, the actor told BBC, "I did it in as healthy a way as I found possible. I met with a nutritionist. I gave myself four months to lose the weight. I had my programmed meals, lost 3.5lb a week—like clockwork —and got down to my desired weight, which turned out to be 47lb lighter."

The one thing he found most surprising was how energized his brain became. "The surprise was how the energy that I lost from the neck down transferred to the neck up. I became clinically aware, almost hyper, I needed three hours less sleep a night. I had an amazing amount of energy from the head up. That was something I didn't know was going to happen." While McConaughey never mentioned having any long-lasting problems, it did change him a little. He's never really looked the same again.

McConaughey continued his trend of looking as unattractive as possible in 2017's Gold, for which, among other things, he gained weight.

Ike Barinholtz in The Pact (2018)

While many on-set accidents occur on action films, comedies can also be very risky for actors, as shown when The Mindy Project star Ike Barinholtz fractured his neck on set of the film The Pact. The actor was shooting a falling stunt, but when he fell off the high platform, he ended up fracturing the sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae in his neck—stabilized with a brace which was incorporated into The Mindy Project's sixth and final season.

"We knew something was wrong right away," Barinholtz said of the fall. "It was scary and was touch and go for a while. Luckily, I've had great doctors who have helped me with my recovery." The actor, who is married and a father of two, said the fall reminded him how lucky he is to have an amazing family and friends, so it appears there's a good side to the scary situation.

Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

It's clear Tom Hardy isn't afraid of a little hard work getting into massive shape for a role. He played a MMA fighter in Warrior (in which he broke several bones) and the brooding Mad Max in Fury Road (in which co-star Charlize Theron accidentally broke his nose), but it was his turn as the beefed-up and menacing Bane in the 2012 The Dark Knight Rises that Hardy admits was hard to bounce back from.

Speaking with The Daily Beast about his upcoming portrayal of Chicago mobster Al Capone in Fonzo, Hardy said he hoped he wouldn't have to undergo the same kind of physical transformation he did playing Bane, because adding all that muscle weight to his slight 5'9" frame takes a toll. "It's not the classic Al Capone that you necessarily envision with the silhouette. I don't want to give too much away about it, but there's definitely a transformation with that role," said Hardy. "I don't know if it's as drastic as Bane. I've probably damaged my body too much. I'm only little! If I keep putting on weight I'll collapse like a house of cards under too much pressure."

Hardy added that being ripped like that is a young man's game. The older he's gotten, the less time and energy he has to maintain the physique. "I think you pay the price with any drastic physical changes. It was all right when I was younger, to put myself under that kind of duress, but I think as you get into your 40s you have to be more mindful of the rapid training, packing on a lot of weight and getting physical, and then not having enough time to keep training because you're busy filming, so your body is swimming in two different directions at the same time. And then after the film I'm tired, and you maybe have to change your shape again and go back to your normal size for the next film."

We're just kind of excited to see Hardy play Capone.

Chris Hemsworth in In the Heart of the Sea (2015)

Speaking of more weight loss, Chris Hemsworth took that plunge for his part in the 2015 In the Heart of the Sea. The movie purportedly tells the real story that inspired Moby Dick, as told to author Herman Melville by a whaler who sailed with Owen Chase, played by Hemsworth. At one point in the film, Chase and a few other men are stranded at sea for many days, so the actor lost 33 pounds to accurately convey the suffering. He said it took quite a toll on his body and his mind, more so than building muscle weight for Thor.

Speaking with Good Morning America (via People), Hemsworth said, "The gaining is fine, you just eat a lot and you lift weights but that was underfed, which led to a pretty moody existence and inconsistent emotions." He only ate about 500 calories a day that included boiled eggs, salads and "nothing much."

"You play all sorts of games," the Australian actor added. "If I eat this maybe I don't eat that. The insanity is nuts. In order to do it justice, the story, we had to suffer in some way and we did. In other words, not a whole lot of acting was required. We were desperate."

It didn't change Hemsworth's hunkiness all that much (youth and all), and he moved on to play the strapping Thor once again.

Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge (2001)

The anachronistic musical spectacular Moulin Rouge was pretty hard on star Nicole Kidman, who fell down the stairs during a dance number and injured her right knee. Due to delays and recovery, the incident led to a $3 million insurance loss. The knee continued to give her problems, which caused Kidman to drop out of Panic Room, which she'd already started filming for three weeks. Briefly uninsurable, she had to hold part of her salary in escrow just to be able to film her part in Cold Mountain. That's a lot of trouble for playing a singing courtesan.

It wasn't even Kidman's only Moulin Rouge-related injury. She also broke a bone, although it wasn't caused by dancing, stairs, or any of the other frenetic activities of the film. On The Graham Norton Show she recalled a particularly painful corset incident, saying, "I had this thing that I wanted to get my waist down to 18 inches, which Vivien Leigh had on Gone with the Wind and I was just like, 'Tighter, tighter!'" The corset got so tight, her rib snapped—and she ended up shooting much of the film with it broken.

Ben Foster in The Program (2015)

The intense Ben Foster is definitely one of our more underrated actors. (If you haven't seen Foster's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, do it now.) Known as a character actor more than a leading man, Foster shines in just about whatever he does, and is completely willing to change his appearance for a role. When Foster got the chance to play the disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong in Stephen Frears' 2015 film The Program, he went all in, becoming a lean, cycling machine. Foster admitted he took performance-enhancing drugs as part of his research—which is what eventually took Armstrong down, stripping him of his Tour de France trophies.

Foster said those drugs messed with his body for quite awhile after the film was wrapped. At the time of the film's release, he spoke with the BBC, saying he felt the drugs—which he wouldn't name specifically but said they were "all legal"—had "definitely damaged" his body, even though he took them in a "contained, doctor-supervised manner." He added, "I had a great doctor, which helped me handle some of those consequences. But it took about half a year to get my levels right, and I would say for any athlete, you have to ask, 'Where are your values?'" A very good question indeed.

Antonia Campbell-Hughes in 3096 Days (2013)

3096 Days is an adaptation of the Natascha Kampusch memoir that details her life as a kidnapping victim who was trapped in her abductor's basement from ages 10-18. Her story is full of violence and abuse, as her captor systematically raped and starved her to break her will. When Antonia Campbell-Hughes got the part, she knew she was going to get into it all the way. "It's not a biopic or a case study," she explained. "But playing someone real, you feel you have to give a bit more. There was an understanding from the beginning that I would suffer as much as she did."

Hughes worked around the clock. Her head was shaved, she had to be naked on set most days, and she ate almost nothing, since Natasha was fed very little in real life. The dedication seemed incredible, but her gaunt figure frightened people when she showed up in a thin blue dress at the Frankenweenie premiere. The press had a field day, speculating that she was anorexic—rumors the actress has always denied.

Since the film, she's still very thin, though claims she put weight back on after 3096. Hughes was happy with her work on the film, but is now understandably wary of the press—and will presumably think twice before wearing slip dresses after future tough shoots.

Matt Damon in Courage Under Fire (1997)

Maybe he felt like he needed to prove himself, but early in his career, Matt Damon lost weight to play a small role in Ed Zwick's 1996 war drama Courage Under Fire—and his body has come to regret it.

For only two days of filming as a soldier in the throes of addiction, Damon lost 40 pounds in just a little over three months, which caused lasting effects with his blood sugar. "I felt he should be a shell of a man at the end of the story," he told Movieline in 1997. "Not just because of the drugs he's been taking, but because the guilt he feels has been eating away at him. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I ran six miles in the morning and six miles at night, and I'd drink four to six pots of coffee to be able to run that distance. When I went into a restaurant, the first thing I would tell the waiters was, 'I'm your worst nightmare." I wouldn't waver from my diet. It got so bad that when my girlfriend kissed me, I'd have to wash my mouth out because I could taste the oils on her lips from the food she'd eaten."

Even Zwick was shocked at how thin Damon got. "He was scared, and he told me to start eating," Damon said. "But by that point I was so far gone that I wasn't going to compromise. I'm not sorry I did it. I knew it was a great role with a real chance to do something I hadn't done before. I just didn't know the effects would be so long-lasting. I went to a doctor in Boston after I got back from shooting and he said, 'The good news is that your heart didn't shrink.' But my blood sugar was all messed up, and I'm still on medication to correct that."

Damon was weaned off that medication after a year and a half, but he clearly learned his lesson: for The Martian, he simulated his character's severe weight loss with digital effects instead of the real thing.

Christian Bale in The Machinist (2004)

Christian Bale wins the prize for the crazy extremes he's put his body through for his craft. He has gained weight (American Hustle), bulked up (Dark Knight series)—but it was his turn in the 2004 indie film The Machinist that became his most infamous transformation. As a patient suffering from insomnia, Bale lost 65 pounds by basically eating a single can of tuna fish or an apple a day, along with drinking black coffee and water.

He, of course, had guidance from health professionals, but even they warned him not to go too far. He told Moviepilot at the time, "I had been to a nutritionist and when I had got down to what she had told me was a healthy weight, I just went, 'You know what? I can go more than this. I can keep going.' So I lost another 20 pounds below what she said I should stop at."

In an interview with movie blogger Chronicle of Ridicule, Bale explained more of his experience. "I had a, what could be called kind of stupid, feeling of invincibility, like 'Oh, you know, I can do it. I can manage it'… for me there was the challenge of was I able to do it?… But I didn't actually [start to] feel bad until I started eating again. It was when I started putting the weight back on, that I did it somewhat too rapidly, and apparently had the cholesterol level of a 90-year-old man and had to really begin getting fit, eating properly because I gorged too much. I didn't take the advice of everybody, which was, 'Take it slow.' You know, putting the weight back on I just wanted to consume pizza and donuts."

While Bale seemingly managed to bounce back, most likely due to the fact he was in his early 30s when he made the film, we're pretty sure he won't do that again.

Rooney Mara in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

It's easy to forget that Rooney Mara didn't always look like the rail-thin, raven-haired beauty we know today. She was always very trim, but she used to look a little more "girl next door" than "high fashion model." Here's the actress doing promo for The Social Network.

And here she is in her breakout role in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Needless to say, Mara had to undergo quite the transformation to play Lisbeth Salander. Mara chose to lose weight for the role and ate very little during shooting to obtain her gaunt look. Director David Fincher never asked her to her slim down and even told her at a dinner after shooting, "You can eat."

But Fincher certainly didn't treat Mara like a delicate flower. The director told her to get really drunk and come in the next day as hungover as possible to take pictures. He wanted to convince Sony that Mara could look properly strung out and figured an all-time-worst hangover would do the trick. So, Mara went home, got super drunk and wound up vomiting all night before coming in to get photographed the next morning.

Outside of mild liver damage, there was no other lasting bodily harm. But Mara was perpetually covered in bruises from the violent scene work. After filming a very intense scene when Lisbeth is choked out, Mara was covered in bruises. It was so bad the makeup artist thought she already had her makeup on when she showed up to the set, and was horrified to discover it was all real.