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Actors Who Gained Weight For Roles

If there's one reliable trope of modern-day film and television acting, it's a performer putting on weight for a role. Sometimes it's to help them transform into a real-life figure, like Robert De Niro in "Raging Bull" or Charlize Theron in "Monster." Other times, it's to more convincingly play a fictional character who can't possess movie star looks, as was the case with George Clooney in "Syriana" and Renee Zellweger in "Bridget Jones's Diary." The weight gain can be for dramatic effect, a la Vincent D'Onofrio in "Full Metal Jacket," or comedic effect, a la Rob McElhenny in Season 7 of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." 

Sometimes, it can be about adding some extra muscle to your physique, as Bradley Cooper did for "American Sniper." Or, it's about bulking up to be more intimidating, as Cole Hauser did for "Yellowstone." No matter what the reason, there's no length an actor won't go to when it comes to adding on a few extra pounds for a part.

Here are 12 actors who gained weight for roles — including some who snagged Oscar gold for their efforts.

George Clooney in Syriana

2005 was a banner year for George Clooney. Not only did he earn Oscar nominations for writing and directing "Good Night, and Good Luck," but he also won the best supporting actor prize for his performance in Stephen Gaghan's "Syriana." Voters were undoubtedly amazed by the 44-year-old matinee idol's physical transformation into CIA agent Bob Barnes, who is sent out on a dangerous mission after years of desk duty. The role necessitated Clooney to add 30 pounds to his waistline, and apparently, he had to do so in record time.

According to The Irish Examiner, Clooney was given just one month to gain weight after replacing another actor. He binged on a reported nine meals a day at his Italian villa on Lake Como, which might sound like someone's idea of paradise, but according to Clooney, it was anything but. "People always think, 'Oh, that'll be fun,' but it's like going to a pie-eating contest every day," he said. "I was miserable, because there I was in Italy, and I wasn't looking forward to eating. Who doesn't look forward to eating in Italy?" There were additional strains during filming. According to Cinema Confidential (as reported by Time), Clooney's costar Matt Damon noticed his friend was "a different person" and "constantly depressed." Luckily, the effects weren't long-lasting, and Clooney was certainly cheerful on Oscar night.

Christian Bale in American Hustle and Vice

Perhaps no other performer has drastically transformed his body as many times as Christian Bale. Whether bulking up with muscle for the "Dark Knight" trilogy or slimming down to near-skeletal proportions for "The Machinist," there are seemingly no lengths Bale won't go to in order to physically embody a character. He's even grown out his waistline for 2013's "American Hustle" and 2018's "Vice."

According to a USA Today interview, Bale packed on 40 pounds to play the pot-bellied con man Irving Rosenthal in David O. Russell's "American Hustle." At 39 years old, Bale revealed he was hesitant to gain weight for roles again because of how long it took to shed it. "I was 185 and went up to 228 for it," he revealed. "And I'm still working that off! It's almost six months later. Now I know that when I was in my early 20s it would have been two months and that's it."

Yet Bale decided to put his body through the ringer one last time to play former Vice President Dick Cheney in Adam McKay's "Vice." According to People Magazine, Bale told reporters, "It was more fun gaining the weight than losing it," since he got to stuff himself with pies to do so. Yet as the then 44-year-old actor told CBS Sunday Morning (as reported by Entertainment Weekly), it was the last time he'd do so. "I keep saying I'm done with it," he said. "I really think I'm done with it, yeah."

Bradley Cooper in American Sniper

Gaining weight for roles isn't always about expanding your waistline. Some roles require an actor to put on a hefty amount of muscle, as was the case when Bradley Cooper portrayed real-life Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle in Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper." Cooper packed on 40 pounds of muscle to play Kyle, who killed a record-breaking 160 people during his tour in Iraq before being shot to death back home by troubled fellow vet Eddie Ray Routh.

In an interview with Men's Health, Cooper explained the necessity of bulking up to play the 230-pound Kyle, saying, "I had to get to the point where I believed I was him. At 185 pounds, it would've been a joke. His size was such a part of who he was." He added, "Chris wasn't ripped. He wasn't sinewy. He was just a bear." So the then 39-year-old actor linked up with personal trainer Jason Walsh for a 10-week crash course, which included ingesting 6000 calories a day to assist with that muscle building. His gambit paid off, as "American Sniper" became one of the highest-grossing films of the year and earned six Oscar nominations, including best picture and best actor for Cooper.

Matt Damon in The Informant!

Although Steven Soderbergh's approach to the based-on-true-events story of "The Informant!" was comical, Matt Damon's physical transformation into the lead character was no laughing matter. He plays Mark Whitacre, an executive who blows the whistle on his company's price-fixing scandal, and starts spinning one fantastical tale after another to the FBI. By the end of the film, it's clear Whitacre has been lying to cover up his own corporate misdeeds, and he ends up behind bars himself. Damon put on a reported 30 pounds to play Whitacre, who becomes paunchier the more time he spends in prison. (He also styled his hair to look like the world's most obvious toupee, but that's for a separate article.)

As reported by NBC, Damon's weight gain was ... well, a piece of cake. According to the 39-year-old Oscar winner, "It was very, very easy to gain the weight. Very, very fun. I just basically ate everything I could see for a few months." Damon's months-long feast paid off with some of the best reviews of his career, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for best comedy/musical actor. 

Robert De Niro in Raging Bull

In many ways, Robert De Niro became the standard bearer for all actors who wanted to gain weight for roles. De Niro drastically transformed his body to play former boxer Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull," portraying LaMotta as a slim young prizefighter in the first half of the film and as an overweight has-been in the second. To do so, he took a four-month break from production to go on an eating spree throughout Europe, returning to the States 60 pounds heavier. This caused the 37-year-old actor to experience health problems, yet he made it through the rest of production and managed to slim back down after the cameras stopped rolling. The film opened to near-universal acclaim, and De Niro was rewarded for his efforts with an Oscar win for best actor. Its legacy has only grown in the years since, with many declaring it to be one of the greatest films of all time.

According to a 2019 interview with The Independent, De Niro was inspired to do the film when he saw the real LaMotta walking around New York City, overweight and past his prime. "I said, 'Jesus, look what happened to him,'" he recalled. "I thought the graphic difference of being out of shape and then being a young fighter really was interesting." It's easy to understand why he would feel the need to put on weight to play the role, and why that would inspire so many other actors.

Vincent D'Onofrio in Full Metal Jacket

When it comes to gaining weight for a role, no one holds a candle to Vincent D'Onofrio. According to Guinness World Records, D'Onofrio holds the title for the most weight gained for a movie role. The actor put on a whopping 70 pounds to play Private Gomer Pyle in Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket," causing him to weigh in at 280 pounds. It was quite the level of commitment considering it was for his first starring role, yet that's what you'd expect for a Kubrick film.

In a 1987 interview with The New York Times, D'Onofrio spoke about the physical and psychological effects of gaining weight and shaving his head to play Pyle, a young Marine who is subjected to abuse by his drill sergeant (R. Lee Ermey) while at boot camp. "It changed my life," the 28-year-old actor revealed. "Women didn't look at me; most of the time I was looking at their backs as they were running away. People used to say things to me twice, because they thought I was stupid." He also suffered a knee injury while filming one of the basic training sequences (which he had to shoot several times), necessitating surgery. Yet all the effort paid off with a true star-is-born moment for D'Onofrio, who went on to star in several acclaimed films and television shows. 

Ryan Gosling in The Lovely Bones and Blue Valentine

Anyone who saw the perfect washboard abs Ryan Gosling displayed as Ken in "Barbie" might be shocked to learn he isn't always in perfect shape. In fact, he's twice put on weight to play characters in movies — although only one of them actually made it to the big screen.

When Gosling was originally cast in Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones," the 29-year-old actor thought he looked too young to play a bereaved father seeking revenge for his daughter's murder. So, as he revealed on The Hollywood Reporter's annual actors roundtable, he added 60 pounds to his waistline by gulping down melted Häagen-Dazs. When Gosling showed up on set, Jackson was stunned. "We had a different idea of how the character should look," Gosling said. "I really believed he should be 210 pounds." His director disagreed, and he was eventually replaced by Mark Wahlberg. "We didn't talk very much during the preproduction process, which was the problem," Gosling added. "I just showed up on set, and I had gotten it wrong. Then I was fat and unemployed."

Luckily, Gosling was able to put that waistline to good use for Derek Cianfrance's "Blue Valentine," a marital drama co-starring Michelle Williams. According to NDTV, the two actually competed against each other to see who could gain the most weight before filming, with Williams edging Gosling out by a pound.

Matthew McConaughey in Gold

Matthew McConaughey famously shed 50 pounds to play real-life AIDS activist Ron Woodroof in the 2013 film "Dallas Buyers Club," for which he won the Oscar for best actor. He went in the complete opposite direction just three years later, packing on 47 pounds to play prospector Kenny Wells in Stephen Gaghan's "Gold." McConaughey grew out a pot belly and receded his hairline to play the real-life Wells, and as he revealed at the film's New York premiere (as reported by Variety), the results were striking: "I enjoyed getting into Kenny and doing my research and all of a sudden I looked in the mirror and was like, 'You put on a lot of weight, McConaughey,'" he said.

During a promotional appearance on "Ellen" (reported by The Hollywood Reporter), the 47-year-old star joked about his massive weight gain. "That's a whole lot of McConaughey," he said. "That's cheeseburgers and beer for eight months, whenever I wanted them." When the cameras stopped rolling and it was time to lose the weight, it was six months of restraint. "I did learn that the only thing that makes you tired of overindulging is the thought of quitting," he explained. His family was also sad to see their newly rotund dad slim back down. "My nickname in the house was Captain Fun. My wife misses all 217 pounds of me, and the kids do too, because any night was pizza night."

Rob McElhenny in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Few people have transformed their bodies as drastically in the name of comedy as Rob McElhenny. Fans of FX's long-running "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" remember Mac's (McElhenny) bid to accumulate mass in Season 7, which led to the actor adding 50 pounds to his waistline. Although in Mac's mind, he's bulking up to become more masculine, he skips the part where you convert those calories into muscle through exercise, and he instead becomes overweight and unhealthy by gorging on the worst foods imaginable. And for McElhenny, the only way to convincingly play this was to do just that.

Speaking with the AV Club at the time, the 34-year-old actor said he was inspired to pursue the weight gain storyline when he noticed a surprising trend in other TV sitcoms: As the seasons progressed, the actors kept getting better looking. "I just couldn't understand that decision," he said. "I understand it as an actor, which is, you want to be able to jump off that show and be able to go work on other things. But to me, if you're dedicated to what you're doing in the moment, right now, it just doesn't make any sense that you would be more attractive as the years go by." Considering Mac is obsessed with accumulating mass, it made sense to McElhenny that the character would transform into "a slab of beef." (McElhenny actually did put on muscle for Season 13, proving he can just as easily go in the opposite direction.)

Charlize Theron in Monster and Tully

The quickest way to winning an Oscar is becoming unrecognizable, as Charlize Theron learned when she transformed into serial killer Aileen Wuornos for Patty Jenkins' 2003 film "Monster," which earned her the best actress prize. She pulled off another (not quite as drastic) physical transformation for Jason Reitman's "Tully," gaining 50 pounds to play a dissatisfied housewife who bonds with her much younger nanny (Mackenzie Davis). As the 43-year-old actress told Entertainment Tonight at the time, "I wanted to feel what this woman felt, and I think that was a way for me to get closer to her and get into that mindset." The result of eating all of that processed food and sugar, she revealed, was "I got hit in the face pretty hard with depression."

As she told Allure in 2023 (as reported by Variety), it was the last time she'd ever go through that. "When I was 27, I did 'Monster,'" she recalled. "I lost 30 pounds, like, overnight. I missed three meals and I was back to my normal weight." Yet after filming "Tully," "I remember a year into trying to lose the weight, I called my doctor and said, 'I think I'm dying because I cannot lose this weight.' And he was like, 'You're over 40. Calm down. Your metabolism is not what it was.' Nobody wants to hear that." So Theron focused on playing a badass action hero instead, which would help anyone keep in shape.

Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones's Diary

Renee Zellweger did more than just use a flawless British accent to play the titular role in "Bridget Jones's Diary." The 32-year-old actress put on 30 pounds to play a single London woman who keeps a diary of all the things she wants to improve in her life, including finding love and losing weight. The film earned Zellweger her first Oscar nomination as best actress, and spawned the sequels "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" and "Bridget Jones's Baby" (both of which she regained weight for).

Zellweger's physical transformation came back in the news when a 2017 interview with her on The Oprah Winfrey Show resurfaced on social media. As The Independent reported in 2023, Zellweger revealed she bristles every time someone would ask her how she lost all of the weight she had gained for the role. "It saddens me so much because it seems to imply that one way of being is acceptable and the other isn't, and that's just not true," she said of what that question implies about how society views women's bodies. She explained she doesn't answer that question anymore because she doesn't like hearing the applause that goes with it. She was happy to play the character, however, because she felt it "completely nullifies the notion that you're supposed to be a size zero in order to be considered attractive."

Cole Hauser in Yellowstone

When Cole Hauser signed on to play ranch hand Rip Wheeler in Taylor Sheridan's hit TV series "Yellowstone," the 43-year-old actor decided he needed more than just a country accent to convincingly play the role. Hauser upped his calorie intake to pack on 20 pounds for the role, which he's had to maintain as the series has stayed on the air (and become a favorite of dads across America).

Speaking with Awards Daily in 2022, Hauser explained the rationale behind gaining that extra weight, saying, "I wanted to be bigger than everybody, but it makes sense to be country strong. He's not going to the gym. He's lifting bales of hay and working, so he's not skinny and muscular. He's just a big country strong-looking guy." Yet even though Rip looks big and imposing, all of those extra pounds aren't exactly muscular. As Hauser revealed, "the reality of these guys when they get older is, they start to break down. Again, they're not going to the gym, they're not taking growth hormones or anything to be shredded. They eat meat and potatoes, and it's just kind of who they are. I just wanted to be as authentic as possible." With the aid of some Tuna Helper, Hauser transformed so thoroughly that, he said, "You wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and go who's that guy?"