Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Actors Who Never Broke Character On-Set

When it comes to certain actors, it's fair to say that there's more than a little bit of method to their madness. Here are some of Hollywood's most notorious method actors—professionals who get so wrapped up in their roles that they start to lose themselves in their characters.

Anne Hathaway - Les Miserables

In order to properly portray Fantine, a prostitute with tuberculosis in the cinematic adaptation of Les Miserables, actress Anne Hathaway took serious measures to achieve the proper look. Already on the extreme side of thin, Hathaway went the extra mile and reportedly stopped eating for nearly two full weeks during the movie's filming. The result was a loss of 25 pounds—which produced the perfect mindset to play someone in a movie whose title roughly translates to "the miserables."

That, combined with her research into women's lives in 19th century France, brought Hathaway to a pretty rough spot mentally. She explained on an episode of Chelsea Lately, "I was dealing with a lot of darkness [... and] I needed to go further in to that negative place to play my character."

Joaquin Phoenix - I'm Still Here

Towards the end of 2008, Joaquin Phoenix announced his retirement from acting. Hip-hop was now Phoenix's game—as was having a gross beard, a rat's nest for hair, and ever-present sunglasses. The announcement and subsequent shenanigans were actually part of I'm Still Here, a mockumentary project cooked up between the actor and his brother in-law, Casey Affleck. The following year featured Phoenix promoting not only his nascent career as a rapper, but also movies he'd completed prior to the announcement, like 2008's Two Lovers.

While the film itself ultimately turned out to be forgettable, it was Phoenix's in-character appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman in early 2009 that's still burned in people's memories. During the interview, Phoenix appeared to be half-asleep, mumbling answers to Letterman's questions, and eventually sticking a wad of gum under the host's desk. At the end of the interview, Letterman delivered the ultimate one-liner: "Joaquin, I'm sorry you couldn't be here tonight." Staying in character throughout a film shoot is impressive enough. Doing so whenever you're out in public for almost a whole year is pretty much crazy.

Jim Carrey - Man On The Moon

In order to truly capture the intensity (and insanity) of Andy Kaufman, Jim Carrey reportedly dove deep into his character both on and off the set. Just like the real Kaufman, Carrey tried to provoke pro-wrestler Jerry Lawler into a physical fight—which he did by, at one point, spitting in Lawler's face. Reportedly, Carrey wouldn't respond to his name during filming, only acknowledging people when they called him "Andy." While the movie lost money for Universal Pictures, the descent into method acting seemed to pay off for Carrey, as he won a Golden Globe for his performance.

Daniel Day Lewis - Everything

Probably the most famous performer to take method acting to its furthest extremes is Daniel Day Lewis. The actor spent a year reading up on the titular character for his starring role in 2012's Lincoln, then refused to break character while on the set. He reportedly sent messages to cast mates signed "The Commander in Chief" or "A." You know, for "Abe."

And that wasn't even close to all Lewis has done in the name of getting the character right. In My Left Foot, in which Lewis portrayed a man with cerebral palsy, the actor wouldn't get out of his wheelchair, needing grumbling crewmembers to lift him all over the set. For Last of the Mohicans, Lewis went all Bear Grylls, learning to live off the land. For his role as a wrongfully imprisoned man in In the Name of the Father, he spent time in an actual prison cell. To play Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, he became an apprentice butcher—and he refused to wear a coat to keep warm during shoots, eventually leading him to contract pneumonia.

Outlandish as all that seems, the commitment to method acting has provided the actor with monumental success. Lewis is one of the most respected and lauded actors alive, having won three Academy Awards for Best Actor at the time of this writing.

Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight

The untimely and tragic death of actor Heath Ledger in 2008 shocked film fans the world over. What gave his death a spooky edge was Ledger's haunting transformation into the Joker as part of Christopher Nolan's film The Dark Knight, which hit theaters that same year. A few months before he passed, the actor told Empire Magazine about the intense preparations he took to become Batman's arch-nemesis:

"It's a combination of reading all the comic books I could that were relevant to the script and then just closing my eyes and meditating on it. 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 and find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. He's just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown."

While Ledger's accidental overdose on sleep medication was pegged as the culprit for his death, it's difficult not to imagine that a piece of the Joker might've stuck around after the movie wrapped. And some sources from the production of The Dark Knight have since said that Ledger's performance wouldn't stop even when the cameras had. Sometimes when you go too deep into a dark place, it can be tough to find your way back out.