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Epic Abilities Actors Had To Master For The Role

Acting is tougher than it looks. Some stars have to go through incredible physical and mental changes to prepare for roles. Most of the time those types of roles require them to gain or lose weight, but sometimes, there are roles that require actors and actresses to undergo intense training regimens for days to weeks to months at a time in order to learn new skills. Here are some of the epic abilities actors have learned for their roles.

Olivia Munn (sword fighting)

Not wanting to play the damsel in distress, Olivia Munn turned down the role of Vanessa in Tim Miller's Deadpool so that she could play the mutant Psylocke in Bryan Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse, another film in 20th Century Fox's X-Men universe. "I thought Psylocke was always one of the most lethal characters," Munn told American Way Magazine, "and I said, 'Yes [I'll take the role], as long as you're not using her to be the eye candy. She has really powerful abilities.' And they said, 'Yes, that's an important part.'"

Although she wasn't in the film for long, Munn trained extensively for the role alongside Karine Lemieux and Ken Tran for over five months. In addition to significantly altering her diet and doing several body-weight exercises, Munn learned proper sword fighting techniques—and not just the necessary stuff, but all of it. "That's the type of person she is. She's not going to do it superficially," Tran told Elle. "She picks up really fast, and she works really hard, so we went up levels very fast."

Tran says she performed at least 95 percent of her stunts for the film, so it's clear that her five-month training paid off. In fact, she ended up losing 12 pounds while filming, not that it was ever about losing weight. Furthermore, Munn loved her training so much that she still does it during her downtime. "I still do Taekwondo, and I have a sword closet at home. It's really a great exercise for me to do," she told E! Online.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (high wire walking)

Shortly after the opening of the World Trade Center in 1973, French high wire expert Philippe Petit carried out his coup by successfully completing a tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. In the morning of August 7, 1974, Petit walked the 200 feet between the North and South Towers—1,350 feet above the ground—an astonishing eight times over the course of approximately 45 minutes. Needless to say, Robert Zemeckis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt had their work cut out for them when they set out to bring Petit's story to life on the big screen in The Walk.

In preparation for the role, Gordon-Levitt trained directly with Petit, who taught Gordon-Levitt to walk on a high wire in just a little over one week. "[Petit is] such a positive thinker, he believed that I would and because [of that], I started to believe I would," Gordon-Levitt said during the film's press conference. "By the end of the eight days, I was able to walk on the wire by myself and continued to practice while we shot. It's actually very fun, if painful." After that, Gordon-Levitt walked the distance between the Towers' two memorial pools—located where the Twin Towers originally stood—"just to see what it was like."

Eddie Redmayne (walk and talk like someone with ALS)

In 2015, The Academy awarded Eddie Redmayne with a Best Actor Oscar for his astounding portrayal of the renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, directed by James Marsh and based on the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking. To prepare for the role, Redmayne spent months studying Hawking's life, which includes his disease, ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a neurological disease that affects one's muscle nerves.

He learned to not only act like Hawking but also how to walk and talk like someone who is suffering from ALS. Redmayne spent time studying Hawking's speech patterns under the tutelage of coach Julia Wilson-Dickson (who passed away the following year). According to Marsh, "[Redmayne] had to take on enormous amounts of difficult preparation as well as embracing the difficult physicality of the role." He said "it's not just doing a disability. It's actually charting the course of an illness that erodes the body, and the mind has to project out from that erosion."

Though it's not an ability (or even a skill), learning to walk like an ALS patient is something that was an absolute necessity for Redmayne to master in order to portray the life of Hawking accurately and respectfully. As it turns out, he did. The film, as well as Redmayne's performance, moved Hawking so much that a nurse reportedly had to wipe a tear from his cheek after he saw a screening.

Tom Cruise (hold his breath for six minutes)

Tom Cruise is known for performing his own stunts, and there aren't many people who can compete with him in this regard. Aside from his constant compulsion to run in his movies, Cruise has performed a wide variety of dangerous, sometimes death-defying, stunts—and despite being over 50 years old, he's still going strong.

The Mission: Impossible movies have always allowed Cruise to express his inner daredevil on the big screen, sometimes taking the series name literally. In 2010, while filming Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, Cruise scaled the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, located in Dubai. Going into the film's sequel, people wondered how they would be able to top that stunt. Well, Cruise didn't hang outside any buildings, but he did strap himself to the outside of an Atlas A400 airplane in Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.

That wasn't his most death-defying stunt, though. Later in the film, Cruise's Ethan Hunt had to infiltrate a building, and he needed to hold his breath for several minutes to do so—which he did, in a single take. However, in order to prepare for the scene, Cruise trained with diving specialist Kirk Krack to master a technique that would enable him to hold his breath underwater for over six minutes. Most of us would be lucky if we got past one.

Daniel Day-Lewis (hunting and survival techniques)

Daniel Day-Lewis doesn't make as many movies as some of his more prolific peers, but there's no questioning this award-winning actor's dedication to the craft. Director Jim Sheridan compares Day-Lewis to some of Hollywood's greats when he says he despises acting and rather chooses to "embody a character" wholly—a description that aptly summarizes his entire career. He frequently stays in character throughout the entire filming process—and perhaps even finds a way to become his character.

While preparing for the role of Hawkeye/Nathaniel Poe in Michael Mann's The Last of the Mohicans, Day-Lewis gained 20 lbs. of muscle and spent half a year learning to live off the land, so to speak. In fact, he once spent four days surviving off 3,000 acres of land in the Alabama wildlands, hunting his own food. Mann told TIME that "if he didn't kill it, he didn't eat it." Day-Lewis constantly carried around a musket with him—on and off set—and learned to reload it while running. By the end of production, he'd even built his own canoe.

Keanu Reeves (martial arts and gun-fu)

Hollywood critics regard Keanu Reeves for his versatility as an actor and his dedication to his roles, something he's demonstrated time and again. But of all his films, perhaps the most demanding was The Matrix. Along with the rest of the cast, Reeves trained with legendary Hong Kong choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping for over four months learning kung fu. "It was challenging, not just in the physical sense, but also mentally challenging," Reeves said of the training program. "This was one of the hardest things I've ever done. But it was worth it." So when time came to star in John Wick, Reeves was ready.

Or so he thought. John Wick directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch told Reeves that his training for the film would not involve "kung fu, kickboxing, jump spin hook kicks, wirework, or anything he'd done before." He had to learn various gun-fu techniques, a combination of guns and kung fu. "No one just learns on the day, Keanu spent four months with the gun coaches and out tactical people from LA SWAT and our Navy Seal friends and then we went through our guys and our concepts at 87Eleven and put it all together," Stahelski told Collider. Judging by the above video of Reeves lighting up a shooting range, we'd be inclined to say they did an excellent job training him.

Natalie Portman (ballet)

Natalie Portman won her first Academy Award for her role as Nina Sayers in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan. She expressed interest in the role early on because she wanted to explore more mature roles. "I'm trying to find roles that demand more adulthood from me because you can get stuck in a very awful cute cycle as a woman in film, especially being such a small person," she told MTV. Black Swan allowed Portman to express her adulthood, but it was also a physically demanding film.

Portman and her co-star Mila Kunis spent six months under an intense training and dietary regimen to achieve the look of professional ballerinas. "Six months ahead of the film, I went into a sort of hyper-training, where five hours a day I was doing both ballet and cross-training, with swimming," Portman said. "A few months before was when we started getting into the choreography. It was very extreme." Aronofsky claimed he didn't use Portman's double very often, except for the "wide shots when [the character] has to be en pointe for a real long time."

Portman practiced ballet until she was 13 years old, so she was familiar with the artform—but how familiar? Nearing Black Swan's home video release, how much of the dancing Portman actually did in the film became the subject of extreme controversy. Being a professional ballet dancer, Lane knew the physical toll the role would have, and she asserted that no one—not her, Portman, or anyone else—would be able to "come anywhere close to the level of a professional ballerina in a year and a half. Period." Still, Portman and Kunis' dedication to their roles shouldn't be belittled.

Margot Robbie (gymnastics)

There's no denying Suicide Squad was one of summer 2016's biggest movies, and a huge reason for the film's success was Margot Robbie's performance as the psychotic Harley Quinn.

To prepare for the role, Robbie underwent an exhaustive, six-month training regimen. "I started doing gymnastics. I started doing gun training and this and that," she recalled, admitting it was physically the most difficult thing she'd ever done. "I can understand the technical side of how to do something: 'Oh, that's how you do a forward walkover or a handstand for 30 seconds?' But I didn't have the physical strength to allow myself to do those things—even the gun training."

Robbie even learned to hold her breath underwater for over five minutes, specifically to film one scene in which Batman rescues (and captures) her after Harley and Joker's car crashes into the water. Diving specialist Kirk Krack—the same person who taught Tom Cruise to hold his breath for over six minutes the year before—taught Robbie to slow her metabolic rate by meditating underwater. "I got to five minutes," Robbie said, "and I was like, 'You know what? This is above and beyond what I thought I'd get to. I'm good; I'm good with five.'"