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Gross Things Actors Had To Do For A Role

Hollywood stars are sometimes more than mere actors, simply reciting lines for a camera and going home for the day; many are dedicated, hard working performers who will go to extreme lengths to establish the authenticity of an on-screen persona. To get into character, such stars will rely on more than just wardrobe, immersing themselves in the part to really become the person they are playing. 

Principal among these might be Method actors, named for their embrace of "the Method," a series of training and rehearsal techniques developed by Russian actor Konstantin Stanislavski, taught by icons like Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler, and employed by the likes of Marlon Brando, James Dean, Dustin Hoffman — and in more modern times, Joaquin Phoenix, Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio.

From weightlifting to dieting to spending months learning new skills, the Method can take many forms, and sometimes even perhaps go too far in its implementation. At times, some actors will go to extreme measures in front of the camera in order to credibly perform their parts, sometimes reporting that they were so "in character" it was like someone else was doing it. At times, these actions manifest themselves in repellant, horrific acts that would make most of us nauseous at the thought.

Whether it was captured on screen, or in preparation for a part, here is a list of some of the gross things committed actors have done to bring a role to life.

Halle Berry didn't bathe for Jungle Fever

There has long been talk of Halle Berry going to extraordinary lengths to get into character as Vivian (girlfriend to Samuel L. Jackson's Gator) in Spike Lee's 1991 exploration of romance and race relations. Jackson portrayed the scene-stealing, drug-addled brother of Wesley Snipes' lead character, while Berry was Gator's hardscrabble main squeeze. 

The film features a memorable scene that called for Jackson and Berry to bicker back and forth, when Gator wants some alone time with his brother. For Berry, who came from the world of modeling, it was an unexpected role, and one she had worked hard to land. To prepare for the part, she spent several weeks not bathing, with most reports claiming two weeks and some even speculating her avoidance of soap and water went as long as two months. In 2012, the Oscar winner told talk show host Wendy Williams that the Method tale was no exaggeration. "It's true," Berry replied to Williams (at 0:34) when she cited the span of time as ten days. "Ask Sam Jackson, he had to get a whiff of it constantly!"

"Spike Lee wanted me to read for [a different role] and I read that part fine enough, but then I said to Spike, 'You know, I really am eyeing this crack ho role," she said in a 2016 interview. "It was an amazing way to start my career."

Nicolas Cage ate a live cockroach for Vampire's Kiss

A decade before cult metal band Acid Bath would release "Cassie Eats Cockroaches," Nicolas Cage actually did it. 

Cast in the role of Peter Loew, a literary agent suffering from paranoid delusions in the 1988 horror/comedy "Vampire's Kiss," Cage was a fast-rising Hollywood star at the time, known for taking daring risks and making ... let's call them unique ... choices in his mannerisms. In the years since, the box office flop has become a cult hit, as well as a dependable Halloween watch. 

"Kiss" also offers viewers the chance to watch the actor do some off-the-wall things, from falling down stairs to tearing a room apart to screaming the alphabet in its entirety, jumping on desks, chasing pigeons and pouring hot yogurt on his toes. The odd performance has since fed multiple memes, and is considered a landmark in the cinematic evolution of Cage, perhaps the most interesting actor of his generation.

To convincingly portray Loew's spiraling descent into insanity, Cage made a habit of offering to do more than what was being asked of him — for one scene, in particular. Though the script only called for Loew to slurp down a raw egg, Cage felt more was needed.  

Speaking to The Ringer about the infamous movie moment in 2019, Bierman recalled that day on set. "[Nicolas Cage] said to me, 'The thing I hate most in the world are cockroaches ... so let me eat a cockroach.' ... I thought, 'This is terrific!' I sent my prop people down into the boiler room ... they brought me a box, divided up into little sections with tissue paper. The cockroaches were there, lined up for me to cast." 

"I think they're actually called water bugs," he added. "They're bigger than cockroaches."

Rosamund Pike butchered pig carcasses for Gone Girl

Be warned readers, this one is going to contain some heavy spoilers for the 2014 murder mystery thriller "Gone Girl." But if you've seen the film, you'll know the gruesome final act that Rosamund Pike must perform as Amy Dunne, jilted lover and missing person. 

After attempting to escape her apparently abusive and unfaithful husband Nick — played by Ben Affleck — Amy hides out with another formerly abusive ex boyfriend, Desi, letting the world believe she has disappeared while knowingly implicating Nick in the process. The film follows Nick's attempts to clear his name and find his wife, with Amy being revealed as a ruthless, cunning woman out to destroy her husband's life.

In the film's climax, Amy decides to return to Nick, and is forced to murder Desi and frame him for her disappearance so she and her husband can live happily ever after. Actress Rosamund Pike was required to believably slice the throat of actor Neil Patrick Harris (who played Desi); it was a key scene that she wanted to be prepared for, so she did what any reasonable person would — she got a hold of some pig carcasses, and pretended to murder them.

"If you're going to do something like that, you have to do it with a certain degree of accuracy," the actress told Collider in 2016. "I had no idea how much force you needed to slice someone's throat. I actually went to a butcher and asked them if they wouldn't mind me just using a box cutter on a pig carcass, just to understand what it would be like."

Matt Damon waded through garbage for Elysium

Matt Damon was nothing if not dedicated when he took on the role of Max DeCosta, a blue collar worker in a dystopian future version of Los Angeles in the 2013 film "Elysium." The movie was a much-anticipated follow-up to director Neil Blomkamp's indie hit "District 9," a science fiction drama featuring overt commentary on South African apartheid. With "Elysium," Blomkamp took the formula that worked so well before — including its social commentary — and dialed it up a notch: adding a bigger budget, bigger sets, and bigger stars like Damon and Jodie Foster.

But that expanded FX budget didn't mean the entire movie would be filmed on greenscreen, so to portray Los Angeles in a future where pollution, overpopulation, and climate change had ravaged the landscape, producers used a garbage dump in Mexico City as a stand-in. At San Diego Comic Con in 2012, Damon spoke to the curious crowd and told them about filming the sci-fi epic, and how the landfill location was mostly fecal matter. 

"The helicopters would come through and we'd be black with dust," he remembered. "Neil would come over with his mask and said, 'I promise you, the photography looks great.'"

Jonathan Frakes ate live grub worms for Star Trek

Star Trek has always featured aliens, and some have been depicted eating intergalactic delicacies, from blue squids to Klingon 'gagh.' But more often than not, the actors are really eating regular Earth food colored to look like odd alien eats. Other times,  it's not actually food at all; it's something much worse. 

Such was the case in the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "Conspiracy" (Season 1, Episode 24), which had the ship's crew taken over by mind-controlling insect creatures out to take control of the Federation.

During a climactic scene from the 1988 episode, several possessed officers sit around a table, reveling in their new alien forms and eating their bizarre cuisine — in this case, bowls of living worms. Although some fans initially insisted that the actors were filmed eating chow mein or some other form of real food that resembled the alien dish, others insisted that Jonathan Frakes, who played Commander Riker, actually ate live worms. 

In a 1996 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Frakes set the record straight. Asked to name his favorite Klingon dish, he replied: "I like gagh. And I once ate a live grub worm in a 'Star Trek' episode."

It wasn't the only gross thing Frakes did for "Trek." As he later revealed in the documentary "Journey's End," he volunteered to swim in a pool of Metamucil and black printer ink, all in service of Season 1, Episode 22's "Skin of Evil."

Leonardo DiCaprio slept in animal carcasses for The Revenant

Filming for the 2015 Alejandro Inarritu wilderness epic "The Revenant" was notoriously difficult, with the director himself calling the production's harsh conditions "a nightmare." Filmed on location in the Canadian Rockies, the crew dealt with bitterly cold temperatures that made production difficult, and Inarritu was heavily criticized for pushing his cast and crew too hard under harsh conditions in a shoot that went at least five months over schedule. 

Some crew members reportedly ranked it among the worst experiences of their career; one cast member who didn't complain, however, was lead Leonardo DiCaprio.

To get into character and deliver his gut-wrenching performance, DiCaprio — known for going above and beyond for his films — went to extreme lengths that included sleeping in animal carcasses and eating raw bison liver. 

"Whether it's going in and out of frozen rivers, or sleeping in animal carcasses, or what I ate on set. [I was] enduring freezing cold and possible hypothermia constantly," he said in a 2015 interview. "I certainly don't eat raw bison liver on a regular basis. When you see the movie, you'll see my reaction to it, because Alejandro kept it in. It says it all. It was an instinctive reaction."

For the effort, Inarritu would become just the third director to win back-to-back Academy Awards for Best Director, while DiCaprio would take home his first Best Actor trophy.

John Leguizamo ate pizza with live maggots for Spawn

Based on the smash hit comic book by Todd McFarlane, 1997's "Spawn" is infamously remembered today for its over-the-top, sometimes silly tone. But the cast was certainly taking it seriously. 

From Michael Jai White as the title character — an ex soldier turned hell-bound superhero vigilante — to Martin Sheen as the corporate villain to John Leguizamo as a demonic foil and advisor known as "The Clown," the performances were both heightened and frequently intense. Leguizamo's character, for instance, appears as a nauseating bulbous street punk in bizarre facial makeup whose disgust for humans is rivaled only by an appetite for all things horrifying.

In one scene, the character eats a pizza covered with live maggots. Like some other instances above, this immediately led to a debate among viewers about how real the scene actually was, and eventually the conversation got so loud that the actor himself had to respond. 

"Yes I did eat maggots in 'Spawn," he tweeted in 2014. "But only swallowed a few!" He followed it up by warning his fans not to try it at home: "Ha ha. Don't go there!"

Shia LaBeouf had a tooth removed for Fury

Shia LaBeouf has earned the reputation of a Hollywood eccentric, and in the right hands this can sometimes translate to powerful on-screen work. IndieWire, for one, has lauded his ability to give "complex, transportive performances, with rough and edgy bursts of messy antics slathered on top of soul." This commitment to the role was tested in David Ayer's acclaimed 2014 World War II picture "Fury."

Along with much of the cast, LaBeouf took part in several weeks of military boot camp alongside a group of Navy Seals, with star Brad Pitt saying "It was set up to break us down, to keep us cold, to keep us exhausted, to make us miserable, to keep us wet, make us eat cold food." 

But LaBeouf, who played a tank driver in the film, took his Method performance one step further — going so far as to having one of his teeth removed. 

"I got it removed for the movie. I put a fake one in," he explained on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," adding that it wasn't as easy as you might think. "It's not like you can go to some dentist and go in there, like: 'Hey, I wanna get this tooth taken out'. They were like: 'You wanna do what? That doesn't make any medical sense at all." 

But ultimately, LaBeouf insists that he got it done because he wanted to add some depth to the character. "I found a guy in Reseda next to a Radio Shack," LaBeouf explained. "He didn't ask too many questions."

To further Method this madness, "Fury" co-star Logan Lerman told an interviewer that the scar on LaBeouf's cheek in the film was not only real, but self-inflicted. 

"They were putting cuts on Shia and I said, 'Yeah, yeah, it looks good'," Lerman (who also backs up the tooth tale) explained. "And Shia was like 'No, it doesn't look real' ...[so] he 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 ... For the whole movie he kept opening these cuts on his face. That's all real."

Christian Bale ate live maggots for Rescue Dawn

Among the most intensely-dedicated actors in Hollywood today, Christian Bale notoriously lost 60 pounds for the 2004 flick "The Machinist," then immediately bulked up to play Batman. He has been known to fake an American accent off the set, even during some interviews when playing an American character (despite his Welsh origins). 

For the Werner Herzog Vietnam war drama "Rescue Dawn," Bale combined these methods and more. Taking on the role of real life war hero and U.S. Navy pilot Dieter Dengler, Bale committed himself fully to embodying the part of the long-suffering hostage of the Pathet Lao. Tortured and starved, the movie portrays Dengler's struggle to endure his captivity, staying alive for his ultimate rescue by American forces.

Bale once again put his heart and soul into a part, challenging himself both physically and mentally during the shoot. These adversities included wrestling a real snake, losing more than sixty pounds, and being physically abused as part of several torture scenes. But perhaps most nauseating, Bale ate live maggots in an attempt to portray the depths of desperation his real-life character had reached during imprisonment.

"Oh, yeah, those were real maggots. They were very real," he said in a 2007 interview, adding: "I didn't mind eating the maggots." 

Asked what he wouldn't do, the actor remarked that being set ablaze is something that crosses the line. "Look, I've done other things where people have to be set on fire and jump three stories. I'm not doing that," he explained. "I've got limits."

Tony Todd got stung by dozens of bees for Candyman

Veteran actor Tony Todd has had multiple iconic supporting roles over the years, in movies like "Platoon" and "Night of the Living Dead," as well as TV shows like "Star Trek: The Next Generation." But it's his part as the titular horror villain in the 1992 film "Candyman" that has become his calling card. His booming voice terrified moviegoers in multiple films (as well as the recent reboot), and has haunted dreams for nearly thirty years. 

But it was more than Todd's imposing deep voice, towering physical presence, and razor sharp hook that scared viewers. The franchise has depicted swarms of bees crawling out of him — from his sleeves, his chest, and even his mouth — and keep in mind that in the early '90s CGI was a costly, rarely-utilized option for horror films. 

As a result, swarms of real bees were used on set, and actor Tony Todd endured it all, receiving more than 20 bee stings during the shoot. But don't feel too bad for the thespian: he made a smart deal with the film's producers that ended up putting some good money in his pocket (alongside all that calamine lotion).

"I negotiated a bonus of $1,000 for every sting during the bee scene," he told Entertainment Weekly while looking back on the film in 2019. "And I got stung 23 times. Everything that's worth making has to involve some sort of pain. Once I realized it was an important part of who Candyman was, I embraced it. It was like putting on a beautiful coat."

Choi Min-Sik ate live octopus for Oldboy

The notorious Korean action thriller "Old Boy" made waves when it was released in 2003, setting a new standard for violent anti-hero crusaders on film while inspiring an entire genre that continues today in the likes of "John Wick" and "Nobody." The film that minted the trend of one-take hallway fight scenes, "Oldboy" starred Choi Min-Sik as Oh Dae-su, a man wrongfully imprisoned for 15 years by the ruthless and wealthy Joo-Win, who plays a twisted mind game on his victim. At last free, Dae-Su wages a one man war as he seeks revenge against his captor. 

Min-Sik dedicated himself fully to transforming into the imprisoned Dae-Su, and is said to have lost and gained weight before and during filming to portray the starving, imprisoned, world-weary man who escapes a lengthy and brutal captivity. But the actor did more than attempt to look the part: in one noteworthy scene that Moviemaker.com called "visceral and hypnotic", Dae-Su ate a live octopus, and it was no movie magic: actor Min-Sik ate the live octopus on camera — and did so four times.

Nicole Kidman peed on Zac Efron for The Paperboy

The 2012 movie "The Paperboy" didn't make many waves with critics or at the box office, but at the time of its release the film was nonetheless discussed, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

Set in 1969, "Paperboy" tells the tale of a reporter who goes back to his childhood hometown to prove the innocence of a death row inmate found guilty of murdering the local sheriff. Matthew McConaughey plays the intrepid reporter, but a tawdry secondary story involves the film's other two leads, Zac Efron (as his younger brother Jack) and Nicole Kidman (as an out-of-towner named Charlotte Hess, girlfriend of the accused). 

One scene in the film has Efron's Jack Ward getting badly injured and stung by a group of jellyfish. As pop culture of the last few decades would have you believe, there's only one way to overcome such pain, and that's by having someone give you an impromptu golden shower (according to the Cleveland Clinic this is indeed just a myth, so please don't pee on friends and family without first consulting a doctor).

For the scene in question, Kidman actually urinated on Zac Efron. "We just went for it and never thought twice about it, because it made sense for the film," Daniels said in a 2012 interview. "It was what it was."

As the flick made its way through post production, Daniels began getting doubts — but Oscar winner Kidman encouraged him to stick by his instincts. 

"I think that I became more nervous about it in the edit room, and I thought, I'm not actually going to show this, right? Is it vulgar?" Daniels recalled. "And I called Nicole and said, 'I don't know,' and she said, 'Lee, you made me pee on Zac Efron. If you don't put it in the movie, you need to man up." And I was like, "All right." 

Michelle Pfeiffer put a live bird in her mouth for Batman Returns

Tim Burton's "Batman Returns" had some unsettling moments, many of them belonging to Danny DeVito's Penguin — whose grotesque appearance and disgusting eating habits made it a bit unpleasant if you were attempting to chow down on a tub of popcorn.

But it was the eating habits of the other villain that makes this list, in particular an infamous scene involving a little birdie. During the scene in question, the villainous Catwoman puts a live bird in her mouth as a way of threatening DeVito's Penguin. Actress Michelle Pfeiffer — who had beat out the likes of Sean Young and Madonna for the in-demand part — was determined to do more than simply toss a rubber prop into her mouth and call it a day. Instead, the actress wanted the full effect — particularly the bird fleeing the coop when she opened her mouth — and actually put a real, live bird in her mouth for the scene.

These days, after special effects and CG have spent decades rendering audiences accustomed to cinematic trickery, you might not appreciate the lengths Pfeiffer went to for the scene unless you know the backstory. 

"I don't think I've ever been so impressed," Burton told The Hollywood Reporter in 2017. "She had a live bird in her mouth while the camera was rolling. It was four or five seconds, and then she let it fly out. It was before CG, it was before digital. It was so quick, it seems like it was an effect."

"I look back and say, 'What was I thinking?" Pfeiffer said of the scene. "I could've gotten a disease or something from having a live bird in my mouth ... it seemed fine at the time. I don't think the bird was drugged or anything. We did that scene in one take."

Joaquin Phoenix had his jaw wired shut for The Master

Joaquin Phoenix is known for his eccentric ways, throwing himself into films like "Joker" and "I'm Still Here." For Paul Thomas Anderson's 2012 film that flirted with the origins of Scientology and the struggle between faith and free will, however, Phoenix may have gone to his most extreme.

Portraying Freddie Quell, a veteran of the second world war suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, Phoenix got very Method, to the point where he even wired parts of his jaw shut so he could achieve the character's awkward speech patterns. It's a move somewhat reminiscent of how Method hero Brando used cotton balls to land the role of Don Corleone, but it also made for a wholly-unique performance — one that landed Phoenix an Oscar nomination.

"My dad sometimes would talk out of the side; he'd clench down one side of his mouth. And I just thought it represented tension in this way, somebody that's just blocked and tight," Phoenix explained in 2014. "So I actually went to my dentist and I had them fasten these metal brackets to my teeth on the top and the bottom and then I wrapped rubber bands around it to force my jaw shut on one side. ... After a couple weeks, the bands, they weren't really strong enough to kind of hold it so I ended up getting rid of the rubber bands and I still had these metal brackets in and so it made me constantly aware of my cheek. You know, they had these pointy tips so they'd tear up the cheek a little bit."