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How These Actors Lost A Lot Of Weight For Their Movie Roles

Actors have a proud tradition of suffering nobly for their art. For the finest purveyors of the craft, there's no cross they won't bear, no darkness into which they will not descend, and no task too arduous if it means creating a role that will live long on after they have shuffled off this mortal coil. For example, Daniel Day-Lewis's fierce insistence on wearing clothes that only existed in the 1860s when starring as Bill The Butcher in "Gangs of New York" saw him fall ill with a bad bout of pneumonia. His devotion and commitment almost cost him his life, especially since it was rumored that he initially turned down all modern medicine to treat his condition.

However, it's not just the mental and emotional makeover that actors have to endure to create a compelling picture of a character who can walk off the screens and into our imaginations. Sometimes the wizardry and wonder of a good make-up team or CGI department aren't enough and the tired and tormented thespian is called upon to go through an equally arduous physical transformation.

Losing pounds to gain credibility is a strange equation but when actors drop the weight for a role, it commands a strange sort of respect. Losing weight is never easy, even with a personal trainer and chef at your command. It personifies discipline, devotion, and respect for their craft and the audience. So why not grab yourself a bag of popcorn and a supersize soda or two, and marvel at how these actors lost weight for their movie roles.

Christian Bale -- The Machinist

"The Machinist" is a hard watch, especially viewing the emaciated frame of the psychologically troubled factory worker Trevor Reznik (Christain Bale) as he seems to waste away on a steady diet of insomnia, paranoia, and guilt. Bale is a master of yo-yo dieting and physical transformation. He piled on the pounds for "American Hustle" and went buff for "The Dark Knight" trilogy. Yet he has never surpassed the weight-shedding alchemy he wove with the character of Reznik in director Brad Anderson's 2004 movie. As Bale prowls around the screen looking undernourished and in dire need of a KFC bucket or Big Mac meal, the physical manifestation of his character's troubled mind is unnerving.

Bale lost a whopping 63 pounds for the role in just four months. According to Men's Health, Bale got in shape, or out of it as the case may be, through a strict diet of black coffee, a meager apple, and a lonely can of tuna per day. According to Harley Street health expert Daniel O'Shaughnessy, this is extremely stressful to the body and detrimental to the metabolism. He explained, "This is less than 200 calories per day, so it's not healthy at all." After 15 years, Bale appeared to concur with the medical consensus. He revealed to The Sunday Times that after gorging on cheeseburgers and doughnuts to play the pot-bellied Dick Cheney in 2018's "Vice," his days of dramatic transformations were over. Bale explained, "I can't keep doing it. I really can't. My mortality is staring me in the face."

Jake Gyllenhaal -- Nightcrawler

As a press photographer who specializes in snapping shots of the carnage at traffic accidents, home invasions, murder scenes, and house fires, Louis "Lou" Bloom in "Nightcrawler" has a big appetite — it's just not for savory snacks or sugary treats. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the unethical snapper who is consumed by the public's demand for unethical journalism. Bloom has an insatiable appetite to be the first at the scene for the big scoop — even if it means he has to manipulate events to get what he craves. "Nightcrawler" is a classic study on how insidious corruption is: all of Bloom's nervous energy appears to eat away at him in his frantic bid to stay ahead of the curve.

Gyllenhaal explained to Us Weekly, "I knew that Lou was literally and figuratively hungry," so the actor lost 30 pounds off his usually buff appearance to give his character the gaunt, haggard, and haunted look of a coyote. All cheekbones and sunken eyes, Gyllenhaal's transformation helped give Bloom a tangible air of gnawing regret and wasted decadence. Yet despite undergoing a special diet of protein, carbs, and fats to fill out for his role in Disney's "Prince of Persia," Gyllenhaal revealed that he adopted no special dietary regime for "Nightcrawler," except one of enforced hunger. He explained to Variety, "I would try to eat as few calories as possible. I knew if I was hungry that I was in the right spot. Physically, it showed itself, but chemically and mentally, I think it was even a more fascinating journey. It became a struggle for me."

Tom Hanks -- Cast Away

Unless you're trained extensively in the art of survival and how to dine comfortably for months on a pair of old leather boots, the one thing you're going to do when stranded on a desert island is starve. Or at least lose a little weight. And that's exactly what happens to the character of Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) in director Robert Zemeckis's "Cast Away." To be fair, Hanks had no choice but to slim down to play the role of the FedEx executive who is the sole survivor of a plane crash. When you're washed up on an uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with only a volleyball named "Wilson" for company, and years of solitude ahead, it tends to take a physical toll. According to Showbiz CheatSheet, Hanks took a year out from filming the movie's initial scenes to shed 55 pounds and ensure his character's predicament looked plausible.

However, slimming down to 170 pounds from 225 wasn't a walk in the park for Hanks. He was counting calories for a whole year and had to give up a lot of comfort food, including his favorite, French fries. Yet there was one thing Hanks told Entertainment Weekly that he was adamant about not giving up, and that was coffee. Charged with a regular caffeine intake, Hanks's diet consisted of very few carbs and a lot of vegetables. He was also allowed a little fish and drank coconut milk.

Tom Hanks -- Philadelphia

Dropping 55 pounds for "Cast Away" wasn't Tom Hanks's first weight-loss rodeo. Way back in 1993 the actor lost 26 pounds and won an Oscar for his compelling performance as AIDS patient Andrew Beckett in director Jonathan Demme's "Philadelphia." With this being one of the first films in Hollywood to tackle the HIV/AIDS crisis and homophobia, Hanks's role was always going to come under scrutiny. The ravages of the disease needed to be visible and not underplayed in any form, so Hanks adopted a strict weight loss program to do the role justice. According to Showbiz CheatSheet, Hanks went into detail about shedding the pounds at a "Sleepless in Seattle" press junket. He explained, "The physical regimen was very much dictated by the reality of the science. So I was on a diet and exercise program and took a lot of stuff."

Hanks revealed that he had a pair of sports doctors who would provide him with prescribed meals and ensure he worked out, "every day no matter what had happened." Hanks found the going tough and felt woozy on more than one occasion. Combined with the make-up, hair loss, and acting chops, Hanks's weight loss helped to create a convincing air of someone at death's door. Two decades later, in 2013, Hanks confessed at a press conference that his long-term habit of gaining and losing weight for his film roles might have contributed to his diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes. He added his days of fiddling with his weight were over, explaining, "I think that's more or less a young man's game."

Chris Hemsworth -- In The Heart of the Sea

Strange things happen at sea, and losing weight fast can be one of them. In director Ron Howard's 2015 homage to "Moby Dick," Chris Hemsworth plays whaling veteran Owen Chase. Capsized by a massive whale and washed up on a tiny island, Chase and the remainder of his crew waste away to almost nothing until the specter of cannibalism rears its ugly head. Obviously, to get to a point where eating each other is an option, the men cannot exactly appear like they'd been existing on a steady diet of steak dinners and protein shakes. So what's an actor more famed for playing a muscle-bound thunder god such as Thor to do? Lose weight and fast with a 500-calorie-a-day diet!

Hemsworth dropped 33 pounds for his role in "In The Heart of the Sea," and it only took him and his co-stars Cillian Murphy and Ben Whishaw a month to trim the fat. According to The Daily Mail, it's not a diet the actor would recommend. He explained, "We couldn't go away for a month and get skinny, we had to do it while we were shooting. I reckon about 90 percent of our conversations were about our favorite foods and what we would eat when we finished the film." So what exactly did Hemsworth and his acting buddies chow down on while filming? Hemsworth told Men's Health that there was a lot of vegetable soup and salad, adding, "At one point, a day's rations were a boiled egg, a couple of crackers, and a celery stick."

Adam Driver -- Silence

When a filmmaker like Martin Scorsese asks you to lose weight for a film he's dreamed about making for years, only a foolhardy thespian would refuse. Thankfully, Adam Driver was not that actor and obligingly lost 50 pounds for his role as Francisco Garupe in Scorsese's long-awaited movie "Silence." Playing one of two 17th century Portuguese Jesuit priests, Driver journeys to Japan in search of his missing mentor. Driver's character is far from properly nourished at the start of the film, but as the plot progresses, he and his fellow priest lose even more weight. Driver told Interview, "When the movie begins, the characters have been traveling for two years. There's disease and a shortage of food. They're already kind of depleted ... and then we continue to lose weight."

Driver revealed that Scorsese wanted the actors to help the story physically by losing a lot of weight and looking emaciated. To play the part of a persecuted priest with conviction, Driver lost 30 pounds before the first shot was filmed and a further 20 pounds whilst filming. In an interview with Esquire, he elaborated that apart from unlimited coffee he was given "a shake in the morning, then a protein and vegetable at night. If you need energy, you chew these Fiber Gummies." Driver also recalled that one time he had to endure everyone on set eating dumplings whilst Scorsese simply laughed and said, "Sucks to be you!"

Ben Kingsley -- Gandhi

If there's one thing Mahatma Gandhi is renowned for worldwide apart from peace, understanding, forgiveness, and that Facebook quote about being the change you wish to see, it's his slender frame, and of course, vegetarianism. For Ben Kingsley — whose father is of Indian descent — shaving his head, growing a mustache, and rocking a pair of glasses wasn't enough to do the role justice, so he gave up meat and lost 20 pounds to make his likeness to Gandhi even more plausible. According to The New York Times, Sir Richard Attenborough had been striving for two decades to find the right actor for his biopic. When he chose Kingsley, the actor did everything humanly possible to render his portrayal impeccable.

Scrutinizing old newsreel footage, pouring over biographies, and diligently searching out photos of Gandhi became something of an obsession for Kingsley. As the kind of actor who always likes to push the boundaries of what is possible, Kingsley decided to go vegetarian and rigorously meditate in a bid to become Gandhi. He explained, "The preparation is entirely systematic, practical and scientific, but when I play the role, whether it is Hamlet or Gandhi, some other kind of information comes to the forefront, a certain energy is released." It seems in the absence of any other strict dietary regime, contemplating pure existence and cutting out all animal flesh from his diet was enough for Kingsley to lose a considerable amount of timber.

Natalie Portman -- Black Swan

When playing a professional ballerina who's a perfect fit for an upcoming production of Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake," there are certain standards one must adhere to, including having almost zero body fat. For Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan," Natalie Portman dropped 20 pounds to play the part of a skeletal ballet dancer who would be a graceful swan. Yet it was far from easy, and as Portman revealed to Entertainment Weekly, "There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die. It was the first time I understood how you could get so wrapped up in a role that it could sort of take you down."

The Independent reported that Portman's punishing diet consisted of little more than carrots and almonds as she spent a grueling eight hours a day rehearsing. Not everyone was happy with Portman's portrayal of a slightly neurotic ballerina. Racheal Prince, of Ballet British Columbia, said, "She's anorexic, bulimic, crazy. I'm sure every dancer struggles with little things here and there, but for one girl to struggle with every single problem out there, it just makes us look crazy." The Daily Mail reported that Mila Kunis, who plays Lily, the black swan to Portman's white, also lost 20 pounds for her role and went on a binge eating spree post-filming. Kunis explained, "It took me five months to lose 20 pounds, and it took me hours to gain it back."

Chris Pratt -- Guardians of the Galaxy

Chris Pratt may not look exactly scrawny as Star-Lord Peter Quill in director James Gunn's "Guardians of the Galaxy," but the actor still lost 60 pounds in six months for his part as the disco-dancing leader of a gang of extraterrestrial criminals. To get in shape, Pratt relied less on a strict diet and more on what he described as "three or four hours a day of just consistent ... hard work." According to Men's Journal, the actor teamed up with a pair of personal trainers who revamped his diet and boosted his daily intake to 4,000 calories. Pratt also revealed that he drank a lot more water to build mass and convert it into lean muscle, sending him to the bathroom "all day long, every day."

Committing himself to a fierce regimen that included swimming, running, kickboxing, boxing, and even a triathlon, Pratt sweated himself into shape. Pratt sacrificed beer to become a Marvel superhero but as ManOfMany reported, he still ate well. Steak, chicken, eggs, fish, and vegetables were all on the menu, but if it came out of a frying pan it wasn't going on Pratt's plate. Complex carbs such as oats, brown rice, and potatoes were given the green light, as were plenty of vitamins and supplements. Pratt, a fierce believer in working out and eating well, said (via Men's Health), "If you cut the crap out of your diet and spend an hour a day doing something physical, you'll feel better mentally, physically, and spiritually because it's all tied together."

Lily Collins -- To The Bone

When Lily Collins lost weight to play an anorexic in the Netflix movie "To The Bone," it was a harrowing experience. The actress had suffered from eating disorders in the past and although she had a doctor on board to ensure she lost weight safely, it was still a difficult process fraught with anxiety. When you lose weight to play an anorexic, you're heading into dangerous territory, particularly when, as was the case with Collins, it's something you have personal experience of.

The actress explained to Elle how apprehensive she was about stepping back into shoes that contained nothing but negative experiences for her. Collins said, "You're doing it for a part, but it's something so close to you. There's a fine line between, are you going to fall back into it, are you not." Colins insisted that playing the role for the greater purpose of highlighting the condition gave her strength and inner resolve. Collins explained to Glamour that she lost 20 pounds under the watchful eye of a nutritionist who gave her lots of supplements, adding, "We really made sure to maintain a semblance of control over the situation and also just to make sure my body was functioning the way that it should. I was reminding myself daily that I was hired as an actor, not because of the body I would have attained by suffering."

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Anne Hathaway -- Les Miserables

To fit authentically into the world of "Les Miserables" and 19th century France, Anne Hathaway lost about 25 pounds to play Fantine, the desperate mother who resorts to prostitution and dies of tuberculosis. According to Vogue (via Business Insider), Hathaway made her already slim frame slimmer by undergoing a cleanse and then spending a fortnight devouring only oatmeal paste. The actress explained that she needed to be obsessive about the whole experience to get that near-death look, but in her own words, all that dieting left her in a "state of deprivation — physical and emotional. I couldn't react to the chaos of the world without being overwhelmed. It took me weeks till I felt like myself again."

Hathaway told People magazine that it was an unhealthy amount of weight to lose in a short space of time and admitted, "I didn't know anything about nutrition. I taxed my body, and my brain bore the brunt of it for a while. I just felt very anxious and very lost at that time." This also wasn't the first time Hathaway suffered for the sake of her art. For her role as Catwoman in "The Dark Knight Rises," she dieted and worked out, telling Allure that the Catwoman suit became a "psychological terrorist" in her eyes. She admitted that striving to fit into it dominated her life for a year, explaining, "I didn't understand how you could be thin and strong. I went into the gym for 10 months and I didn't come out."

Joaquin Phoenix -- Joker

Traditionally, the Joker has never been a portly villain. His quicksilver mind and psychotic personality move fast and without any excess baggage. The Caped Crusader's nemesis burns internally with a fierce fire that appears to shed the very meat from his bones. Yet the painted-faced killing machine has never been meaner or leaner than in 2019's "Joker," and it's all credit to Joaquin Phoenix's mental and physical transformation into one of DC Comics' greatest characters. Director Todd Phillips and Phoenix's unique take on the tragic clown is more nihilistic, more insane, more sinister, and more human than any other version.

The Joker's wired and angular personality, his uncontrollable tics, and his nervous energy are all captured in Phoenix's powerhouse performance, and the actor uses his body to maximum effect. Yet first, he had to shed 52 pounds for the role. Phoenix believes the weight loss enhanced his performance, but admitted to the New York Times, "It's a horrible way to live." Warner Bros. production notes state that Phoenix achieved that starved and unhealthy look by eating little more than an apple a day. Reflecting on the experience of losing a lot of weight in a brief period, Phoenix revealed on Jimmy Kimmel Live, "In the beginning, you feel exhausted. You look at a flight of stairs and it takes like 30 seconds." Yet he added that by the end of the extreme diet he felt "energized and excited" — although he also explained at the Venice Film Festival (via The Hollywood Reporter), "It turns out that affects your psychology. You start to go mad."

50 Cent -- All Things Fall Apart

To the world at large, Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, is a pretty buff fellow who likes to keep himself in tip-top condition, which made his wasted appearance in director Mario Van Peebles's "All Things Fall Apart" even more shocking. Jackson lost 50 pounds over nine weeks to play talented footballer Deon, whose playing days are cut cruelly short by cancer. The dramatic weight loss transforms Jackson's whole demeanor and suggests the rapper takes acting a lot more seriously than many critics suggest. Jackson told Parade magazine, "There is no way to play a role like this without really committing to it."

Jackson, who dedicated the role to his late best friend who died from cancer, shed weight through a liquid-only diet and an intensive workout regime (via BBC). He explained that he had a much shorter window of opportunity to lose weight and did it during a UK tour, saying, "The weight started coming off and my manager told me, 'You better get yourself to a doctor!' I was so into what I was doing that I wasn't really concerned with that. I just kept looking at myself in the mirror feeling like I have to be smaller." Jackson admitted it was hard to lose so much muscle and definition but the memory of his late friend pushed him on. He recalled, "If I didn't get close enough to what my best friend looked like to me at that point before he passed, then I'm not doing the story any justice."

Michelle Pfeiffer -- Scarface

As a despairing cocaine addict and partner of an unpredictable and hot-headed gangster, Michelle Pfeiffer's character, Elvira Hancock, in Brian De Palma's "Scarface" has the sort of energy that is eating her alive from the inside out. Naturally, the actress wanted to embody the tragic heroine in all her raging authenticity, and that involved weight loss and plenty of it. People reports that Pfeiffer lived on a diet of Marlboros and tomato soup to play the love interest for the larger-than-life Tony Montana (Al Pacino). Pfeiffer said, "I was playing a cocaine addict so that was part of the physicality of the part." As the movie rolled on, Pfeiffer revealed she became thinner and more emaciated.

The actress recalled that what was originally planned as a three-month movie shoot ended up dragging along for twice that time. She said, "I was starving by the end of it because the one scene that was the end of the film where I needed to be my thinnest, it was pushed to the next week, and then it was the next week and then it was the next week. I literally had members of the crew bringing me bagels because they were all worried about me and how thin I was getting."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Matthew McConaughey -- Dallas Buyers Club

To play an emaciated AIDS patient is not really possible unless you look the part, and Matthew McConaughey certainly put in a strong effort when it came to losing weight for the role of Ron Woodroof in "Dallas Buyers Club." According to The Independent, McConaughey lost seven pounds per week on a routine consisting of two egg whites, a piece of chicken, and two diet Cokes. The actor explained, "I got down to 143 pounds and I was always hungry and irritable. My body resembled a baby bird with its mouth open, crying, 'Feed me, feed me,' and you realize momma bird ain't going to feed you. It's hard."

Yet the diet that McConaughey endured for the role had somewhat of an unconventional element. The actor shed 47 pounds while indulging in a little helping of creamy tapioca pudding each morning to help sweeten the load. McConaughey also wasn't alone in his dieting hell for "Dallas Buyers Club." To play the role of a transexual AIDS patient named Rayon, co-star Jared Leto lost 40 pounds. When asked by The Wrap how he did it, Leto simply replied, "I stopped eating. It wasn't an easy thing to do. Losing that much weight changes the way you walk, the way you sit, the way you think."