10 Actors Who Seriously Injured Themselves To Win An Oscar

Acting may take years of studying and training to master, but high up on the list of ‘world’s most dangerous jobs’ the profession most certainly isn’t.

In fact, once performers reach a certain level of fame, it’s one of the cushiest jobs in the world. See this picture of Dwayne Johnson enjoying a chilled beverage on a private jet for proof:

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Still, living comfortably isn’t what wins actors awards. The opposite is true: the greater the effort and/or pain, the more likely a thesp is to score a trophy.


You see it every Oscar season: actors putting their physical and mental health through the wringer in order to become a character and possibly bag themselves an Academy Award.

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Here are ten actors who went above and beyond to win an Oscar, actively injuring themselves in the name of the craft.

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10. Daniel Day-Lewis fell down a mineshaft for There Will Be Blood

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The film

There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson’s dark tale of increasingly barmy American oil prospector Daniel Plainview, played by Day-Lewis.

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What happened?

DDL – no stranger to on-set injuries – had to climb down a mineshaft for the opening scene of There Will Be Blood, in which Plainview searches for a lump of silver in the California desert.

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This is how Paul Thomas Anderson puts what happened next: “I remember everything going great for about 24 hours when we started shooting the movie.

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“I’m feeling really confident, and then at the beginning of the second day, Daniel fell down a 50-foot mine shaft, and broke two of his ribs.”

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Anderson described this as “a good sign”; after all, DDL broke some ribs playing Christy Brown in My Left Foot, and ultimately won the Oscar. And so it went again for There Will Be Blood.

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9. Tom Hanks possibly gave himself diabetes gaining and losing weight for Philadelphia and Cast Away

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The film

This one’s a twofer: the courtroom drama Philadelphia, for which Hanks won his first Oscar, and the survival movie Cast Away, for which he was nominated for Best Actor.

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What happened?

In 2013, Hanks, then just 57, revealed he’d recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

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Although Hanks has suffered with “high blood sugar numbers” since he was 36, the actor believes his commitment to extreme acting has only contributed to his condition.

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For Philadelphia, in which Hanks plays a man afflicted with AIDS, the actor quickly shed almost 30 pounds.

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His Cast Away diet was more extreme, though: gaining weight prior to the film, to play a schlubby FedEx worker, Hanks then lost it all and then some to play the man after he’s been stranded on a desert island for four years. In all, he lost 55 pounds.

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8. Matthew McConaughey lost so much weight for Dallas Buyers Club he started to lose his vision

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The film

Dallas Buyers Club, in which McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroof, a man left sick and emaciated after he’s struck by the AIDS virus.

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What happened?

When he signed up for Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey was 100%, undeniable hunk. Whatever was he to do to play the severely ill-looking Woodroof? Extreme diet, of course.

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To get into more ‘appropriate’ shape, McConaughey went hungry and took long daily runs, eventually shedding himself of 47 pounds.

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As Tom Hanks could have told him, this comes with consequences, like McConaughey’s legs locking up after running just 30 feet, or loss of vision.

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“As soon as I hit 143lb, I started losing my eyesight”, McConaughey told the Radio Times back in 2013. Don’t diet, kids.

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7. Gary Oldman got nicotine poisoning from constantly smoking cigars as Winston Churchill

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The film

Darkest Hour, a Winston Churchill biopic set in the early days of Churchill’s reign as a wartime Prime Minister. Gary Oldman in a fat suit plays Churchill.

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What happened?

Wisely, Gary Oldman didn’t take the Hanks or McConaughey approach to playing a character of significantly different build on Darkest Hour. Frankly, thanks to modern prosthetics, he didn’t need to.

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Less fortuitously for Oldman, though his Churchill belly wasn’t real, the cigars unfortunately were.

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To accurately portray the WWII PM, Oldman smoked about 12 cigars a day over the course of the shoot, amounting to a grand total of 400 for the entire production.

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For Oldman, $30,000 of cigar smoke translated to “a bad stomach” for three months. A colonoscopy later revealed the actor had given himself nicotine poisoning.

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6. Eddie Redmayne realigned his spine playing Stephen Hawking

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The film

The Theory of Everything, the Stephen Hawking biopic that charts the genius physicist’s life from able-bodied youth to tragically locked-in, wheelchair-bound middle age.

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What happened?

Eddie Redmayne wanted that Oscar: given the opportunity to play the role of a lifetime, the Brit actor threw himself in the deep end – and came away physically changed.

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To play Hawking, whose motor neurone disease saw him gradually lose control of his own body in adulthood, Redmayne lost 15 pounds and trained with a dancer for four months to better get a handle on his own physicality.

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Redmayne also spent a lot of time familiarising himself with the Hawking chair – he wouldn’t get out of it in between takes – to the point that he twisted his spine out of place.

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Still, at least one person benefited: “My osteopath said he wanted to write an essay about me. I think that’s the worst thing you could hear from your osteopath: you’re a case study.”

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5. JK Simmons broke some ribs fake-fighting Miles Teller on Whiplash

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The film

Whiplash, Damien Chazelle’s musical thriller, in which Miles Teller’s drumming prodigy faces off against a drill instructor-esque music teacher played by JK Simmons.

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What happened?

Early in Whiplash, Simmons’ brutal Fletcher slaps Miles Teller’s Andrew around in an attempt to get him to drum like a pro.

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If it looks impressively real, that’s because Simmons really was wailing on Teller like there was no tomorrow. And so, when it came time for Teller to get his own back, the younger actor went even harder.

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For the scene in which Andrew finally snaps at Fletcher, tackling him to the ground during a concert, Teller slammed Simmons with genuine force, cracking a couple of his ribs in the process.

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According to Simmons, Teller “took such pride in it, too. Like, dude, you’re proud of busting up a 58-year-old guy’s ribs? That’s f***ed up”.

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4. Robert De Niro ate so much for Raging Bull he developed breathing problems

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The film

Martin Scorsese’s biopic of world middleweight champion Jake LaMotta, played by Robert De Niro as a self-loathing ogre whose weight yo-yos along with his emotions.

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What happened?

Put simply: food happened. After he trained for years to get into fighting shape as the younger champ, De Niro ate all the hard work away in a matter of months.

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As production on the film was suspended for four months, De Niro took a trip to Europe, where he travelled around Italy and France eating his bodyweight in pasta, meat and ice cream.

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In total, De Niro piled on 60 pounds, taking his weight from 145 to 215 pounds in a short space of time, something that would naturally impact the actor’s health.

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When he returned to the set, De Niro’s posture and even speech were changed, while director Scorsese was concerned about the actor’s now-laboured breathing patterns, De Niro having successfully eaten himself into respiratory difficulty.

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3. George Clooney ‘bruised his brain’ filming a torture scene for Syriana

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The film

Syriana, Stephen Gaghan’s 2005 political thriller, starring Clooney as a CIA operative who is kidnapped and tortured by the Iranian secret service.

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What happened?

Call it an accident, call it a safety oversight – whatever the cause of Clooney falling over (whilst tied to a chair) and bashing his head while filming a torture scene for Syriana, the effects were excruciating.

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This is how Clooney describes it: “I tore my dura, which is the wrap around my spine that holds in the spinal fluid. But it’s not my back; it’s my brain. I basically bruised my brain. It’s bouncing around my head because it’s not supported by the spinal fluid”.

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The result was Clooney leaking spinal fluid – sometimes, it would drip out of his nose – and suffering chronic migraines and memory loss.

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It took a series of operations to finally put Clooney right, though in the 12 months that he suffered, he contemplated suicide: “Before the surgery it was the most unbearable pain I’ve ever been through, literally where you’d go, ‘well, you’ll have to kill yourself at some point, you can’t live like this'”.

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2. Anne Hathaway made herself “really sick” losing 25 pounds in a month for Les Miserables

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The film

Les Miserables, a musical as distressing as the title would suggest, starring Anne Hathaway as a single mother who turns to prostitution to pay for her child’s upkeep.

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What happened?

For the sake of just 13 days of filming, Hathaway put her body through torture by effectively starving herself for a month.

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Over the course of five weeks, Hathaway lost 25 pounds by eating very little, eventually reducing her diet to nothing but two thin squares of baked ‘oatmeal paste’ a day once shooting began.

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Predictably, this had a negative effect on Hathaway’s health. In a 2019 interview with People, the actress admitted she was left mentally drained and physically “really sick” by the rapid weight loss.

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Whatever Hathaway’s specific ‘sickness’, the effects were long-lasting: “That weight loss was not a long-term good thing for my health, and it took a really long time to come back from it.”

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1. Russell Crowe got torn to pieces making Gladiator

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The film

Gladiator, one of the great swords-and-sandals movies, starring Russell Crowe as an avenging Roman general-turned-gladiator.

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What happened?

Russell Crowe’s commitment to Gladiator was evident from the off, when he dropped the 40 pounds he’d just gained from his last movie and instead got tremendously buff. Then he arrived on the set.

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Evidently, the world had it out for Russell Crowe while he was making Gladiator, with real-life tigers trying to claw the actor for one scene and co-star Oliver Reed challenging him to a fight off-screen.

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Those are just the near-misses: while filming Gladiator, Crowe sustained multiple injuries, starting with the real scars he has on his face in the opening scenes of the film, which he sustained when the horse he was working with backed him into a tree.

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Through the filming of various battle scenes, Crowe also: broke a bone in his foot, cracked a bone in his hip, popped bicep tendons out of their sockets, aggravated an existing Achilles injury and lost all feeling in his right forefinger. The latter injury endured for two years.