20 Actors Who Went To Completely Pointless Extremes For Their Roles
People often think of acting as a fairly cushy job – where you show up on a morning and are constantly pruned and pampered, before retiring to your trailer to drink champagne and order room service.
That might be true, but for every Hollywood star or starlet taking it easy and phoning it in, there’s an equal amount pushing their mind and body to the limit for a part.
The tragic truth is, even if an actor does extreme things to make their role as convincing as possible, there’s no guarantee that the movie will do well at the box office.
That’s why today we’re looking at 20 examples of movies where the actors took their character to the brink of too-far and didn’t see it pay off.
20. Nicolas Cage built himself an elaborate costume to play an all-CGI character in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Nothing says going over the top with your method acting like creating a whole new form of theatrical preparation, which is exactly what Nic Cage did for the second Ghost Rider movie.
Essentially, Cage knew his character in the film was going to be entirely CGI, but wanted to make sure he gave his all anyway.
To make sure his performance as Johnny Blaze was intense enough, Cage coated his face in ceremonial African corpse paint.
He also wore a layered costume complete with ‘magical’ symbols and amulets, all of which would be completely obscured by special effects in the final film, of course.
Cage gave his technique the name ‘Nouveau Shamanic’, which makes it sound legitimate instead of just crazy.
19. Christian Bale put on 45 pounds to play Dick Cheney, discovered he could have just worn prosthetics
Christian Bale’s commitment to his roles has become legendary. For 2004’s The Machinist, he fasted so hard that his weight dropped from 173 pounds to just 120 in a matter of months.
Then, as soon as he finished shooting The Machinist, Bale bulked up, gaining 100 pounds of muscle, and thus breaking the records for most weight lost by an actor for a role and most weight gained in just two films.
To become rotund former VP Dick Cheney for Adam McKay’s 2018 political drama Vice, Bale changed his body again: he gained 45 pounds in fat, shaved his head, bleached his eyebrows and bought an exercise machine to give his neck some considerable bulk.
The effect was startling. The only problem? Bale didn’t really need to do any of it, not least of all because playing the character as an older man would require him to spend hours in the makeup chair anyway.
As Bale discovered later from talking to Gary Oldman, who won an Oscar in 2017 for playing Winston Churchill under layers of prosthetics, the actor’s full body transformation was no longer necessary.
“I called up Gary and I said, ‘How much weight did you gain for the role?’ And he said, ‘I didn’t gain anything'”, Bale later told Variety. “I didn’t understand that [prosthetics and makeup] had come such a long way.”
18. Ashton Kutcher hospitalised himself trying a ‘fruitarian’ diet to play Steve Jobs
Ashton Kutcher is a celebrated member of the heartthrob club, so when he announced he was starring in a biopic based on the life of Apple creator Steve Jobs, people were rightly curious.
There was the clear physical resemblance, yes, but Kutcher had never exhibited the kind of acting nous that the role obviously demanded. So, to prove any doubters wrong, Kutcher went all in.
First off, Kutcher did his best to commit to the role by replicating Jobs’ ‘fruitarian’ diet, which meant eating nothing but raw fruit and nuts.
The drastic change caught up with Kutcher literally two days before he was set to begin filming, when he doubled over in agony and was rushed to the emergency room.
Not only did Kutcher become seriously ill as a result of the irresponsible diet, but the movie bombed at the box office, so it wasn’t worth it by any account.
17. Daniel Day-Lewis sent texts, made Civil War-era jokes as Abraham Lincoln
Daniel Day-Lewis is no stranger to method acting; in fact, he’s kind of famous for doing exactly that.
It goes without saying however that some of his preparations have been more extensive than others, and his approach to playing Abraham Lincoln is maybe most notorious for its strangeness.
Weeks before shooting began, as is his custom, Day-Lewis was already inhabiting the character 24/7. When shooting began, the actor stayed in character in between takes, even using the Lincoln voice to order coffee.
This was all par for the course for DDL. What was less usual was how he behaved towards his fellow actors on the set.
During filming, Day-Lewis made jokes to those around him about pop culture and political events that only would have made sense in Lincoln’s time.
He also sent texts – which were not a thing in the Civil War era – to Sally Field, the actress playing Lincoln’s wife, as though he really was Lincoln, always signing off with “Yours, A”.
16. Val Kilmer obsessively learned music he would never have to perform in The Doors
If anything, you’d think that method acting as a rockstar would be an excuse to slack off: waking up at noon, eating and drinking whatever you want, and showing up late to set every day on purpose.
With that said, if Val Kilmer’s stint as The Doors frontman, Jim Morrison, is to be believed, it’s actually a lot of hard work.
To get into character, Kilmer obsessively questioned the people who had known Morrison in real life.
He also learned 50 of Morrison’s songs, despite the fact that only a handful of those would feature in the final film, with many of them featuring Morrison’s real voice dubbed in.
To take things even further, Kilmer insisted that everyone on set address him as Jim, which the cast and crew responded to by ignoring him like they would any real obnoxious rockstar.
As for the resulting film itself? A flop that’s come to be regarded as a prime example of bad biopic-making.
15. Anne Hathaway made herself “really sick” extreme-dieting for Les Miserables
Most method acting is done to get the actor into the right mindset for a part, or help elevate their performance beyond just the costume and lines they’ve been given.
Sometimes, however, an actor pushes their body and mind to the absolute limit, like Anne Hathaway during the filming of Les Miserables.
In order to replicate the experience of a 19th century prostitute living in poverty, Hathaway went on what was essentially a starvation diet, losing 25 pounds in five weeks by eating nothing but two thin squares of baked ‘oatmeal paste’ a day once shooting began.
Hathaway even banished her husband from the house during this period, living in a state of hunger, isolation and depression that she has since encouraged no one else to ever try.
Shaving her head on top of all the other miseries, Hathaway did it all for just 13 days of filming.
The result? An Oscar, as well as long-lasting health problems: for those 13 days, Hathaway was left “really sick…and it took a really long time to come back from it.”
14. Ryan Gosling gained 60 pounds for The Lovely Bones, got fired from the film
Remember 2009’s Alice Sebold adaptation, The Lovely Bones, directed by Peter Jackson and starring Ryan Gosling as father to Saoirse Ronan’s tragic murdered teen? No?
Don’t worry – that film never actually happened, or at least it didn’t happen quite that way, with Mark Wahlberg instead playing the dad.
Originally, Ryan Gosling was all set to play the role eventually taken by Wahlberg, only he was fired at the 11th hour when Jackson saw all that Gosling had done in preparation.
To play Jack Salmon, Gosling grew out a bushy beard and ultimately gained 60 pounds (partly by regularly drinking melted Haagen Dazs) in the weeks prior to filming, something he forgot to clear with Jackson first.
Gosling was fired for all his hard work, and was unfortunately left, in his own words, “fat and unemployed”.
13. Viggo Mortensen spent a year conducting research for Platoon, didn’t get the part
Today, Viggo Mortensen is one of Hollywood’s best-loved method-y leading men, having been nominated for three Oscars for his commitment in the likes of Eastern Promises and Green Book.
Like Ryan Gosling, however, before he was too big a name to fire from a project, Mortensen put some real effort in prepping for a part he would never actually play.
Oliver Stone’s Platoon, based on Stone’s own experiences in the Vietnam War, was going to be Mortensen’s big break, with the actor cast in the pivotal role of Sgt Elias a year before filming began.
To prepare, Mortensen spent “a year or more…reading every paper, every book, every essay, watching every film, every documentary about Vietnam”.
Despite Mortensen preparing for Platoon as “rigorously as anything I’ve ever worked on”, he was dropped in favour of Willem Dafoe just before filming began. Dafoe would be nominated for an Oscar for playing Elias.
12. Leonardo DiCaprio slept in a real animal carcass, ate raw bison liver for no reason on The Revenant
Leonardo DiCaprio delivering award-worthy performances again and again for years on end was seemingly never going to be enough to bag him the coveted Oscar.
So, in what seemed like a final bid to get the Academy to notice him, DiCaprio underwent the most gruelling shooting experience in the acting world for The Revenant.
The good news was the brutal survivalist drama did finally give DiCaprio the Oscar nod he’d been longing for. The bad news was it also nearly killed him in the process.
On a shoot that lasted from October 2014 to August 2015, DiCaprio was constantly teetering between emotional burnout, hypothermia and death in freezing cold filming locations.
Some of the actor’s more extreme decisions include: wading through real frozen rivers; sleeping in real animal carcasses; and eating a raw bison liver, despite him being vegetarian and the props department having already made him a fake one out of red gelatinous pancake.
11. Shia LaBeouf permanently scarred his face, pulled one of his teeth out for Fury
War movies are often a magnet for method actors looking to deliver an authentic experience, and Fury was no different.
The cast was stacked with prestigious and experienced actors, making Shia LaBeouf feel slightly like the new kid on the block, which led to him seriously stepping up his method acting game.
In order to get into character as tank gunner ‘Bible’ Swan, LaBeouf refused to bathe for 40 days before shooting began, and didn’t wash for the whole of the production.
Not only that, but LaBeouf cut his face with a knife in front of his castmates when he decided his prosthetic facial scar didn’t look real enough, and even pulled out one of his teeth.
All of this behaviour had little bearing on the actual character he was playing, but LaBeouf did successfully creep out his costars so much that they asked him to stay in a different hotel.
FYI, he still has that face scar today.
10. Robert Pattinson worked at a car wash as prep for playing a thief in Good Time
Robert Pattinson’s reputation as a glittery vampire has followed him ever since Twilight, leading him to seek out darker, more difficult and more nuanced roles.
So far, one of his best has been the thief Connie Nikas in Good Time, which saw Pattinson go to greater lengths than ever before to get into character.
Before shooting began, Pattinson and his co-star/director, Benny Safdie, lived like their poverty-stricken characters would.
And so, Pattinson wore (and slept in) his character’s clothes and moved to a dingy basement apartment in Harlem, where Pattinson never opened the curtains and lived off nothing but cans of tuna.
What’s more, Pattinson and Safdie also got nine-to-five jobs working at a New York car wash, something that never once factors into the film or their characters.
9. Tom Cruise worked as a FedEx courier to play a hitman in Collateral
Tom Cruise isn’t exactly known for his method antics on film sets, unless you count ‘doing all the insane stunts’ on the Mission: Impossible films to be a kind of method acting.
One of the Cruiser’s most impressive recent efforts, however, did find the actor going the extra mile, albeit a mile nobody asked him for.
In Collateral, Cruise plays a cold, calculating hitman who terrorises a taxi driver as he tours LA for targets.
And how did Cruise prepare to get in the mindset of this gun-toting sociopath? He went to work for FedEx as a courier of course.
Prior to shooting Collateral, Cruise spent time as a FedEx delivery man in an attempt to see if he could become ‘anonymous’ like his assassin character.
Of course, nobody did recognise Cruise – then he completely changed his look for the film anyway, thus rendering the exercise entirely redundant.
8. Jared Leto put on 67 pounds, gave himself gout for a film nobody saw
In his time, Jared Leto has done all sorts in an attempt to prove that he’s a real actor.
In his time, Leto has become obsessed with body transformation, having bulked up for Suicide Squad, slimmed down for Dallas Buyers Club and truly let himself go for a film almost nobody saw.
Physically at least, Leto was not the right fit to play John Lennon’s killer, Mark Chapman, in the 2007 crime drama Chapter 27. Then he got to work.
Piling on the pounds thanks largely to daily pints of ice cream and olive oil, Leto added 67 pounds – that’s five stone – to his frame to embody the bloated Chapman.
Unfortunately, the rapid weight gain landed Leto in a wheelchair and gave him gout. Then the film opened to terrible reviews and near-nonexistent box office, probably causing Leto to wonder whether any of it was worth it (it wasn’t).
7. Brad Pitt starved himself to the point of ’emaciation’ for World War Z scenes that got cut anyway
Pity poor Brad Pitt: the actor couldn’t know that all the hard work he put in slimming down for World War Z would be for nothing when half of the film was later rethought in post.
Originally set in a Russia where men and women are kept as slaves/food for the zombie horde, for this much bleaker third act, Brad Pitt – whose hero character was to be taken as one of the slaves – appropriately fasted to the point of ’emaciation’.
Unfortunately for Pitt (and a crew who had just shot for months in Budapest for no reason), the actor’s appearance in this nightmarish footage apparently shocked Paramount executives.
The execs wanted Brad to be handsome again, though more importantly they wanted a happy ending for their blockbuster.
World War Z’s final act would be scrapped and then entirely reshot (in Wales!) with a much healthier-looking Pitt, leaving his hard work avoiding chilli dogs – he was desperate for one, apparently – on the cutting room floor.
6. Daniel Day-Lewis learned to speak Czech for an entirely English-language film
When it comes to actors putting time and effort in where it’s seemingly not entirely necessary, Daniel Day-Lewis might just be the man to beat.
For The Last of the Mohicans, Day-Lewis lived off the land months before filming began; for The Crucible, rather than just let the prop department do it, Day-Lewis actually built his own character’s house.
The finest example of DDL going so above and beyond that the effort probably wasn’t necessary at all, however, came in 1988 drama The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
In the film, Day-Lewis plays a Czech doctor living through Soviet rule in the 1960s, so naturally the actor learned the language in preparation.
The problem? The Unbearable Lightness of Being is an English-language film, and not once does Day-Lewis speak Czech throughout the entire movie.
5. Ryan Gosling learned Muay Thai for Only God Forgives, never got to use it in the film
When Nicolas Winding Refn, director of Drive, pitched Only God Forgives to Ryan Gosling, the actor and prospective star of the film instantly signed up and got to training.
In Refn’s pitch, Only God Forgives was a kind of arthouse action movie, with Gosling as an American in Bangkok who faces off against a corrupt cop played by Vithaya Pansringarm.
The film that the pair would eventually make almost resembled this original concept, except for the fact that the planned centrepiece fight scene as filmed would find Gosling’s character suffering a total beatdown.
For months prior to the shoot Gosling had learned Muay Thai, training two to three hours a day, four days a week on a strict traditional Thai diet.
All the hard work proved to be for nothing, however – when it came to shooting, Refn decided the face-off between Gosling and Pansringarm would be more interesting if Gosling’s character was soundly beaten.
Gosling never lands a single punch in the film.
4. Robert De Niro studied brain surgeons to play a mechanic in Brazil
When Terry Gilliam brought Robert De Niro on board for what was essentially a cameo in his science fiction satire Brazil, he likely never expected the lengths to which Bobby would go to prepare.
Alas, it was the mid-80s, and De Niro was still at the height of his method acting powers; no way was he going to pass up the chance to shadow brain surgeons in order to convincingly play a…mechanic.
For his two brief scenes as air conditioning specialist Harry Tuttle, De Niro put in extensive research, as well as put together his character’s kit and gadgets from scratch.
Spending hours along familiarising himself with his new tools, De Niro also, bizarrely, decided to study neurosurgery and neurosurgeons, having likened Tuttle to one for some reason.
De Niro’s curiosity spilled over onto the set, where his constant questions about the character and request for more takes led Gilliam to eventually feeling like he “wanted to strangle” the actor.
3. 50 Cent dropped 55 pounds, surgically removed his own tattoos for a film that never reached cinemas
If as a rapper 50 Cent has left much to be desired, then the acting career of Curtis Jackson has been even less inspiring.
Still, that doesn’t mean Jackson hasn’t tried, with the effort Fiddy put in for one film surpassing that of most pros.
In 2011’s All Things Fall Apart, Jackson plays a football player ravaged by cancer and left skeletal by the disease.
To get what he felt was the appropriate shape, Jackson dropped 55 pounds over nine weeks by subscribing to a liquid diet and running on a treadmill for three hours a day.
Going even further, Jackson also had some of his tattoos removed to save himself hours in the makeup chair.
He put all that work in for a film so bad it would go straight to video, and be mauled by all those who saw it.
2. Andy Serkis learned the violin for Topsy-Turvy, in which he never once plays the violin
Back in 1998, when Mike Leigh shot his Gilbert and Sullivan biopic Topsy-Turvy, nobody had really heard the name Andy Serkis before.
When Serkis was hired, then, to appear in a film by one of Britain’s foremost filmmakers, the young actor naturally threw himself into the preparation.
To play Gilbert and Sullivan’s choreographer, John D’Auban, Serkis researched the period and his character obsessively.
Studying ballet, Irish dance and ‘eccentric dance’ with a choreographer for four hours a day, Serkis also learned how to play the violin.
All this, for a film in which Serkis barely features and never once plays the violin, because his already-small role was later stripped back even further in the editing suite.
1. Oldboy’s Min-Sik Choi branded his own flesh, ate live octopus
The wonderful world of props and prosthetics means that actors don’t have to do horrible, dangerous things for real for the sake of entertainment.
For example, Min-Sik Choi didn’t have to eat a live octopus or brand his own flesh for Oldboy – but he did both anyway.
For the revenge thriller’s infamous octopus scene, Choi ate four of the wriggling sea-beasts, though not before saying a Buddhist prayer prior to chowing down on each one.
Even more impressively/horrifying, Choi also burned his own body with a hot wire for the scene in which his character, Dae-su, tattoos himself.
Such extreme actions were in addition to the 20 pounds Choi had lost for the role, and on top of the actor doing all his own stunts.