Nabbing a part in a great film isn’t always the hardest part of the job for actors. Sometimes, physically preparing to play a specific character is an even bigger challenge.
Stars from Christian Bale to Anne Hathaway have gone to extreme lengths to make their portrayals as convincing as possible — and prompted some health professionals to remind fans that when stars drop weight quickly for a role, they’re often showing us what not to do to lose weight and be healthy.
Read on for a closer look at the dramatic body transformations these actors underwent for a movie role.
When it comes to transforming your body for a role, Christian Bale is one of the all-time masters. The actor has lost and gained significant amounts of weight for various projects throughout his career. One of his most shocking transformations was losing a whopping 62 pounds to play an insomniac in his 2004 film “The Machinist.”
The actor told Malaysian entertainment news outlet Star2 he dropped the weight by subsisting mostly on a diet of cigarettes and whiskey — which definitely isn’t a healthy way to lose weight. By the time filming started, Bale only weighed about 120 pounds.
Bale has also gone to the reverse extremes for his projects. The actor gained 43 pounds to play a con man in 2013’s “American Hustle.” He told People that in order to gain weight, “I ate lots of doughnuts, a whole lot of cheeseburgers and whatever I could get my hands on. I literally ate anything that came my way. I was about 185 and went up to 228.”
His role as Dick Cheney in the forthcoming “Vice” required the actor to put on weight yet again. This time, Bale hired a nutritionist so he could put on the weight in the healthiest possible way.
Before packing on the muscle to play Peter Quill in 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Chris Pratt sported a paunchier physique as Andy Dwyer on “Parks and Recreation.” The actor whipped himself into superhero-worthy shape by following a strict workout routine devised with a personal trainer and nutritionist.
While training, the Marvel star consumed 4,000 calories a day, which he counterbalanced with running, swimming, kickboxing and other various forms of exercise.
“I actually lost weight by eating more food, but eating the right food, eating healthy foods, and so when I was done with the movie my body hadn’t been in starvation mode,” he told People magazine.
Jake Gyllenhaal has also proven to be a chameleon throughout his career. Though he’s packed on or lost weight for various roles, he really pushed his body to a new level in preparation for 2014’s “Southpaw.” In order to play middleweight champ Billy Hope, the actor packed on 28 pounds of lean muscle.
To do so, he worked a rigorous daily fitness routine with coach Terry Claybon, who started training “Southpaw” director Antoine Fuqua when he was filming “Training Day.” The workouts consisted of a mix running, jumping rope, footwork drills, shadow boxing and more, as Claybon and Gyllenhaal told Men’s Journal. Luckily, his diet routine wasn’t as regimented.
“We trained really hard every day, all day, and you can eat a lot when you’re in that mode,” Gyllenhaal said.
Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar for his starring role as Ron Woodroof, a Texas electrician diagnosed with HIV in 2013’s “Dallas Buyers Club.” But his critically acclaimed portrayal didn’t exactly come easy. The actor, known for his muscular physique, slimmed down to just 140 pounds for the role.
“I did it in as healthy a way as I found possible,” he told the BBC, saying he worked with a nutritionist to make the drastic change. “I gave myself four months to lose the weight.” His meals were pre-programmed for steady weight loss, and he dropped 3.5 pounds a week to lose 47 pounds total.
Mila Kunis took her already slim physique to a new extreme in order to play a professional ballerina in “Black Swan.” The actress dropped 20 pounds over five months to take on the role, leaving her aghast at her own appearance.
The experience left an impression on her — and the industry she was portraying.
“At 95 pounds, I would literally look at myself in the mirror and I was like, Oh my God!” she told E! Online. “I had no shape…All you saw was bone. I was like, This looks gross.”
Years after famously packing on weight for her Oscar-winning role in “Monster,” Charlize Theron once again put on the pounds for 2018’s “Tully.” In order to play the tired, overworked mom at the center of the film, the star gained almost 50 pounds in three months by eating pasta, bread and potato chips — sometimes in the middle of the night.
But her commitment to the role came at a cost. The actress later revealed the unhealthy lifestyle had a negative influence on her mental state.
“I got hit in the face pretty hard with depression,” she told Entertainment Tonight. “Yeah, for the first time in my life I was eating so much processed foods and I drank way too much sugar. I was not that fun to be around on this film.” It took her a year and a half to lose the weight.
Matt Damon’s “Bourne” franchise may be hugely successful, but the actor says playing the former CIA assassin comes with one big downside. To play an action hero, you have to look like an action hero, which requires some serious exercise, as Damon revealed.
In an interview with Total Film, the actor described the miserable process, saying, “Unless it’s your job, three hours a day in the gym, or two hours and then a long run later… or a long hike with a weight vest on… it just sucks.”
The “Bourne” series isn’t the only Damon project to require some physical changes. In between the action movies, the actor put on weight, but not muscle, to play whistleblower Mark Whitacre in 2009’s “The Informant.”
Like her “Black Swan” co-star Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman also had to undergo a significant physical transformation to play a professional ballerina. The actress changed her diet and worked on her dance training for five to eight hours a day for a year, she told People.
“There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die,” she told Entertainment Weekly of her preparation for the Oscar-winning role. “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.”
50 Cent shocked fans with his 60-pound weight loss back in 2010 when he underwent a drastic body transformation to portray a football player who gets diagnosed with cancer in the film “Things Fall Apart.”
The artist lost the weight by going on a liquid diet and spending three hours a day on the treadmill for nine weeks. He also reportedly removed his arm tattoos for the movie.
“It cuts down on the amount of time I have to spend in makeup covering them up,” he told People.
— Chris Hemsworth (@chrishemsworth) November 22, 2015
Marvel practically built a movie franchise around Chris Hemsworth’s extraordinary buff physique with “Thor.” So when the actor revealed photos of himself looking unrecognizably gaunt on Twitter in 2015, fans were understandably shocked. The star underwent a drastic physical transformation to play a man stranded at sea in “In the Heart of the Sea.”
“Just tried a new diet/training program called ‘Lost At Sea.’ Wouldn’t recommend it,” the actor wrote as a caption for the photo.
Hemsworth told Entertainment Weekly that as filming continued, the entire cast reduced their calories down to 500 calories a day to accurately portray men starving. Eventually, his unhealthy diet was just a few crackers, a boiled egg and a celery stick.
Tom Hanks has altered his appearance for several roles over the course of his lengthy career, including losing 30 pounds for his role in “Philadelphia.” But perhaps his most extreme transformation was for 2000’s “Cast Away.” The actor lost 55 pounds to convincingly play a Fed-Ex employee who is stranded on an isolated island for years after a plane crash.
At the start of filming, the actor weighed 225 pounds to play the character in his healthy state. The film then halted production so Hanks could grow out his hair and get down to 170 pounds.
“The only thing I did not give up was coffee,” Hanks told Entertainment Weekly of the calorie-restricting diet. “Nope, wasn’t about to! Can’t do it! Excuse me, no, I’m not! Ain’t gonna happen, pal!”
Hugh Jackman gave up eating and even drinking water (not healthy!) to prepare for his first scene as Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables.” In the scene, the still-imprisoned character appears gaunt and weak as he performs manual labor in water.
Jackman told The Hollywood Reporter he went to extremes to appear authentic during that part of the film.
“I didn’t have anything to drink until late in the day when we did the opening scene with Russell Crowe,” he said. “You lose up to 10 pounds of water weight, mainly from the exterior of the body. But it was really brutal. About 20 hours in, a headache came. Then I wanted to drink water out of the ocean! I see the scene now, and I look really thin, really sunken.”
Jackman told Vulture he did 3-hour workouts in the gym to lose weight but still have some muscle.
“He’s actually written as an ox of a man, so I had to eat seven times a day with no carbohydrates, but then you had the exercise,” he said. “I’d wake up and do 45 minutes of card(io) on an empty stomach, eat something, go to the gym, do a vocal warm-up, and then after lunch I’d go back to the gym again.”
George Clooney, “Syriana”
George Clooney put on around 30 pounds to play the part of CIA operative Robert Barnes in 2005’s “Syriana.” But the actor wasn’t exactly a fan of the process.
“There was nothing fun about it,” Clooney told the Sydney Morning Herald. “There was not a moment that was fun about shooting this film. That’s not a slap on the film or (director Stephen) Gaghan. It’s just that everybody has that year where you age a decade and this was that one for me.”
Clooney’s dedication to the role didn’t go unnoticed though. He won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Role for his portrayal.
When Chris Evans was first tasked with portraying Captain America in 2011, he had to take on the physical appearance of the superhero. To transform himself into the muscular Steve Rogers, Evans trained for two hours a day for three months and ate a diet of grilled turkey and protein shakes.
“It was grueling, it was brutal and I’d find any excuse possible not to go,” the actor told Men’s Health UK of the gym regimen. “But I had to do it.”
The actor pulled it off successfully and has since continued to bulk up as needed over the years to play the First Avenger.
Anne Hathaway endured a grueling diet in order to play a prostitute who suffers from tuberculosis in “Les Miserables.” According to Vogue, the actress dropped a total of 25 pounds for the role. Though she lost the first 10 by going on a strict cleanse, she lost another 15 by following a near-starvation diet consisting of two thin squares of dried oatmeal paste a day.
Hathaway has since admitted that the approach was a bit extreme.
“Looking back on the whole experience — and I don’t judge it in any way — it was definitely a little nuts,” she told Vogue. “It was definitely a break with reality, but I think that’s who Fantine is anyway.”
Jared Leto is known for pushing his body to the limits when it comes to his movies. The actor has altered his appearance for his parts in “Requiem for a Dream,” “Chapter 27” and “Suicide Squad.”
But perhaps his most dramatic transformation came for his role as a trans woman living with HIV in the ’80s in 2013’s “Dallas Buyers Club.” The actor shrunk down to just 114 pounds, telling The Wrap that he basically just “stopped eating.” Leto said the weight loss ended up having an effect on his entire being.
“It changes the way you walk, the way you sit, the way you think,” he said.
Will Smith has always had a tall and lean physique, but he had to bulk up to portray the world famous Muhammad Ali in 2001’s “Ali.” In order to truly embody the legendary boxer, Smith embarked on a yearlong transformation process with a trainer, gaining 35 pounds of muscle and learning how to physically and emotionally invest in the boxing ring.
“For this film, I was willing to sacrifice everything that had to be sacrificed to make it live up to the legacy or at least properly portray the legacy that Muhammad Ali had to live,” Smith told UPI. “So if I had to hurt a little bit in the process that was fine.”
To transform into tennis legend Billie Jean King, Emma Stone teamed up with celebrity trainer Jason Walsh to put on some weight and build muscle in a healthy way. Walsh told E! Online that Stone increased her calorie intake with protein shakes and trained in the gym five days a week.
“She’s very lean as is so we didn’t have to focus on getting her body fat down,” Walsh said. “She put on 15 pounds, and that was really the goal from the beginning: to put on that kind of weight, to give her the confidence and to keep her healthy. And she nailed it.”
Jennifer Lawrence has been outspoken about refusing to diet for roles, but she decided it was necessary for her role as a Russian ballerina in 2018’s “Red Sparrow.” The actress, who also worked with a ballet coach for the movie.
As she told Vanity Fair, “‘Red Sparrow’ was the first time that I was really hungry and disciplined. I can’t be in character as an ex-ballerina and not feel like an ex-ballerina.”
Luckily for her, the diet didn’t last long. The movie star was allowed to film her dancing scenes first so she could get back to her regular eating habits.
To pump up the gladiator-worthy status for his movie “300,” Gerard Butler underwent four months of intense training that continued through filming. The actor trained six hours a day — two of those hours were spent on the cast’s infamous “300” workout, a 300-rep workout that includes push-ups, pull-ups, deadlifts, box jumps and other moves designed to keep them in excellent Spartan shape.
Though the regimen was rigorous, the actor says he was inspired by the similar efforts of his fellow cast members.
“It was great having that unity of purpose both as an army and in terms of what we were trying to make in this movie and in terms of fitness, training and that warrior spirit,” Butler told GQ UK. “It was a very powerful place to be.”
To take on his Oscar-nominated role as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in 2014’s “American Sniper,” Bradley Cooper bulked up his typically 185-pound frame to 225 pounds. According to Men’s Health, the actor worked with his trainer Jason Walsh to pull off the transformation in only 10 weeks. The two teamed together to devise a strength building fitness routine and a diet of over 5,000 calories a day.
To make sure he was consuming enough to balance out the intensive training, Cooper ate five meals a day supplemented by post-workout drinks and energy bars. But the star says the effort was required to make his portrayal at all believable.
When Ryan Gosling was cast as the father in 2009’s “The Lovely Bones,” he had some specific ideas as to what the character should look like. “I really believed he should be 210 pounds,” the actor told The Hollywood Reporter. To accomplish his vision, Gosling packed on 60 pounds by drinking melted Haagen Dazs ice cream.
Unfortunately for the actor, director Peter Jackson didn’t agree with Gosling’s vision and ended up recasting the part with Mark Wahlberg.
Renee Zellweger went from a size 4 to a 14 to play the lead role in 2001’s classic rom-com “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” According to People, the actress packed on 30 pounds by eating whatever she wanted. She also had her assistant keep snacks on set to keep up the caloric intake during long hours of filming.
“I was afraid those pounds would disappear because we worked so much,” Zellweger told People. The actress went on to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for the role.
Ryan Reynolds gained 25 pounds of muscle to star in “Blade Trinity,” partnering with trainer Bobby Storm. The actor got up to 200 pounds after sticking to a 3,200-calorie diet and working out six days a week.
“That time changed my life because it taught me you can actually do things that were previously impossible,” Reynolds told Muscle & Fitness about the process.
Shailene Woodley said she was miserable while lowering her food intake to a 350-calorie-a-day diet while shooting her 2018 flick “Adrift.” The actress, who plays a woman left stranded in the ocean after a storm strikes her ship, has spoken out about the restrictive dieting process she followed to film the final scenes of the movie.
Woodley said that because she can’t sleep when she’s hungry, she would have a glass of wine to put herself out for the night, she told The Sunday Times. “For the last two weeks, I had a can of salmon, some steamed broccoli and two egg yolks every day — 350 calories.” It was miserable, she said.
Matthew Fox shed nearly a fifth of his body weight for his role as the villain in 2012’s “Alex Cross,” he told Men’s Health UK. But he didn’t take the same extreme methods as some of his fellow actors. Instead, he worked with a trainer to amp up his exercise plans and devise a nutritionally balanced eating plan.
“I learned a lot about food and training,” he told the magazine. “Before I started, I thought I knew what it was like to work out … but the workouts were very different to what I imagined.”
Demi Moore underwent rigorous training to play real-life Navy SEAL Lieutenant Jordan O’Neill in 1997’s “G.I. Jane.” The actress restricted her diet to only high-protein, high-calorie food and participated in intensive military training with other cast members.
Of course, that wasn’t the only physical change she made for the role: Moore famously shaved her head for the part.
J.K. Simmons got seriously shredded to play Commissioner Gordon in 2017’s “Justice League.” To achieve his sinewy muscles, the actor dedicated himself to a strict exercise regimen overseen by trainer Aaron Williamson. The elite-level trainer and ex-Marine first worked with Simmons in 2015 to get him ready for “Terminator Genisys” and repeated the process a year later.
Williamson later told Men’s Journal that Simmons wasn’t only interested in getting bulked up for “Justice League,” but also simply to maintain a healthy lifestyle. “He wanted to get into the best shape he had ever been in,” he said. “J.K.’s goal was to adopt a healthy lifestyle and never have to worry again about health issues.”
In the early to mid-’90s, Edward Norton was a slim young actor known for his Oscar-nominated appearance in “Primal Fear.” But the actor blew fans away when he completely changed his physique to play a neo-Nazi in 1998’s “American History X.”
Norton put on a full 30 pounds of muscle with intensive training for the role. In addition to his weightlifting routine, he ate five meals a day and supplemented those meals with protein shakes, according to Men’s Journal.
It took months of preparation before Hilary Swank was physically ready to take on her Oscar-winning role as a female boxer in “Million Dollar Baby.” In addition to learning how to box, the actress underwent intense training and implemented a protein-oriented diet to put on muscle.
“My training was two and a half hours of boxing and approximately an hour and a half to two hours lifting weights every day, six days a week,” Swank said in an interview at MovieWeb. “The producers asked me to gain 10 pounds of muscle. I gained 19 pounds of muscle. I started at 110 and went to 129.”
And as her fans know from her Fitness Friday posts on Instagram, Swank is still in terrific shape.