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16 Method actors who went to extreme lengths for their roles

By Emily Baker

Some thespians really suffer for their art. These 16 actors gave up their worldly possessions, piled on the pounds or shaved off eyebrows (that last one might not sound so intense, but how would express your surprise at this list without raising your eyebrows?) in pursuit of the perfect take. Behold – the most extreme method actors ever.

  1. Leonardo Di Caprio: For his most recent film, The Revenant, the actor admitted to eating raw bison liver and sleeping in animal carcasses. This was in preparation for his role as an isolated bear-attack survivor, seeking revenge on the man who left him for dead, played by the equally grizzly Tom Hardy.

  1. Christian Bale: Before playing insomniac Trevor Reznik in The Machinist, Bale shed an eye-watering 63 pounds to achieve his character’s ghostly appearance. He put that weight back on and more to play the burly Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight.

  1. Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis: Whilst preparing in their roles for psycho-thriller Black Swan, Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis spent months before shooting in dance class and dropped 20 pounds in weight. The film follows ballerina Nina Sayers (Portman) as she performs in the demanding ‘Black Swan’ ballet.

  1. Antonia Campbell-Hughes: The Northern Irish actress dropped a considerable amount of weight for 3096 Days, a German film detailing the eight-year captivity of 10-year-old girl Natascha Kampusch (it’s based on a true story). Campbell-Hughes broke a toe, fractured a rib and tore her Achilles whilst filming some of the brutal scenes.

  1. Tippi Hedren: Despite legendary director Alfred Hitchcock insisting that the climatic scene in The Birds would be shot with mechanical birds, Tippi Hedren was in fact attacked by live birds for the film. She was unaware that this would happen but still took part in the scene, during which the crew threw live birds at her.

  1. Joaquin Phoenix: The actor managed to convince the whole of Hollywood that he was quitting his career in acting and moving into hip-hop. After he grew his hair and beard and put in some erratic public appearances, the shtick was considered to be real. However, it was all proved to be a scam for his new mockumentary film I’m Still Here, which duly flopped.

  1. Heath Ledger: During preparation for The Dark Knight, Ledger, who played Batman’s nemesis The Joker, stayed in character during his entire time on set. He also locked himself in an apartment for a month before shooting the film, and fatally overdosed on sleeping medication prior to the film’s release.

  1. Adrian Brody: Before appearing in The Pianist, a drama film about Holocaust survivor and concert pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman, Brody spent months learning how to play the piano and reached an incredibly high standard. He also sold his car and his house, before leaving the U.S. to live in Europe. He left with two bags to try and understand his character’s desperation.

  1. Robert De Niro: Robert De Niro and co-star Jo Pesci prepared for Raging Bull by living together for three months to build a brotherly bond. The film that charts the career of Jake LaMotta (De Niro) also involved the actor refusing make-up and prosthetics and instead gaining the weight required for real. Scorsese stopped filming briefly to protect the lead actor’s health.

  1. Shia Lebeouf: The American child actor-turned-fruitcake was a key player in Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomiac. It’s a four-hour film about sex, basically. Lebeouf reportedly insisted the sex scenes be completely real, with no simulation.

  1. Daniel Day-Lewis: The three-time Oscar winner is all about method acting. Whether it’s refusing to come out of character on the sets of Lincoln and Gangs of New York or intentionally crippling his body for My Left Foot, there’s no doubt Day-Lewis takes his roles very seriously.

  1. Mickey Rourke: Despite enjoying a career in professional boxing prior to the film, Mickey Rourke turned to wrestling for 2008 film The Wrestl
    er. Rourke performed a majority of the stunts in the film and injured himself several times in the process of pursuing the perfect take.

  1. Hilary Swank: For Boys Don’t Cry (1996), Hilary Swank became the character before she even got the part. The film follows the true story of Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was raped and murdered in Nebraska back in 1993. Swank imitated Teena for a month before her audition, which she turned up for in character. Her understanding of the character and acting in the film won her an Oscar.

  1. Charlize Theron: When preparing for Oscar-winning Monster, Charlize Theron did the opposite to other actors on this list, gaining weight for her role. In the portrayal of sex worker-turned-serial-killer Aileen Wuornos, Theron gained 30 pounds, shaved her eyebrows and wore fake teeth. The dark crime thriller, based on real life, is now widely regarded her best film.

  1. Forest Whitaker: In 2006, Whitaker tasked himself with the role of Idi Amin, the deposed Ugandan dictator, in The Last King of Scotland. In preparation for the film, he lived exclusively on a diet exclusively of banana and beans, learned Swahili and refused to come out of character off-set.

  1. Jim Carrey: The rubber-faced Canadian funnyman disregarded social niceties as he prepared to appear in the 1999 comedy-drama Man on the Moon. The film, a biopic of the comedian and notorious prankster Andy Kaufman, inspired Carrey to stay in character both on and off set, with friends and family avoiding him due to the irritating nature of the role.