There’s a general perception that many actors show up looking pretty, remember their lines, then collect a paycheck. Whilst that connotation is quite common, they’re are several occasions where just the opposite is true, that a performer goes way beyond the line of duty to fully inhabit and immerse themselves into a role, sometimes at the cost of their own physical or mental health.
Here are a handful of those extreme and at times shocking body transformation for a handful of actors whose dedication deserves a honorary tip of the hat…
10. Chris Pratt – Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The ‘Marvel Physique’ has certainly become a common phase in this day and edge as superhero movies flood our cinema, and it refers to the particular studio’s impressive track record of casting solid actors first, then training them into peak alpha-male condition. The lanky Hugh Jackman set the precedent with the Wolverine movies, yet also impressive transitions were lean pretty boys Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans bulking up to Olympian shape for “Thor” and “Captain America” (respectively). Even the meek Paul Rudd slapped on the six-pack abs for his turn as Ant-Man.
Still, no transformation from rags to riches in the name of Marvel has been more shocking than that of Chris Pratt, the chunky and lovable goof from TV’s “Parks and Recreation.” He took on lead hero Star-lord in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the galactic rogue that displayed charm, wit and a ridiculous chiseled set of muscle. It was a physical transition within that sleeper hit that suddenly shot the actor from being the supporting ‘best friend’ to the square-jawed leading man in a recent string of blockbusters.
9. Tom Cruise – Tropic Thunder (2008)
This is an exception on this list since it solely focuses on heavy prosthetics as opposed to a genuine physical transformation. If that criteria is game, well, why not John Hurt for “The Elephant Man,” or any movie made over the last 30 years featuring Ron Perlman? Well, this performance is such a vital and drastic persona change – from Hollywood’s golden boy Tom Cruise, no less – that it really needs a mention as Cruise completely disappears into the role with such and abandon of ego (albeit for spoof value) that it remains one the most impressive roles taken over his filmography.
“Tropic Thunder” was ultimately made at a time when Cruise’s star power was considerably waning due to an aggressive viral Scientology campaign from him, not to mention acting like a lunatic on “Oprah.” It lead to a handful of flops from him, yet good friend Ben Stiller cast Cruise in his Hollywood over-the-top and hilarious piss-take on the industry.
Highlights included Robert Downey Jr’s method actor donning full blackface, and Jack Black’s cokehead actor being stranded without his drug of choice; yet the true scene stealer was Cruise himself in a surprise supporting role as Les Grossman, a bald, overweight and maniacally egotistically movie producer who even gets Asian guerilla warriors to think twice about getting on his bad side. Add to that an impromptu dance to Ludacris’ “Get Back” during the end credits and Cruise won back plenty of favour with his dedication to such a repulsive (yet hilarious) role.
8. Jake Gyllenhaal – Nightcrawler (2014)
Since the early 2010s, Jake Gyllenhaal has been impressing us with a series of strong and chameleon-like performances that elevated his leading man status to a whole new playing field. Amongst the impressive list are his two dark collaborations with Denis Villeneuve, “Prisoners” and “Enemy”; the pure bulked up muscle from “Southpaw”; and the unflattering safari shorts and villainy in “Okja.” Yet the pinnacle performance that even managed to sway haters and draw unanimous plaudits from critics was with Dan Gilroy’s sinister debut “Nightcrawler.”
Playing a freelance photojournalist in L.A.’s cutthroat news world, Gyllenhaal read the script and immediately pictured the main character as a “hungry coyote” scavenging the isolated and dark highways of the city. In order to sculpt his ideal look, he burnt off 20 pounds for the role, with a routine consisting of working out for up to eight hours everyday, including cycling or jogging to the set, successfully creating a gaunt and intimidating profile. His is an infallibly amoral character that is as determined as he is conniving – it’s a true stand-out role in a rightfully applauded movie.
7. Matt Damon – The Informant (2009)
The Boston-born chiseled actor carved out an impressive list of performances over his career, yet aside from bulking up as Jason Bourne for that respected action franchise, he wasn’t well celebrated for his dedication to physical method acting. In fact, a pre-fame turn as a war veteran/heroine addict in “Courage Under Fire” saw him shed 40 pounds and put his health in extreme dire order (it took him two whole years to recover), and he has remained cautious in his dedication since.
Well, much later in his career, regular directorial collaborator Steven Soderbergh convinced him otherwise to delve into the other side of the spectrum. In the real-life and utterly bizarre tale centred around false ‘informant’ Mark Whitacre, Damon was responsible for getting into the rotund lumpy shoes of said character by a steady program of pizza, burgers and dark beer – a process which he found incredibly enjoyable. Add to that glasses, a pornstache and the baffling trend of flamboyant early 90’s clothing and Damon is close to unrecognisable in this little-seen oddball comedy.
6. Tom Hanks – Cast Away (2000)
Hanks was a likeable movie presence pretty much from the jump as he got his start in a series enjoyable 80’s comedies. That changed when he starred in “Philadelphia” as a gay man dying of AIDS, where he lost a considerable amount of weight in an impressive performance that won him an Oscar, which led to a series of respectable dramas that the critics adored. Yet as more success piled up, comfortable living and a common persona kept being his fallback in several movies.
In need of a change, he teamed up again with his “Forrest Gump” director Robert Zemeckis, and they took on the ambitious task of following a ‘average joe’ with the before, during and after of being stranded on a desert island. The film was made in chronological order in tandem with Hanks’ psychical transformation on his journey.
The ‘before’ section had Hanks encouraged to get more pudgy as he ceased his normal exercise routine, then filming took an entire year off for him to get to whittled down to lanky shape in order to appear convincingly as a desert island survivor, packing on a hell of a beard with a sparse fruit diet and sun-worn complexion. The transition was a surprising one, yet it immediately added an extra layer of authenticity that stories around the subject had been sadly lacking in this impressive piece of work from the actor and the director.