5. Charlize Theron – Monster (2003)
The stunning South African actress Charlize Theron had gotten herself noticed in Hollywood for a handful of decent performances (e.g. “The Devil’s Advocate”), yet her prominence in film tended to rely much more on her looks then a demand for acting ability. That all changed when future “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins and the actress teamed up for the horrifying real-life tale of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a roadside hooker who fell into an spiralling cycle of murder and depravity.
A completely unrecognisable Theron took on the role; she lost her toned body and gained 30 pounds, sported dark contacts and wore makeup to fake that her complexion went to all hell. This was all effective in theory, yet all would’ve been moot if Theron’s own performance didn’t so significantly mask any nuance of a ex-model/Hollywood starlet, who fully inhabited the persona of a backwoods survivor who had been living and eating miserably from the jump-off.
It’s a powerful performance that is luckily matched by an equally powerful movie; Theron would win an Oscar for her troubles, and the role moved her over from eye candy to one of the most respected actresses in her field.
4. Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
In a move that is likely referred to the peak of ‘the McConaissance’ – actor McConaughey had been toiling his early promise away in throwaway rom-coms for close to 10 years. A turn in the pitch black “Killer Joe” changed all that, and he led a succession of films in a row that were not only fantastic products by strong directors, but also showcased what an incredible and adept leading man the Texas-born actor is.
Certainly the films that followed recently haven’t been as strong since his collaboration with Jean-Marc Vallee, though, yet it was a high bar to follow – telling the real-life tale of Ron Woodroof, a washed-up rodeo rider who turns his life around when infected with AIDS, and seeks to give himself and others the necessary medical supply the US government was not providing.
The usually healthy actor needed to become a man struck down by a terminal disease (not to mention a hard living lifestyle), so McConaughey lost a total of three stone and survived off a daily meal of Diet Coke, egg whites and a piece of chicken, it whittled his weight down to a beyond slim bar of 133 pounds. Luckily all that effort was accompanied by a tour-de-force performance and a strong movie that, whilst immensely gritty and dark, was also an uplifting and fascinating story in itself.
3. Jared Leto – Chapter 27 (2007)
Fellow McConaughey co-star in “Dallas Buyers Club,” Leto has led an interesting and unorthodox career. Showing up as a teen heartthrob in 90’s TV, he soon attempted to spread his wings, landing roles with impressive directors such as David Fincher and Darren Aronofsky. However, his adamant refusal to coast on his good looks eventually led him to supporting and low-key roles that no one watched. One of those such roles was his turn in “Chapter 27” as Mark Chapman, the deranged killer of singer John Lennon.
Set across a day in New York and leading up to that definitive event, Leto fully absorbed the role and physique of said persona. The male model stylings of Leto were traded in for a 67-pound weight gain (fuelled by a strict melted ice cream diet) to inhabitant the troubled and rotund spirit of Chapman. It was a taxing role during shooting and in aftermath; Leto would regularly rest in a wheelchair in between takes and suffered from gout, back pain and skyrocketing cholesterol levels.
Sadly it was all for moot; Leto put in fine work in the film, displaying a range and degree of sacrifice not displayed till that point, yet sadly the film that is centred around his performance just lacked strength and was dismissed by critics and unwatched by audiences. It would take him several years to finally win back plaudits when he lost an insane amount of weight for “Dallas Buyers Club,” which garnered him the respect he had been seeking.
2. Robert De Niro – Raging Bull (1980)
The actor who inspired a billion careers, Robert De Niro truly set the precedent for transforming one’s physical shape (not to mention mental state) to fully inhabit under the skin of several troubled characters he took on; he would live his character on and off set, therefore the diet and physique of that specific role would soon form on him as well. He held a series of flawless performances that spanned over 20 years.
The most championed (and for good reason) were his collaborations with Martin Scorsese, with “Taxi Driver” as the psychotic Vietnam vet, and “Cape Fear” as a vengeful ex-con; still it was, of course, their dark boxing drama that is the pinnacle of their partnership.
Charting the story of real life boxer Jake LaMotta from career peak to overweight has-been, De Niro took on the challenge of not faking proceedings with makeup or fat suits – he got into athlete shape for the early part of filming before shooting, then took a four-month hiatus where he packed on 60 pounds in a tour du force across the restaurants and wineries of Europe. He came back fully immersed in LaMotta’s withered middle-aged mould in the stunning wraparound segments that drove the stories pathos home.
1. Christian Bale – The Machinist (2004)
The ultimate modern method actor trophy completely belongs to British actor Christian Bale. After moving up the ladder as a child actor who debuted by working with Spielberg, he truly arrived as a modern actor when he grew up and hit the gym for an adonis physique with “American Psycho.”
Since then, he has continually and drastically swayed his physique in a handful of stellar roles – he starved himself to convince as a POW in “Rescue Dawn,” bulked up several times over the years as Batman for the “Dark Knight” trilogy, then won an Oscar for the “The Fighter” as a wiry drug addict, and then got portly right afterwards for “American Hustle”!
Pretty impressive track record? Well all of these mean feats really seem like a cake walk compared to the harrowing lengths he went to play the haunted and (literally) skeletal figure in Brad Anderson’s chilling drama “The Machinist.” Bale took on the role right in between muscular action roles, by dropping 60 pounds and sticking to solely drinking coffee and eating apples. The effects are horrifying, so much so that the results cast a fervour that sadly (according to Bale’s sentiments) overshadowed the incredibly strong movie.