He shed a frightening 121 pounds to play a insomniac machinist by adhering to a four-month long, 275-calorie a day diet that consisted of only coffee, an apple, and an occasional can of tuna. It took him just two months to pack on 60 pounds of muscle via a high-carb bread and pasta diet. He later added an additional 39 pounds on a strict diet of chicken, tuna, and steamed vegetables, coupled with daily three-hour workouts for his role as the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins. Most recently, he gained a 42 pounds—and even herniated a disc in his back—for an Oscar nominated turn as notorious New York con man Irving Rosenfeld.
If recent history is any indication, “American Hustle” won’t be the last time A-list actor Christian Bale transforms his body for a role. Bale isn’t the first actor to remake his physique for a movie—Robert De Niro reportedly gained 60 pounds before filming the later sequences in Raging Bull—but he seems to have taken the craft to a whole other level. In fact, Bale had put on so much weight that De Niro—who also had a feature role in the film—didn’t even know who he was when they first met.
Clearly, the English actor is in a class by himself in the insane weight gain and loss category, but he’s by no means the only actor who’s undergone a miraculous transformation for a movie role.
Here are five other A-list actors who have done the ultimate in film preparation.
To be fair, Natalie Portman has never been heavy, but to lose 20 pounds for her role as ballet dancer Nina Sayers in “Black Swan” she reportedly worked out for five for five hours a day using a combination of ballet, swimming and weight training while subsisting on a 1200 calorie-a-day diet (not a lot when you’re burning thousands of calories exercising). Predictably, the film drew its share of dance world criticism.
Though the perils of yo-yo dieting or weight cycling are well documented, it hasn’t stopped Academy Award winning actress Renée Zellweger from remaking her body on multiple occasions.
Zellweger gained 25 pounds to play zophtic Bridget Jones in the eponymous film and less than a year later, shed over 30 to play
Just a year later, the actress dropped the weight and a few extra pounds to play murderess temptress Roxie Hart in the movei version of the musical hit “Chicago.” She gained back the weight for her roles in “Cold Mountain” and “Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason.”
He earned an Academy Award for his role as a transgender woman in “Dallas Buyers Club” and received critical acclaim for his portrayal of heroin addict Harry Goldfarb in “Requiem For A Dream,” but Jared Leto gained 67 pounds and reportedly put his health in serious jeopardy to play John Lennon’s killer Mark David Chapman in “Chapter 27.” (He reportedly contracted gout and he even confined to a wheelchair for a time due to the excess weight).
Tom Hanks hasn’t gone to the extremes of his colleague Bale, but the two-time Oscar winner did drop 50 pounds (and grew a scary beard) from his 6’2” frame to play a stranded FedEx employee Chuck Noland in 2001’s “Cast Away.” Hanks also shed 30 pounds to play AIDS-afflicted lawyer Andrew Beckett in “Philadelphia.”
He’s run the gamut from Calvin Klein underwear model to down-on-his-luck fisherman, but Bale’s “The Fighter” co-star Mark Wahlberg is another in a long line of Hollywood A-listers willing to suffer, so to speak, for his art. He dropped 40 pounds for his role as professor Alex Feed in his latest movie, a remake of 1974 film, The Gambler.
What these, and dozens more big screen stars share in common is method acting, more or less a technique used to create the real thoughts and feelings of the character being portrayed. Whereas traditional acting is dependent on imagination, script analysis, and external stimuli, method acting is developed internally via an emotional or physical connection to the character.
Though the method seems to work, at least if we’re to judge by the number of award winning performances that result, role, it can seem over the top, particularly in the case of extreme loss. And going through such radical physical changes comes with serious drawbacks, as we saw from the example of Jared Leto. Even Bale, for the moment the undisputed king of method acting, has spoken of the challenges of gaining and losing weight for roles.
Would such an extreme diet, at least in the short term, work for the average Joe or Jane carrying an extra 20-25 pounds? The answer is an emphatic “no.” For the majority of people, it’s difficult to maintain more than a 1-2 pounds weight loss per week (remember that’s 3500-7000 calories!). Extreme weight loss—or even extreme weight gain—can wreck havoc with our body’s metabolism. Though some people like Mark Wahlberg, who’s consistently maintained a high level of fitness throughout his professional life, might be in a better position to manage great weight fluctuations, extreme dieting can lead to headaches, irritability, fatigue, dizziness, constipation, menstrual irregularities, and hair and/or muscle loss. More potentially serious side effects include dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, low blood pressure and high uric acid, which could lead to gout or kidney stones, loss of bone density and even heart arrhythmias and organ failure.
If extreme weight fluctuations are bad then it’s reasonable to ask why there’s so much interest? Most likely, it has much to do with our societal obsession with the body image and the lives of celebrities themselves. Many so called “celebrity diets” are done under medical supervision for a short amount of time and specific purpose. Actors are also being paid handsomely to sacrifice for their work. They know the score going in. A final point to remember is that these are “diets.” All diets have a beginning, middle and end. But there is no end to weight control. To lose weight and most importantly, keep it off for a lifetime, we should focus less on our plates, and more on our heads. Ultimately, it’s less about the food, and more about how we behave in the presence of food determines success or failure.