25 Most Extreme Actor Transformations for Movies

Christian Bale stars as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay's Vice (2018)
Christian Bale stars as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay's Vice (2018)
Greig Fraser, Annapurna Pictures

When an actor is critically acclaimed for their work, it's not just the talent people are looking at. It's the dedication that truly drives the star to dive deep into their character and persuade us as viewers of their story. While some are more convincing than others, the best actors frequently go to dangerous extremes to craft as authentic a performance as possible. Sometimes this means undergoing unbelievable transformations, as Christian Bale recently did to inhabit the role of Dick Cheney in Adam McKay's upcoming Vice—and not for the first time. Here are 25 of the most extreme actor transformations.

1. CHRISTIAN BALE // THE MACHINIST (2004)

Christian Bale's most extreme transformation is hands down for his performance in The Machinist. The Method actor played the part of an industrial worker who hadn't slept in a year, and truly looked worse than that. Bale lost 63 pounds in four months, thanks to eating only one can of tuna or one apple a day.

2. CHARLIZE THERON // MONSTER (2003)

In the role that proved Charlize Theron was more than just a pretty face, the actress played real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos, completely transforming her appearance. Besides her facial differences,Theron gained 30 pounds for the part, by mostly eating donuts and other junk. Her performance earned her an Oscar. It wasn't the last time Theron transformed her body for a role; she gained 50 pounds to play a mom with post-partum depression for this year's Tully.

3. JARED LETO // DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013)

To play a transgender person living with HIV in Dallas Buyers Club, Jared Leto basically stopped eating—and dropped down to 116 pounds. "I think the role demanded that commitment," Leto said of the extreme diet plan. "It was about how does that affect how I walk, how I talked, who I am, how I feel. You know, you feel very fragile and delicate and unsafe." He ended up winning an Oscar for his performance.

4. TOM HARDY // BRONSON (2008)

To play the real-life British criminal Charles Bronson, Tom Hardy put on 42 pounds for Nicolas Winding Refn's Bronson. He reportedly did so with the help of an ex-Marine, who motivated and trained him. Hardy said he ate mostly chicken, rice, chocolate, and pizza while training, gaining about seven pounds a week.

5. MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY // DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013)

Alongside co-star Jared Leto, Matthew McConaughey had to drop some serious weight for his role as the real-life HIV-positive Ron Woodrooff in Dallas Buyers Club. Ultimately, he dropped 38 pounds by dieting and eating in small quantities. McConaughey went on to win an Oscar for his performance.

6. ROBERT DE NIRO // RAGING BULL (1980)

For one of his most iconic roles ever, Robert De Niro played real-life boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, and won an Oscar for his performance. In order to play this part, the actor got extremely buffed up through a grueling training routine with the actual LaMotta. Then, to play the boxer in later years, De Niro put on 60 pounds. Director Martin Scorsese was said to have only been able to shoot the actor for short periods of time in the later parts of filming, due to his struggle to breathe and general decline in health.

7. MICHAEL FASSBENDER // HUNGER (2008)

To take on the role of real-life activist Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen's Hunger, Michael Fassbender lost more than 40 pounds. Sands participated in the 1981 Irish hunger strike, and ultimately died doing so. For the role, Fassbender restricted himself to a 600-calorie-day diet, along with exercising.

8. 50 CENT // ALL THINGS FALL APART (2011)

To play a cancer patient in All Things Fall Apart, rapper 50 Cent lost his muscular frame by dropping 54 pounds. His method involved a liquid diet and running on the treadmill for three hours a day. “I had so much muscle on me that it was hard for me to lose definition even as I got lighter and slimmer," he said of preparing for the role. "I started running to suppress my appetite. Towards the end it was really difficult."

9. JARED LETO // CHAPTER 27 (2007)

In order to play Mark David Chapman, the man who assassinated John Lennon, Jared Leto had to gain nearly 70 pounds. By eating a lot of ice cream and other junk food, the actor put on 67 pounds, and ultimately developed gout, making it painful for him to simply walk.

10. ANNE HATHAWAY // LES MISÉRABLES (2012)

Anne Hathaway was already thin when she landed the iconic role as Fantine, a factory worker-turned-prostitute in Les Misérables. Still, she ended up losing 25 pounds for the part, claiming to have eaten two small squares of oatmeal paste a day. For the shoot's final 13 days, she basically stopped eating altogether. Though she only logged 15 minutes of screen time despite the film's whopping 158-minute runtime, Hathaway won an Oscar for the role

11. CHRIS PRATT // GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

Chris Pratt's weight has fluctuated over the years, from his heftier Parks and Recreation look to his extremely ripped figure in Guardians of the Galaxy. For the Marvel role, Pratt lost 60 pounds in six months with intensive workouts and a diet change, including lots of water. "I was peeing all day long, every day," Pratt told Men's Journal. "That part was a nightmare,”

12. CHRISTIAN BALE // AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013)

Christian Bale is known for his incredible transformations for roles. For American Hustle, he gained 43 pounds to play a conman; he relied on junk food to reach his "goal" weight. His performance earned him an Oscar nomination.

13. ROONEY MARA // THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)

​In order to play the iconic role of Stieg Larsson's antihero Lisbeth Salander, Rooney Mara truly transformed her look for David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The normally innocent-looking actress got her lip, eyebrow, nose, and nipple pierced, bleached her eyebrows, chopped off her hair. Mara was nominated for an Oscar for her performance.

14. MATT DAMON // COURAGE UNDER FIRE (1996)

In his breakout role, Matt Damon lost over 50 pounds in three months to play a heroin addict in Courage Under Fire. His diet consisted of chicken, egg whites, broccoli, and a baked potato everyday, along with running 13 miles daily, which resulted in him weighing only 137 pounds during filming. “I went too far," Damon once said of his extreme diet. "I got sick and I wouldn't do that again because it was just too much."

15. TOM HANKS // CAST AWAY (2000)

To prepare for his Oscar-nominated role in Cast Away, Tom Hanks put on 40 pounds to bulk up for the first half of the film. Once his character was stranded on the island, Hanks then had to lose the weight he had gained—and then some—for a 55-pound weight loss. (When it came time for Matthew McConaughey to lose weight for Dallas Buyers Club, he called Hanks for advice.)

16. JAKE GYLLENHAAL // NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)

Jake Gyllenhaal was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as a reporter in Nightcrawler.
The actor dropped around 20 pounds for the film by basically starving himself to get into the mindset of his character, Lou. "I knew that Lou was literally and figuratively hungry, so I got into the mode where I was always a bit hungry," the actor revealed.

17. NATALIE PORTMAN // BLACK SWAN (2010)

To play a troubled ballerina in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, Natalie Portman ate a few hundred calories a day, underwent a grueling training schedule, and eventually dropped 20 pounds. Portman went on to win an Oscar for her performance.

18. TOM HANKS // PHILADELPHIA (1993)

To portray a gay man with HIV in his Oscar-winning role in Philadelphia, Tom Hanks shaved his head and lost 35 pounds. His fragile and sickly look only added to his amazing performance.

19. HILARY SWANK // BOYS DON'T CRY (1999)

For her Oscar-winning role as Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was killed in 1993 as the result of a hate crime, Hilary Swank underwent a dramatic transformation. Not only did she play a male, but she literally lived as a man for a month to prepare. This included binding her chest and using socks as a prosthetic penis. She also lost weight in order to maintain a more masculine figure. Kimberly Peirce, the film's director, spent more than two years searching for an actress who could play the role; Swank won an Oscar for the role.

20. CHRIS HEMSWORTH // IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (2015)

Known best for playing the jacked Thor in the Marvel films, Chris Hemsworth had to get seriously skinny for his leading role in In the Heart of the Sea. In order to do this, the actor dropped 33 pounds in just four weeks, which he said took a toll on both his body and his mind. “In order to do it justice, the story, we had to suffer in some way and we did,” he told People. “In other words, not a whole lot of acting was required. We were desperate.” 

21. EMILE HIRSCH // INTO THE WILD (2007)

To play the late Christopher McCandless, Emile Hirsch and director Sean Penn decided that the actor should embark journey similar to the real-life traveler he was playing for Into the Wild. McCandless's experience through North America to Alaska caused him to lose a dramatic amount of weight before eventually passing away in the wild. Hirsch dropped 40 pounds by not drinking, cutting out sugar, and running five miles a day. “It took more willpower to lose that weight than to do anything I've ever done in my entire life,” Hirsch told USA Today of his transformation.

22. TOM CRUISE // TROPIC THUNDER (2008)

Tom Cruise had the help of prosthetics for his role in Tropic Thunder, but the actor really transformed his whole image a bit with this role.

23. CAMERON DIAZ // BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999)

With her normal blonde locks transformed into a frizzy, red mess, Cameron Diaz was practically unrecognizable as the wife of a puppeteer (John Cusack) in Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich.

24. RUSSELL CROWE // THE INSIDER (1999)

Russell Crowe put on 35 pounds, shaved back his hairline, bleached his hair, and had liver spots and wrinkles applied with makeup to age him 20 years for his part in Michael Mann's The Insider—a role that earned Crowe went an Academy Award nomination.

25. EDDIE MURPHY // COMING TO AMERICA (1988)

In addition to his starring role as Prince Akeem in John Landis's Coming to America, Eddie Murphy also played the role of Saul, an old, white, Jewish man who hung out with the other characters at the barbershop. This role led Murphy to go on and play multiple characters in other films.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

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8 Facts About David Bowie's 'Space Oddity'

Express/Express/Getty Images
Express/Express/Getty Images

On July 20, 1969, astronauts walked on the Moon for the first time. Just a few weeks earlier, another space-age event had rocked the world: David Bowie’s single “Space Oddity” hit airwaves. The song, whose lyrics tell the story of an astronaut’s doomed journey into space, helped propel the artist to icon status, and five decades later, it’s still one of his most popular works. 

1. "Space Oddity" was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Many listeners assumed that "Space Oddity" was riffing on the Apollo 11 Moon landing of 1969, but it was actually inspired by a Stanley Kubrick film released a year earlier. Bowie watched 2001: A Space Odyssey multiple times when it premiered in theaters in 1968. “It was the sense of isolation I related to,” Bowie told Classic Rock in 2012. “I found the whole thing amazing. I was out of my gourd, very stoned when I went to see it—several times—and it was really a revelation to me. It got the song flowing.”

2. "Space Oddity" was also inspired by heartbreak.

The track was also partly inspired by the more universal experience of heartbreak. Bowie wrote the song after ending his relationship with actress Hermione Farthingale. The break inspired several songs, including “Letter to Hermione” and “Life on Mars,” and in “Space Oddity,” Bowie’s post-breakup loneliness and melancholy is especially apparent.

3. "Space Oddity" helped him sign a record deal.

In 1969, a few years into David Bowie’s career, the musician recorded a demo tape with plans to use it to land a deal with Mercury Records. That tape featured an early iteration of “Space Oddity,” and based on the demo, Mercury signed him for a one-album deal. But the song failed to win over one producer. Tony Visconti, who produced Bowie’s self-titled 1969 album, thought the song was a cheap attempt to cash in on the Apollo 11 mission, and he tapped someone else to produce that particular single.

4. The BBC played "Space Oddity" during the Moon landing.

"Space Oddity" was released on July 11, 1969—just five days before NASA launched Apollo 11. The song doesn’t exactly sound like promotional material for the mission. It ends on a somber note, with Major Tom "floating in a tin can" through space. But the timing and general subject matter were too perfect for the BBC to resist. The network played the track over footage of the Moon landing. Bowie later remarked upon the situation, saying, "Obviously, some BBC official said, 'Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great. 'Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir.' Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that."

5. David Bowie recorded an Italian version of "Space Oddity."

The same year "Space Oddity" was released, a different version David Bowie recorded with Italian lyrics was played by radio stations in Italy. Instead of directly translating the English words, the Italian songwriter Mogul was hired to write new lyrics practically from scratch. "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola" ("Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl") is a straightforward love song, and Major Tom is never mentioned.

6. Major Tom appeared in future songs.

Major Tom, the fictional astronaut at the center of "Space Oddity," is one of the most iconic characters invented for a pop song. It took a decade for him to resurface in David Bowie’s discography. In his 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes," the artists presents a different version of the character, singing: "We know Major Tom's a junkie/Strung out in heaven's high/Hitting an all-time low." Bowie also references Major Tom in "Hallo Spaceboy" from the 1995 album Outside.

7. "Space Oddity" is featured in Chris Hadfield's ISS music video.

When choosing a song for the first music filmed in space, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield naturally went with David Bowie’s out-of-this-world anthem. The video above was recorded on the International Space Station in 2013, with Hadfield playing guitar and singing from space and other performers providing musical accompaniment from Earth. Some lyrics were tweaked for the cover. Hadfield mentions the "Soyuz hatch" of the capsule that would eventually shuttle him to Earth.

8. "Space Oddity" played on the Tesla that Elon Musk sent to space.

Dummy in Tesla roadster in space with Earth in background.
SpaceX via Getty Images

In 2018, Elon Musk used SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to launch his Tesla Roadster into space. The car was decked out with pop culture Easter eggs—according to Musk, "Space Oddity" was playing over the car’s radio system during the historic journey. The dummy’s name, Starman, is the name of another space-themed song on Bowie's 1972 masterpiece The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.