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)
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)
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.