VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu
WRITTEN BY: Mimi Kenny
These actors went to extreme lengths to deliver amazingly realistic performances. For this list, we'll be looking at the most demanding regimens undergone by actors for biopics or other portrayals of real figures. Our countdown includes Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Robert De Niro, and more!
Top 10 Intense Ways Actors Prepared to Play Real People
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Intense Ways Actors Prepared to Play Real People.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most demanding regimens undergone by actors for biopics or other portrayals of real figures.
Which of these transformations amazes you the most? Let us know in the comments!
#10: Margot Robbie
“I, Tonya” (2017)
Figure skating is already a physically demanding activity on a casual level, let alone a professional one. When Margot Robbie played controversial figure skater Tonya Harding, the actress went through intensive training to be convincing on screen. This meant practicing four hours per day, five days a week, for five months. Training took a toll on Robbie, and her neck developed a herniated disk. While some moves, like Harding’s signature triple axel, were created with special effects or doubles, you can still see that the actress is skating. “I, Tonya” might not have earned Robbie any Olympic medals, but it did get her nominated for a different kind of gold.
#9: Jamie Foxx
Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of legendary musician Ray Charles is one of the most stunning embodiments of a real figure we’ve ever seen. And his commitment to the role is remarkable. Not only did Foxx play Charles’ songs on the piano, but he also lost 30 pounds and had his eyes glued shut to replicate Charles’ own visual impairment. This was not an easy adjustment, as Foxx reportedly experienced panic attacks when filming first started. The sacrifice was worth it, as the final performance is heightened by Foxx’s dedication. Watching this movie, it’s easy to forget you’re not actually watching Ray Charles.
#8: Matthew McConaughey
“Dallas Buyers Club” (2013)
Matthew McConaughey has long been known for his physique. So, it was surprising just how much the actor emaciated himself to play Ron Woodroof in “Dallas Buyers Club.” In order to depict Woodroof’s weight loss after his AIDS diagnosis, McConaughey himself lost 50 pounds. He reportedly did this under the guidance of a nutritionist, but it’s still shocking to see just how frail he looks on screen. This wasn’t McConaughey’s only physical transformation for a movie. A few years later, he put on 45 pounds to play businessman Kenny Wells in “Gold.”
#7: Charlize Theron
Aileen Wuornos had a difficult life and Charlize Theron conveyed that in her powerful performance in “Monster.” In order to play Wuornos, who was executed in 2002 for multiple murders, Theron went through a stunning physical transformation. This meant having her hair thinned and fried multiple times over, donning dentures, and shaving her eyebrows. The actress also had tattoo ink put on her skin to convey Wuornos’ weathered appearance. “Monster” has become synonymous with glamorous actresses showing their grittier sides. But Theron’s Oscar-winning performance shows that great acting goes deeper than just hair and makeup.
#6: Christian Bale
Christian Bale is as known for his unbelievable physical transformations as he is for his acting. It’s incredible that he’s made films like “The Machinist” and “Batman Begins” so close to one another. But we’re giving this entry to his role in “Vice”. At first (or even fifth glance), the actor doesn’t resemble Dick Cheney at all. But his preparation for the biopic “Vice” made him look like the spitting image of the former Vice President. Bale had his head shaved and eyebrows bleached. And he gorged himself on pies to replicate Cheney’s physique, reportedly gaining 40 pounds overall. At this point, we’re wondering what roles Bale can’t pull off.
#5: Michael Fassbender
This movie could have more accurately been called “Starvation.” Michael Fassbender played Bobby Sands, a member of the Irish Republican Army and inmate who launched a hunger strike for political recognition in 1981. The actor lost over 40 pounds by adhering to a low-calorie diet, overseen by medical professionals. That’s a good deal of weight to lose especially in a short time. Watching “Hunger” is a moving experience, but it’s also an incredibly harrowing one. To know that Fassbender went through so much physical change for his role makes watching it even more difficult to endure.
#4: Daniel Day-Lewis
“My Left Foot” (1989)
Daniel Day-Lewis has reportedly retired from acting. We’ll miss seeing him on screen, but he put so much into his performances, we can understand feeling burnt-out. To play Christy Brown, a painter with cerebral palsy, Day-Lewis stayed in character throughout filming. This meant he was always in his wheelchair and even had others feed him to better get inside Brown’s head. This method acting may have been a hassle, but it helped make Day-Lewis’ performance feel even more genuine. He could’ve retired after this performance, and he still would’ve been remembered as one of the finest actors of his generation.
#3: Adrien Brody
“The Pianist” (2002)
“The Pianist” is about a man who’s had everything taken from him, and it stars a man who wanted to know exactly what that was like. To play Władysław Szpilman, a Polish-Jewish pianist who struggled to survive in Nazi-occupied Poland, Brody relinquished many of his possessions. This included his apartment and car. He also reduced his weight to just 130 pounds, while taking up the piano. Throughout the film, Brody looks absolutely haunted and makes the viewer feel uneasy by proxy. It’s a work of intense physical and emotional commitment that rightfully earned Brody an Oscar.
#2: Leonardo DiCaprio
“The Revenant” (2015)
As an A-list actor for more than 20 years, Leonardo DiCaprio could easily choose roles that rely on little more than his charisma. But that’s not the DiCaprio way, and there’s no better example of him pushing himself than when he played fur trapper Hugh Glass in “The Revenant.” To capture Glass and his harrowing journey in the unforgiving wilderness, DiCaprio went on an astounding journey of his own. He spent months filming outside in the freezing cold, even jumping into a frozen river. He also also slept inside animal carcasses and ate raw bison liver. Now that’s dedication.
#1: Robert De Niro
“Raging Bull” (1980)
If “Raging Bull” only depicted Robert De Niro’s transformation to play boxer Jake LaMotta in his physical prime, he would still deserve a spot on this list. De Niro trained with the real LaMotta extensively to be convincing as a prizefighter in Martin Scorsese’s film. What makes it our number one pick is how De Niro also portrayed LaMotta’s post-boxing career, as a heavyset comedian. The actor put on a then-record 60 pounds to play the retired LaMotta. Even if that record was later broken, it set a precedent for actors forever. When we think of an actor who gave his all to commit to a role, we think of Robert De Niro in “Raging Bull.”