10 Infamous Method Actors Who Went to Extremes for Their Roles

Method actors are unusual for how they tend to take things too far when preparing for a film role—like they did in these extreme cases.

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We’ve all heard stories of actors who went a little too far in preparation for a role, right? People have lost tons of weight, turned up on set while completely hammered, or even sold all of their possessions to help them “get into character.”

And sure, acting involves a lot of imagination and learning how to embody another character who isn’t yourself. But even in the pursuit of authentic theater, some lines are just too far to cross—unless you’re extreme.

Here are some of the craziest examples of method actors who took things to the extreme when performing for the camera.

10. Jared Leto (Suicide Squad)

Following the tragic death of Heath Ledger in 2008, rumors quickly spread that his chilling portrayal of the Joker drove him into a dark mindset that caused him to overdose.

It’s now been confirmed that Ledger actually died by accident while trying to treat his chronic insomnia, but theories still circulate about how Ledger’s method acting approach to the disturbed character is what plunged him into a suicidal breakdown.

The Joker is the most famous supervillain of our time, mainly because his actions are drastic yet devoid of emotion and motive. It’s no wonder why the actors who play him are always under serious mental and physical strain to play the character as it demands.

In Jared Leto’s case, he sent a huge black rat and some used condoms to co-star Margot Robbie while on the set of Suicide Squad, which was meant to be in the spirit of Joker’s dark humor.

Like many method actors, Leto has also gone through some crazy weight transformations for his roles. In Chapter 27, he developed health problems while portraying the obese Mark David Chapman.

On the other end of the spectrum, he shed nearly 40 pounds to embody a transsexual suffering with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club.

9. Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)

Have you ever watched a film and wondered how a slim actor can be eating on screen, take after take, yet still maintain their physique?

Well, if you look closely, it’s made possible because the shot often cuts away before the actor actually swallows, allowing them to spit their food out between takes. It’s a common trick in the film industry, but Rooney Mara ducked out of this short cut in David Lowery’s A Ghost Story.

Spiraling after the death of her husband, M (Mara) sits on the kitchen floor and devours an entire pie until she throws up—and Mara really did this for a 9-minute-long shot. Safe to say, she’s never eaten pie again.

But in an example of even greater dedication, Rooney Mara decked herself out in real facial piercings—not fake clip-on piercings—for David Fincher’s mystery thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

And, by the way, that’s not a wig she’s wearing. Rooney Mara actually lopped off her real hair and lost a ton of weight to recreate the image of a sickly, traumatized woman who’s out for revenge.

8. Jamie Foxx (Ray)

Part of the reason why Ray Charles is considered a genius musician is because he was blind since the age of seven yet still managed to shred it on the organ, the saxophone, the clarinet, and the trumpet.

In order to better understand and portray his disability, Jamie Foxx glued his eyes shut for the 2004 biopic Ray. Directed by Taylor Hackford, Foxx spent pretty much the entire movie—14 hours a day—literally blind.

Although this bagged Foxx his first Academy Award, it came with a price: multiple panic attacks. He also spent most of that time hungry, losing weight to accurately resemble Charles’ heroin-addicted figure. He even had a dentist chip off some of his tooth!

7. Natalie Portman (Black Swan)

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Like Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club, Natalie Portman famously slimmed down to an unhealthy weight to play the overworked ballerina in Black Swan who begins hallucinating a red-eyed doppelgänger.

Darren Aronofsky’s cult psychological thriller features one of Portman’s most acclaimed performances, but it didn’t come without a cost.

A strict diet of almonds and carrots kept Portman petite enough to portray the perfectionist dancer. Her grueling five-hour-long practices—consisting of dancing and cardio—resulted in concussions and dislocated ribs. She even trained in ballet for 10 months prior to filming.

In an interview, Natalie Portman explained how her intense approach to method acting meant “you get that understanding of the self-flagellation of a ballet dancer.” Sounds like a blast.

6. Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry)

Hilary Swank’s depiction of a transgender man in Boys Don’t Cry is still regarded as one of her finest performances, what with her flawless subversion of gender norms that forced viewers to question their own preconceived ideas.

But there’s a good reason why Swank’s representation of transmasculinity is so believable: she spent months preparing for it.

In the lead up to Kimberly Peirce’s semi-biographical drama, Swank lived as a man as best she could. This included binding her chest and shoving socks down her jeans every morning so that her neighbors believed that she had a visiting brother or cousin.

She commited further by cutting off all her hair and losing enough weight to achieve that boyish, hollowed-out look you see in the film.

Similarly, to prepare for her role in the tragic boxing drama Million Dollar Baby, Swank trained so hard that her blisters got infected—to the point that the infection almost damaged her heart.

5. Shia LaBeouf (Fury)

Shia LaBeouf is known for being a little… eccentric. Attending red carpet events with a paper bag on his head is just the tip of the iceberg. But whatever you think about his personal antics and arrests, his commitment to the trade can’t be denied.

No doubt ingrained in him from his childhood acting days—when LaBeouf was pressured to work by an abusive father, whom he depicted in his semi-autobiographical drama Honey Boy—the actor goes to great lengths to perfectly perform his characters.

When playing a WWII soldier in Fury, LaBeouf didn’t shower for weeks to achieve that grotty trench feel, until co-star Brad Pitt complained about his distracting odor. But the grime was a minor inconvenience compared to LaBeouf pulling out his tooth… himself… without anaesthetic.

And for Lawless, LaBeouf kept himself nicely drunk on straight-up moonshine during production because the film took place during Prohibition. We dread to think of the hangovers!

And to one-up Jared Leto on his flirtatious Dallas Buyers Club audition, Shia Labeouf submitted his own real sex tape to director Lars Von Trier for Nymphomaniac.

4. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

In 2016, the world cheered when Leonardo DiCaprio finally bagged his first Oscar win, but it didn’t come easy.

In order to finally accept the Academy Award for Best Actor, DiCaprio had to undertake some extreme method acting—which makes sense, considering he played such an extreme character.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s epic survival drama The Revenant takes place in 1823 (in the area of present-day Dakotas) with frontiersman Hugh Glass forced to endure some horrific circumstances.

Shooting on-location in freezing cold temperatures, the sweeping cinematography is punctured with brutal and gory images, many of which are real. DiCaprio eating raw bison liver? That’s not fake.

The fact that DiCaprio is widely known for his environmental activism and vegetarianism makes his commitment that much more impressive. Sleeping inside a dead animal carcass? That’s not borne from the art department either. And all while filming in the freezing cold snow…

3. Adrian Brody (The Pianist)

Despite never touching a piano before, all the scenes of Adrian Brody playing piano in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist are real.

But what else did he do other than learn a new instrument? Well, the actor also shed a ton of weight, living off meager potatoes the same way his character did as a Jewish Holocaust survivor.

Okay, so a lot of actors lose weight for roles. What else is new? Brody’s girlfriend at the time dumped him because he was so dedicated to his role of impoverishment—he sold his car, his apartment, some of his belongings, and even disconnected his phone.

2. Christian Bale (The Machinist)

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Christian Bale has undergone so many drastic body transformations for movies, we’ve got a whole separate article dedicated to them. But his most famous and severe weight change no doubt came in Brad Anderson’s mystery-thriller The Machinist.

Playing a factory worker riddled with insomnia and PTSD, Bale trimmed down to a skeletal 120 pounds for this indie flick. Behind-the-scenes footage shows the British actor barely able to stand up, claiming to enter a “zen” state of mind where even climbing stairs was a challenge.

What’s even more shocking is that Bale showed up on the set of Batman Begins only six months later, bulked up to play the ninja-like superhero, looking nothing like Trevor from The Machinist.

1. Jim Carrey (Man on the Moon)

Jim Carrey first became famous for his uncanny celebrity impressions, then for his ability to contort his face into all sorts of expressions and personas, which is why he made such an iconic Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

When Miloš Forman was casting for the lead role in his biopic Man on the Moon, Carrey was the perfect candidate to embrace the part of experimental “anti-comedian” Andy Kaufman. However, Forman wasn’t quite ready for what he was getting himself into.

Andy Kaufman wasn’t your usual comedian. He was a Marmite kind of performer whom viewers either loved or hated. He had a selection of different personas that he’d embody as if their were completely real, with his most grating being washed-up Vegas act Tony Clifton.

In the spirit of Kaufman, Jim Carrey would often show up on set as Tony, shouting through sound checks and making constant demands.

Netflix even made a documentary about Carrey’s transformation into Kaufman, using 100 hours of behind-the-scenes footage. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond witnesses the disruption that Carrey caused off-screen, with Forman practically begging him to calm down.

Carrey claimed that he felt it necessary to mirror the same style of comedy that Kaufman was known for. Annoying as it seems, you’ve got to give it to him—being in-character (especially one as hectic as Tony) for all that time must have been exhausting.

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