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25 Actors Who Dramatically Transformed For a Role

You may not believe your eyes, but you'll totally buy their incredible portrayals.
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When it comes to getting into character, it’s never just about learning the lines. But some of the biggest names in Hollywood take their process to the next level, coming as close to becoming their subjects as humanly possible.

From the Oscar winners to the stars who said their lives were changed along with their appearance, their extreme efforts undoubtedly paid off. Here are 25 actors who completely transformed for a role.

Charlize Theron in ‘Monster’ and ‘Tully’

Charlize Theron in Monster
Zodiac Productions Inc/K/W Productions/DEJ Productions/Denver and Delilah Productions

Charlize Theron is one of the most beautiful actresses to ever grace the planet. But in Monster, she’s downright unrecognizable. When Theron took on the role of Aileen Wuornos, she took her job very seriously. On The Ellen Show, she admitted to eating potato chips around the clock to gain weight. She also went through a day-long hair-frying and hair-thinning session. But her mind-blowing transformations are never just about how she looks.

I didn’t want it to be the kind of thing where transforming me into Aileen – which we had to do and I knew we had to do – where it became just about prosthetics and a fat-suit… and I think I knew very early on that part of me understanding her journey of who she was … the only way I was going to do that was to really truly get myself in a place where I felt the same things she might have felt … She had a baby when she thirteen; she didn’t like her body…. So, I knew I had to transform my body to get myself into her physical skin.

The Makeup Gallery

For Tully, Theron purposefully put on even more weight, gaining 50 pounds. The award-winning actress explained her decision to Ellen, saying, “there’s so much stigma around motherhood,” adding that women are expected to lose weight within a year after giving birth “or they’re judged.” Playing a mother of three, Theron felt a responsibility to depict the experience in a raw and honest light, and to “feel as much as possible” in the process.

Matthew McConaughey in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

Matthew McConaughey crying in car in Dallas Buyers Club
Voltage Pictures/Evolution Independent/R2 Films

In Dallas Buyer’s Club, Matthew McConaughey starred as Ron Woodroof, a real-life AIDS patient given thirty days to live. He ended up smuggling unregulated pharmaceutical drugs into Texas after realizing they were improving his symptoms, and made money selling them to those in need. The director called the actor’s shocking transformation “the major force of the film,” adding that his quintessential charm made him even more perfect for the role.

Living and breathing the part, the typically buff actor stopped eating most days and lost 50 lbs. He became frail, weak, and emotionally immersed in the experience. Everyone who worked with him during filming said his commitment to fully embodying the real Ron took them out of their comfort zone, inspired them to make the movie great, and put them in touch with their own humanity in the most heartbreaking of ways.

Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Night Crawler’ and ‘South Paw’

Youtube/Wll Cozens

What took place between his role in Night Crawler to his part in South Paw is often considered Jake Gyllenhaal’s most dramatic transformation to date. After dropping 30 pounds to play Lou Bloom, he returned to his normal weight then added 15 pounds of pure muscle and began boxing for real. Gyllenhaal was also doing 2000 sit-ups a day.

His boxing trainer revealed, “He was training like a fighter. I had him sparring, really getting hit. I put him in situations where I wanted to see what he was made of. No one but fighters understand the sacrifice it takes to be a fighter.” Reportedly, his unwavering commitment to the role (and how much time he spent at the gym) even led to the demise of his relationship.

Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Joker’

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker
DC Comics/Warner Bros. Pictures/Village Roadshow Pictures/Bron Studios/Creative Wealth Media Finance

Joaquin Phoenix dropped 52 pounds and almost lost his mind for Joker. He knew he needed to look “hungry and unhealthy,” but the Academy Award-winning actor says becoming one of cinema’s most famous villains made him temporarily “go mad.”

“So much of what’s difficult is waking up every day and being obsessed over, like, 0.3 pounds. Right? And you really develop a disorder,” he told the Associated Press. “As it turns out, that impacts your psychology and you really start to go mad when you lose that much weight in that amount of time.”

Colin Farrell in ‘The Lobster’

Colin Farrell sitting on bed in The Lobster
Scarlet Films/Element Pictures/Film4 Productions/Lemming Film/Faliro House Productions

Of his role in The Lobster, Colin Farrell has said, “I was really, physically, in a different place than I’d ever been before.” He gained about 45 pounds to play the part. The Irish actor also says that for him, the dark dramedy was “a lot about loneliness,” and to get in the necessary frame of mind, he went to some extreme measures.

Like so many actors who need to “get out of shape” for a role, he intentionally diminished his quality of life. In addition to not working out, he disrupted his sleep schedule and said no to social activities that might get his endorphins (and metabolism) going. He also admitted to ET that he steered clear of fresh air on set.

Natalie Portman in Black Swan

Natalie Portman having her measurements taken in Black Swan
Searchlight Pictures/Phoenix Pictures/Cross Creek Pictures/Protozoa Pictures/Dune Entertainment

Natalie Portman has said her Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan almost took too much from her mentally and physically. While she wasn’t a professionally trained ballerina, she did all she could in order to rapidly become one. She was training for up to 8 hours a day, 6 days a week.

It was great but also physically hard, with all this broken fake glass and fighting and jujitsu—it was kind of insane. That was the only time I got injured. I mean, I got ballet injuries, but that was the day I got a non-ballet injury, I hit my head and had to get an M.R.I. Nothing happened, of course.

Vanity Fair

The director also said that the already petite Portman’s drastic weight loss was frightening. Still, that’s not what almost pushed her over the edge. “I think it was just the physicality of it all that was the most extreme. I mean, I had never gotten that much training — it was really a challenge.”

Tom Hardy in ‘Bronson’

Tom Hardy in Bronson
4DH Films/Perfume Films/Vertigo Films/EM Media/Str8tjacket Creations/Aramid Entertainment Fund

From Mad Max to Warrior, Tom Hardy is known for his extreme body transformations, but what he had to play “the most dangerous prisoner in Britain” takes the cake. On top of visiting the real life Charles Bronson in prison, Hardy revealed to Men’s Journal he had a mere five weeks to physically prepare for the starring role. He managed to pack on 40lbs during that time.

For Bronson, I put on about 7lbs a week—with no steroids. In the end I’d put on about two and a half stone by eating chicken and rice, which was my staple diet throughout the day. Then I’d have a pizza, Häagen-Dazs, and Coca-Cola: So not good stuff, but I had to put weight on. I needed to put a layer of fat on my body, because Bronson when he was younger was a big guy, a brawler. My diet was lenient as we weren’t going for the Bruce Lee look, and we weren’t looking for the cut.

Men’s Journal

Jared Leto in ‘Chapter 27’

Jared Leto in Chapter27
Peace Arch Entertainment/Artina Films

Jared Leto is another A-lister as famous for his acting chops as his mind-blowing transformations, if not more so. To portray Mark David Chapman, the man who assassinated John Lennon, it was crucial to look the part. Thanks to a diet of pizza, pasta, and melted Häagen-Dazs mixed with olive oil and soy sauce, he gained 70 pounds. But there were lasting consequences to his extreme measures and new measurements.

Much to his surprise and dismay, Leto wound up suffering from gout. “Towards the end of the shoot, one of the glaring issues was the pain I had with my feet. I couldn’t walk for long distances. I had a wheelchair because it was so painful. My body was in shock from the amount of weight I gained.” On the brighter side of what he put himself through, Jared’s believable portrayal was nothing short of spectacular.

Chris Pratt in ‘Guardians of The Galaxy’

Youtube/EpicMashups

Chris Pratt didn’t just transform his body to be in Guardians of The Galaxy, he transformed his life. After adopting healthy habits for the role of a lifetime, he stuck with them and says it changed his routine, career, and perspective.

He also says that the transformation took discipline and time. Eight months, to be exact. Still just as funny but way more fit, Pratt says that “being fat was more fun,” claiming that when he lost the weight, he lost his daily reason to be happy “which was food.”

Demi Moore in ‘G.I. Jane’

Demi Moore shaving her head in GI Jane
Hollywood Pictures/Scott Free Productions/Caravan Pictures/Largo Entertainment/Moving Pictures

G.I. Jane gave us one of the most unforgettable transformations in movie history. Demi Moore’s rigorous workout routine included strength training, cardio, martial arts, and real Navy SEAL training. She aimed for the mindset of a soldier along with the body, working with a legit Navy trainer to get whipped into serious shape.

And of course, there was the buzzcut heard ’round the world. For the infamous head-shaving scene, Moore took that electric razor and went to work on her famous locks, bound and determined to prove she had what it took to portray the first female Navy SEAL.

Will Smith in ‘Ali’

Will Smith flexing in Ali
Overbrook Entertainment/Columbia Pictures/Forward Pass/Peters Entertainment/Initial Entertainment Group/Picture Entertainment

Will Smith took home multiple awards for his critically acclaimed role in Ali. But at first, he refused to do it. When Muhammed Ali called and personally asked him to star, Will changed his mind. Determined to depict the larger-than-life boxer as accurately as possible, he got up to 210.5 pounds to match Ali’s weight.

It soon became a labor of love for the movie star. Completely invested in the project, he and director Michael Mann even offered to put up their salaries if the film went over budget. When “the greatest” passed away, Smith posted a moving tribute on social media and said, “you changed my life.”

Anne Hathaway in ‘Les Miserables’

Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables
Universal Pictures/Working Title Films/Relativity Films/UK Film Council

Hathaway called the process of getting inside her character’s mind “transformative.” She wanted the dramatic moment her character has her hair cut off to happen in real-time, and she also shed more than 20 pounds.

She said it was tough at first to relate to her character, so to get into character she had to “exist in her world,” learning everything she could about the history of sex slavery, and realizing that the past and the present were scarily close together. “It’s something you never think will happen to you, it’s the darkest place imaginable.”

Ben Kingsley in ‘Ghandi’

Ben Kingsley as Gandhi
Indo-British/Columbia PIctures/Goldcrest Films/Carolina Bank/International Film Investors

For his Oscar-winning role in Gandhi, Ben Kingsley’s radical transformation included shaving his head and losing 20 pounds. But he didn’t stop there.

Kingsley adopted Mahatma Gandhi’s vegetarian diet and general lifestyle. To become at one with the role, he also took up yoga and meditation.

Emma Stone in ‘Battle of The Sexes’

Entertainment Tonight

Emma Stone said “diving into” her role for Battle of The Sexes was a no brainer. She packed on 15 pounds of muscle for the role, got really good at tennis, and won the respect and admiration of the real life tennis pro she was portraying. Billie Jean King said, “she even sounded just like me.”

The La La Land star has said “every scene was so immensely important.” Her dedication to the athletic transformation paid off. For those that saw and worked on the film, they were in complete shock that Stone had never played tennis before.

50 Cent in ‘All Things Fall Apart’

50 Cent in All Things Fall Apart
Cheetah Vision

For All Things Fall Apart, 50 Cent underwent a shocking physical transformation “to do the film justice.” Many people on set and in his personal life even said he took things too far, worrying about the usually muscular rapper/actor’s health. But he didn’t let that stop him from reaching his gaunt goal.

The weight started coming off and my manager told me, ‘You better get yourself to a doctor!’ I just didn’t want to go because I had to match the look in my mind. I was so into what I was doing that I wasn’t really concerned with that. I just kept looking at myself in the mirror feeling like I have to be smaller.

Huffington Post

Ryan Gosling in ‘The Lovely Bones’

Ryan Gosling on red carpet following weight gain for The Lovely Bones
Shutterstock

You’re probably thinking, “Wait a second… Ryan Gosling wasn’t in The Lovely Bones.” And you’re right about that, but he almost was. While talking with the Hollywood Reporter, the A-List actor revealed that his body transformation actually got him fired. “We just had wildly ideas of what the film should be,” says Gosling.

Believing the character should be about 210 pounds, Gosling said goodbye to his chiseled physique and prepared for the role of Jack Salmon by drinking ice cream every day. He gained 60 lbs pretty quickly. When he arrived on set, Director Peter Jackson said “you look terrible” and dropped him days later. The role went to Mark Wahlberg, who also makes this list, but more on that later.

Hilary Swank in ‘Million Dollar Baby’

Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby
Warner Bros./Lakeshore Entertainment/Malpaso Productions/Albert S. Ruddy Productions

Hilary Swank says she ate every hour on the hour to prepare for Million Dollar Baby, even waking up throughout the night for protein shakes. And the training to become as good as a real-life boxer was notably rigorous.

My training was two and a half hours of boxing and approximately an hour and a half to two hours lifting weights every day, six days a week. The producers asked me to gain 10 pounds of muscle. I gained 19 pounds of muscle.

Cheat Sheet

Robert DeNiro in ‘Raging Bull’

Robert DeNiro in boxing ring in Raging Bull
United Artists/Chart-Off Winkler Productions

To emulate Jake La Motta’s decline in Raging Bull, Robert DeNiro decided he’d first need to gain 60 lbs. “I thought the graphic difference of being out of shape then being a young fighter really was interesting,” DeNiro once revealed.

Ultimately, he fully inhabited his role, undergoing a psychological and emotional transformation as well. His goal was to showcase “the primal emotions” of La Motta at the time. Many have called it DeNiro’s most transformative role to date.

Renee Zellweger in ‘Bridget Jones Diary’

Renee ZelWeger as Bridget Jones writing in her diary
Miramax/Working Title Films/Universal Pictures/StudioCanal/Columbia

Renee Zellweger is no stranger to “becoming the character” by whatever means necessary. Along with developing a perfect British accent, the American actress took it upon herself to gain more than 30 pounds for the part, saying goodbye to her ultra healthy lifestyle for quite some time.

What makes this transformation particularly dramatic is what happened when filming wrapped. After putting on the weight to play Bridgette Jones, Zellweger had to rapidly shed all of it and then some for the starring role in Chicago.

Jonah Hill in ‘Maniac’

Jonah Hill in Maniac
Netflix

After gaining major weight for a role in 2016, the Superbad star flipped the script in a major way. For Maniac, Hill lost significant weight and fully transformed his physique. Many called him “unrecognizable.”

I gained weight for this movie War Dogs, and then I wanted to get in better shape, so I called Channing [Tatum], and said, ‘Hey, if I ate less and go to a trainer, will I get in better shape?’ And he said, ‘Yes, you dumb [expletive], of course you will, it’s the simplest thing in the entire world.’

The Tonight Show

Tom Hanks in ‘Castaway’

Tom Hanks with full beard in Castaway
20th Century Studios/ImageMovers/Playtone/Dreamworks Pictures

Tom Hanks underwent a seriously grueling transformation throughout the making of Cast Away. When filming began in 1998, Hanks had gained over 50 pounds to play “healthier” Chuck.

After filming was well underway, production was paused for a full year so Hanks could drop 50+ pounds and grow out his hair. Alongside the crew, the A-lister also subjected himself to many of the harsh conditions of living life on a deserted island.

Jim Carrey in ‘Man on the Moon’

Youtube/Netflix

Jim Carrey has called his experience playing legendary comedian Andy Kaufman a “psychotic transformation.” Because he de didn’t just play him, he became him. Throughout filming, everyone involved with the project said they’d never seen anything like it, and that he was “just like Andy.”

Even when the cameras stopped rolling, Carrey did not break “character.” He did things just as he thought Kaufman would do them and claims he had no control over what happened next. Once fully immersed, Carrey says, “Jim Carrey didn’t exist at that time.”

The true author of the project is Andy and his genius, the fact that he committed so completely to what he did, really made that possible and made it essential for me to lose myself. I don’t feel like I made the film at all. I feel like Andy made the film.

Decider

Emile Hirsch in Into The Wild

Emilio Hersch in Into The Wild
Paramount Vantage/River Road Entertainment/Art Linson Productions

Playing a real-life person always requires next-level dedication. Case in point: Emile Hirsch in Into The Wild. He studied Christopher McCandless closely, pouring over his journals, visiting his parents, and even staying with his sister. He also went from 156 lbs to 115 lbs. But Hirsch wasn’t alone in the endeavor. Director Sean Penn has admitted he “tortured” Emile to test his endurance and prepare him for the role.

Then Hirsch didn’t just act the part, he lived it. And he says he was nothing but grateful for what Penn put him through. “I believed in what I was doing so much that I was never really nervous in ways that I’ve been on other projects,” adding, “I was always like, ‘Wow. I can’t believe [Penn] hired me.’“

Mark Wahlberg in ‘Stu’

The Daily Mail

We haven’t seen Mark Wahlberg’s full transformation for Stu on the big screen yet, but if where he’s at so far tells us anything, we’re going to see Wahlberg as we’ve never seen him before.

Footage has begun to surface online of an unrecognizable Marky Mark on set. The actor says he’s gained the weight in a healthy way, still hitting the gym regularly. He’s been working on the “passion project” for 6 years.

Christian Bale in ‘The Machinist’ and ‘Batman’

Epic Mashups

Christian Bale has often been dubbed the king of transformations. In turn, it’s hard to choose between them. But if we’re looking at which one was the most radical, it’s hard to look away from his starring role in The Machinist and how quickly he transformed for Batman immediately after. The result is forever shocking. Most notably, the process of reaching his goal weight for The Machinist was both intense and dangerous. For starters, he didn’t eat for weeks.

When he stepped onto set, the director didn’t recognize him. When he did eat, he stuck to his “black coffee fast,” Bale ate an apple a day, drank coffee, whiskey, water, and chain-smoked. Sometimes, he’d eat a tin of tuna. He lost 62 pounds for the role. Afterwards, he had just 6 months to get ready for Batman. The director said he needed to be “really big” and was worried he couldn’t get there. Somehow, he pulled it off, gaining 100 pounds. Check out Indie Wire’s round-up of Christian Bale’s transformations throughout his career.