6 Actors Who Did Extreme Body Transformations

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Christian Bale's extreme onscreen body makeovers, like this one for 'American Hustle,' are infamous. Dorri Olds breaks down his and five other actors' most-extreme transformations.
Christian Bale’s extreme onscreen body makeovers, like this one for ‘American Hustle,’ are infamous. Dorri Olds breaks down his and five other actors’ craziest transformations. (Sony Pictures photo)

The judges at the Academy Awards have always leaned toward actors who have manipulated their bodies to enhance their characters. This year’s crop of noteworthy body-changers and Oscar-hopefuls include Eddie Redmayne in a flawless portrayal of Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything;” newcomer Jack O’Connell’s powerhouse performance as POW Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie’s, “Unbroken;” a mesmerizing Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher” (although his transformation was helped by a prosthetic nose) and Ellar Coltrane in “Boyhood,” who had the advantage of being filmed over a 12-year period.

After careful and contemplative consideration, here are TheBlot Magazine’s picks for the thespians who stand out in body morphing:

1. CHRISTIAN BALE

Christian Bale is the king of this list. Not only were his transformations extreme, but they were incredibly frequent:

“The Machinist” (2004)
To play insomniac Trevor Reznik in “The Machinist,” the 6-foot-3-inch tall actor lost 63 pounds, dropping from 173 pounds to 110 pounds. Bale wanted to lose even more weight, but the producers stopped him because they were afraid for his health. Director Brad Anderson said he never asked Bale to lose so much weight and was shocked when he saw his star on the first day of shooting. How did Bale do it? He ate only one can of tuna, an apple, vitamins and coffee per day, took up smoking to curb his appetite and went running for exercise. During filming, the actor was so weak he barely had any leg muscles left, but he didn’t seem to mind. He said starving gave him feelings of euphoria.

“Batman Begins” (2005)
Just a few months after perfecting his dramatically bony frame for “The Machinist,” Bale beefed up to play Batman by gaining 99 pounds of muscle. He ate a high-carb diet and worked out during three-hour training sessions per day. He gained 60 pounds of muscle, then, during filming he added on another 39 pounds.

“The Fighter” (2010)
To play the crack-addicted former welterweight boxer Dicky Eklund, Bale slimmed down again and won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He lost the weight with cardio workouts and running, but didn’t want to go too far this time. “I’m a good 60 pounds heavier than a welterweight,” said Bale. “I can’t lose that much weight, because I wouldn’t be able to box and train.”

“The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
For this role, Bale had to beef up again.

“Out of the Furnace” (2013)
To play haggard steel worker Russell Baze, Bale again had to lose the beef.

“American Hustle” (2013)
For the role of Irving Rosenfeld, Bale gained 43 pounds of fat and was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar. “I ate lots of doughnuts,” he told People magazine, “and a whole lot of cheeseburgers and whatever I could get my hands on. I literally ate anything that came my way. I was about 185 and went up to 228.” His 8-year-old daughter approved of his new look: “She found it funny. Having a big old gut and a bald head, she would slap it and tease me. She had lots of fun and found it amusing.”

“Exodus: Gods and Kings” (2014)
Let us not forget to include this year’s transformation for Bale, who was still struggling to drop Rosenfeld’s fat to play Moses in Ridley Scott’s epic historical drama. Bale said, “I was glad for the robes.”

2. MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY

“Dallas Buyers Club” (2013)
McConaughey lost 38 pounds and won the Best Actor Oscar playing Ron Woodruff, a man infected with AIDS. McConaughey told hitfix.com, “There’s been plateaus, like getting past 170 was really hard, but then once you get [to] 167 the next seven come off easy. Getting past 160, really hard. But then you fly down to 150. Getting past 150 was really hard and then, bam! Got down to 143 and that’s where I want to be. So, once you get past the plateau, your body seems to understand, ‘OK, this is where we’re living now, this is where we are,’ and so the energy rises.” When asked how he did it he said, “It’s a matter of how much I eat or how little I eat.” Uh, yeah. When he got down to 135 pounds, people stopped asking if he was all right and started suggesting he get help. “And I thought,” McConaughey told Vanity Fair, “There we go. That’s the perfect spot.”

3. JARED LETO

“Dallas Buyers Club” (2013)

Leto also slimmed way down for this flick. To play transgender Rayon with AIDS, Leto fasted to lose 30 pounds. He won an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and his acceptance speech was awesome: “In 1971, Bossier City, Louisiana, there was a teenage girl who was pregnant with her second child. She was a high school dropout and a single mom, but somehow she managed to make a better life for herself and her children. She encouraged her kids to be creative, to work hard and to do something special. That girl is my mother and she’s here tonight. And I just want to say, I love you, Mom.” Aw, so sweet.

“Chapter 27” (2007)

Leto gained 67 pounds of fat to play John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman. Gaining weight was much harder for him than losing it. As his body bloated up, it went into shock, and Leto had to take to a wheelchair.

“Requiem for a Dream” (2000)
To play heroin addict Henry Goldfarb, Leto lost 28 pounds. When asked how he did it, the actor said, “I didn’t eat.” Well, alrighty then. Makes sense. After shooting the movie, Leto moved to Portugal and lived in a monastery for months to gain back the weight.

4. CHARLIZE THERON

“Monster” (2003)
Theron won the Best Actress Oscar for her powerful performance as prostitute and serial killer Aileen Wuornos. Theron told Guerrilla Traveler how she put on 30 pounds: “I first began stuffing myself with Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but after a while I got sick of them. I love potato chips, so that was a good thing for me. I’m a salty girl so I had my secret stash with me of potato chips at all times.” She also wore dentures and partially shaved her eyebrows and bleached out her hair a few times to make it look scraggly. Right after filming, she slimmed back down for “Head in the Clouds.”

5. TOM HANKS

“Cast Away” (2000)
Hanks lost 55 pounds — going from 225 pounds to 170 — and was nominated for an Oscar. He told Entertainment Weekly what he missed most during his extreme diet: ”Those fries from France … The only thing I did not give up was coffee.”

“Philadelphia” (1993)
Hanks won an Oscar for Jonathan Demme’s moving film, in which he lost 35 pounds and shaved his head to play crusading gay AIDS patient Andrew Beckett.

“A League of Their Own” (1992)
Hanks gained 30 pounds to play baseball coach Jimmy Dugan, and said eating pizza was the main way he bulked up for roles. “Pizza is the most delightful thing ever invented and it’s — for me — diabolically dangerous.” He was referring to his Type 2 diabetes that he believes was brought on by yo-yo dieting for various roles. He told the BBC in 2013, “I’ve talked to a number of actors who have gained weight for roles and — just out of the sheer physical toll on one’s knees and shoulders, no one wants to do it again … It’s a young man’s game.”

6. ROBERT DE NIRO

“Raging Bull” (1980)
De Niro gained 60 pounds in four months to play Jake LaMotta. “The first 15 pounds was fun, the rest was hard work,” the actor said. How’d he do it? He went to Italy and gorged on pasta, butter, ice cream, meat and beer. Martin Scorsese became so worried about De Niro’s excessive weight gain and his labored breathing during filming that the director actually shut down production a few times. De Niro won his second Oscar for 1980’s “Raging Bull,” nabbing that year’s Best Actor statue. (He won his first Oscar, in the Best Supporting Actor category, for “The Godfather: Part II” in 1974).

Dorri Olds is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine

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