As far as any job goes, professional acting seems like a pretty decent option. You get paid millions by pretending to be someone else, whilst people from all around the globe want to scratch the skin off of your body just to add to the shrines they built, dedicated to you. What’s not to love? I’m sure I could do it. For enough money, I’ll be whoever you want me to be, and I’m actually quite broke right now, so it won’t even cost that much. Seriously, can anyone lend me a few bucks for rent, I promise I’m good for it.
Actors though! They are not all made the same. In fact, there are those special breeds of performers that take their roles so seriously that they physically and mentally damage themselves permanently, and for what? Our entertainment? That’s so kind of them! On the other side, we also have those directors who believe that actors are basically circus cows. If you whip them hard enough, they will do all sorts of hilarious things you tell them to, hahaha. In the following list, we will be exploring both of these types of examples, admiring those films when an actor was forced so far out of their comfort zone or so deep inside of their own mind that they were never quite the same again, because just as the old Hollywood saying goes: “you can hire a body double, but you can’t hire a mind double”. Just kidding, I made that saying up, but it sounded like a legit Hollywood statement, didn’t it? I told you, I could totally do this thing.
15. Jim Carrey, Man on the Moon (1999)
Starting out his career as nothing more than an elastic face, Carrey slowly earned the respect of Hollywood as a serious actor, thanks to films like The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine, and, of course, our subject for today, Man on the Moon. Playing the role of influential unconventional anti-comedian, Andy Kaufman, the film didn’t exactly impress critics nor did it break even at the box office, but Carrey’s dedicated performance did win him a Golden Globe, which is almost as good as winning an Oscar except not really. What nobody knew, however, was that Jim Carrey was already gone, all files had been deleted, and Kaufman’s soul had possessed his body.
Funny enough, no one except the film crew knew the extent of this transformation, until a recent Netflix documentary titled Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond came out; finally revealing the behind-the-scenes footage which had been hidden for almost 20 years. It is here that we see Jim Carrey behaving in a rather complicated, confusing, and worrying manner, refusing to respond to his real name and referring to any one of his split personalities in third person; until the entire cast goes insane themselves. Once the cameras were wrapped up, Carey admitted that it took a long time to recall who Jim was, and once he finally became reacquainted with himself, remembered that he was severely depressed. Life was more fun as Andy Kaufman, apparently. You can get away with anything when you’re pretending to be a dead guy.
14. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight (2008)
When we think of an actor who took it too far, Heath Ledger’s portrayal as the Joker is always the most tragic image that comes to mind. The actor locked himself away in a hotel room for a month just to perfect the character’s laugh, whilst keeping a secret notebook which he believed was the Joker’s personal diary. This isolation deteriorated Ledger’s personality, until his vulnerable mind collapsed to give way for the darker regions of the Joker’s psyche, followed by immense depression and extensive bouts of insomnia. In desperation, he tried to combat his troubles with increasing drug abuse, and eventually overdosed on a mix of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine.
In some jagged silver lining, the filming for The Dark Knight had been completed before his death, and his performance has been since praised as the greatest superhero character depiction of all time, posthumously winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. I guess that’s what happens when you watch someone slowly dying on your screen. It looks really real.
13. Christian Bale, The Machinist (2004)
Disturbing psychological thriller, The Machinist, was never intended to be an enjoyable film, which is why nobody enjoyed it. That said, it will always be the movie that people refer to as “oh my God, did you see how thin Christian Bale was?”; which is what they should have called it in the first place! To achieve that hot death look, Bale’s strict daily diet consisted of “water, an apple, one cup of coffee, and an occasional whiskey” for four months. He lost 62 pounds, weighing in at 120. Weirdly, sicko Bale wasn’t satisfied with this, and wanted to get down to 99 pounds, but filmmakers did not allow him to do so, because if he died, they would have to recast, which is such a laborious process (priorities!).
This story gets worse. Six months after The Machinist had wrapped, Bale was expected to have bulked up for his role in Batman Begins. His solution? Nothing but pizza and ice cream and weightlifting all at the same time. Apparently, he overshot the mark and went way over the Batman requirement, and had to lose weight once again. I’m sure none of this physical punishment is at all related to his famously mad mood swings, including that time Bale’s own mom called the cops on him for assaulting her.
12. Jared Leto, Chapter 27 (2007)
Leto made headlines in 2016 for his role as the Joker in Suicide Squad. Reportedly, he had sent bullets, rats, used condoms, and death threats as gifts to his co-stars, which everyone agreed, was about as stupid as the film itself. However, these were very tame practices in comparison to some of Leto’s earlier work. As a heroin addict in Requiem for a Dream, Leto explored withdrawal symptoms by refusing to sleep with his then-girlfriend Cameron Diaz for two months, which is the dumbest thing I have ever heard! Furthermore, he occasionally lived on the streets whilst losing 25 pounds for that role, which may seem like a lot, but is still not as much as the 30 pounds he dropped for his Oscar-winning transgender performance in Dallas Buyers Club. He also waxed his eyebrows for that film too, by the way.
More exciting than almost starving himself to death, however, was when he did the complete opposite and nearly ate himself to death, for the role of John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman in Chapter 27. Leto gained 62 pounds by exclusively eating pizzas and melted pints of Häagen-Dazs ice cream, which ultimately forced him into a wheelchair with a severe case of gout and the cholesterol of someone who was about to die. Jared eventually admitted it was “a stupid thing to do”. After shooting, he miraculously managed to lose a large percentage of that weight within 10 days, by simply not eating anything at all.
11. Shelley Duvall – The Shining (1980)
Known as one of the scariest films ever made, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has been traumatizing audiences for decades, yet none of us were left as permanently scarred as lead actress Shelley Duvall. In order to provoke her best performance, Kubrick would often keep Duvall isolated, change her lines without notice, and gave the whole film team the strict instructions to ignore her, never praise her, and never ever sympathize with her; even though she reportedly cried for 12 hours a day. In fact, that baseball bat scene is in The Guinness Book of Records as the most takes ever, shot 127 times. Go watch that iconic bit right now. She’s not acting, she is crumbling, to the point that she began to hand Kubrick clumps of her hair which was physically falling out due to the stress she was under. You wouldn’t get away with that these days!
Sadly, in recent years, Shelley’s mental health has deteriorated rapidly, having appeared on the Dr. Phil show in 2016, claiming that Robin Williams is alive as a shapeshifter, that the Sheriff of Nottingham was threatening to kill her, and that she has a “whirring disk inside of me.” Kubrick’s daughter, Vivian, called the episode “exploitive entertainment” and “appallingly cruel”, which is true, but also somewhat rich coming from her bloodline.
10. Johnny Depp, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas (1998)
Depp has built his career out of doing absolutely anything Tim Burton tells him to; but he did push his role in Hunter S. Thompson’s cult classic Fear And Loathing a little further than usual. He moved into Thompson’s basement and followed the author around, mimicking his every mannerism for four months, and then started to wear Hunter’s old clothes that hadn’t been washed for over 30 years. Eventually, Thompson himself shaved Depp’s head into his own likeness, and the transformation was complete. Johnny was no more. There were now two Hunters.
Depp has never explicitly admitted to taking the same amount of drugs that Thompson was famous for, although he did once let it slip that he was “very true to the character”, which basically means that he took the same amount of drugs Thompson was famous for. In fact, the only thing that may have saved Depp from going completely over the edge was a phone call from Bill Murray (who himself had played Thompson in Where the Buffalo Roam), warning Depp to “be careful, or you’ll find yourself ten years from now still doing Thompson.” Luckily, Johnny probably never really knew who he was in the first place, and had nothing to lose. Meanwhile, his bond with Thompson only strengthened after this film, eventually resulting in Depp paying for the man’s $3 million funeral in 2005; which included firing Hunter’s ashes from a cannon, as per his final wishes.
9. Janet Leigh, Psycho (1960)
Despite her nearly six-decade long career as an actress, Janet’s iconic death in Psycho has been so greatly revered and vastly parodied that people who haven’t even seen the film can reenact that shower scene almost flawlessly. That’s shows you just how revolutionarily scary this Hitchcock masterpiece was, going on to be considered one of the most influential films ever made.
However, no one was as scared as Janet Leigh herself. Upon viewing the complete film and witnessing her own body get stabbed to death, something in her brain snapped, and she developed an acute phobia of showering. Right up until her death in 2004, she swore she no longer used them, stating “I stopped taking showers and I take baths, only baths.” Of course, this is impractical, as sometimes in hotels or at friend’s places, only a shower is available, so what then, Janet? Well, she had a procedure for that too: “I make sure the doors and windows of the house are locked, and I leave the bathroom door open and shower curtain open. I’m always facing the door, watching, no matter where the shower head is.” In all fairness, she’s probably not the only one who did this after seeing the film.
8. Bob Hoskins, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
When enjoying the magic of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it’s easy to forget that Hoskins is reciting his lines to utter thin air, his animated co-stars only drawn in later. Which begs the question: how did he achieve such a natural demeanour during these conversations between himself and absolutely nothing? Simple! By learning to imagine the characters were really there, of course! Eventually, he had developed the uncanny ability to conjure up these cartoons in front of his very eyes at any given moment, which was so much fun and wasn’t a problem at all, until the filming finished and the characters refused to leave.
For a long time afterwards, Hoskins experienced severe hallucinations of his animated colleagues, since confessing that he went a bit mad, once trying to hold a casual conversation with a lady at an important event, whilst a cartoon weasel jumped up and down upon her hat. Eventually, his daughter intervened, forcing her dad to slow down because she was certain the man losing it. And according to Bob Hoskins himself, “I was”.
7. Nicolas Cage, Birdy (1984)
Nicolas Cage is an extremely versatile actor, known for playing various fantastic award-winning roles, as well as many other terrible abominations which are insults to the very medium of film. However, even his most questionable choices of outrageous characters have lead to some of today’s greatest viral content, and that is why we must respect Cage. When he dedicates himself to a role, is it done with so much devotion that we all know he would have been institutionalized a long time ago, if not for his millionaire celebrity status.
We could chat about a few roles which prove this madness, but it was undoubtedly his performance as a disfigured Vietnam veteran in Birdy, which goes a bit deeper into this insanity. Cage stated that he “wanted to look like I was hit by a bomb” and so he lost 15 pounds and pulled two of his front teeth out, to give him “a feeling of something I had lost.” He also refused to remove his facial bandages on set and in public for five weeks, which lead to a massive face infection. Naturally, critics love this kind of sick stuff, and the film was very highly praised, Cage allowed to walk free among the public for another day.
6. Adrien Brody, The Pianist (2002)
Adrien might seem like a nice enough guy, but he’s probably really annoying at parties, that kinda creepy dude who no one actually invited along. Case in point: in between takes during his role in The Jacket, Brody would ask to be stored away in those tiny drawers you find at a morgue, just to ensure his claustrophobic anxiety face looked realistic enough on camera. And that’s not even the film we’re focusing on today!
Rather, let’s talk about Roman Polanski’s historical drama The Pianist, where Brody slimmed down to 130 pounds in order to accurately portray that unique Holocaust survivor fashion. Keep in mind, that Brody is 6’5 tall, which meant that this extreme starvation coupled with the intensely torturous subject matter did begin to erode at the actor’s personality, reportedly taking him over a year to remember exactly who he was and settle back into a normal lifestyle. Still, at age 29, he did become the youngest person to ever win the Oscar for Best Actor, and do you know why? It’s because Hollywood rewards unrealistic body types.
5. Daniel Day-Lewis, My Left Foot (1989)
I could write a whole list dedicated to Day-Lewis’ crazy antics alone. For The Crucible, he built a log cabin from scratch to live in, and did not bathe throughout the shooting. Before The Boxer, he trained against former world champion Barry McGuigan, and after suffering a broken nose and a damaged lower back disk, McGuigan stated that Daniel was good enough to go professional. In The Last of the Mohicans, Day-Lewis spent six months alone in the wilderness, only eating food he had killed himself, after which the man suffered from hallucinations with “no idea how not to be Hawkeye” anymore. And, finally, there was In the Name of the Father, when Daniel lived on prison food until he lost 30 pounds, spent two days in a jail cell refusing to eat or sleep, was interrogated for three days by actual policemen, and requested that the whole film crew shouted abusive insults at him until the very end.
Such an extensive resume of self torture! Yet none were as dedicated as My Left Foot. This film was based on the true story of Christy Brown, a cerebral palsy sufferer who only had the use of his one set of toes, which he impressively utilized to write and paint with. Not to be outdone, Day-Lewis too learned how to perform these tasks using his foot alone, then refused to leave his wheelchair until his hunched posture had broken two of his ribs. It’s not a competition, Daniel!
4. Shia LaBeouf, Fury (2014)
Shia is entertainment gold! From getting drunk and swearing at policemen until they arrest him (this has happened more than once), to the various accusations of plagiarism, and finally, to his weird performance art explorations, including that time when he filmed himself watching all of his movies in reverse chronological order, over the course of three days. But LaBeouf does have some proper film titles to his name too! Transformers, for example.
However, it was his role in the World War II film Fury which places him on this list. In order to get into character, Shia LaBeouf refused to bathe for the whole shoot, spent days watching horses die, removed a tooth, and then sliced his face open with a knife, forever picking at the wound to ensure it did not heal until the end of the movie. Co-star Brad Pitt, on the other hand, did bathe, and achieved his signature war look by spending some quality time in the makeup trailer, never once cutting his face, rather relying on good old standard acting techniques to get the job done.
3. Robert De Niro, Cape Fear (1991)
When the kids of today watch De Niro embarrass himself by running around as Ben Stiller’s father-in-law or Zac Efron’s horny grandfather. It’s difficult to explain to them that, once upon a time, Robert was one of the greatest actors the world had ever seen. In particular, his extensive work with director Martin Scorsese has resulted in many massively impressive pieces of work, for example: Taxi Driver, often considered one of the best films ever made. For that role, De Niro obtained a cabbie license and drove around New York City, performing the profession whilst listening exclusively to audio recordings of Arthur Bremer’s diary. You know, Arthur Bremer? The guy who shot presidential candidate George Wallace in the spine, leaving him permanently paralyzed from the waist down?
Yet, this was nothing compared to De Niro’s role as Max Cady in Cape Fear, where he spent months studying assault offenders, and then paid a dentist $20,000 to grind his teeth down to make him look “more menacing”. He would then leave messages on Scorsese’s answering machine in Max Cady’s voice, to which Martin chuckled affectionately as he carefully ensured his front door was still locked. De Niro ultimately got an Academy Award nomination for this stint, so who needs teeth anyway?
2. Tippi Hedren, The Birds (1963)
Tippi has never been shy about the abuse Hitchcock put her through during their professional career, which reached an ugly tipping point during the filming of The Birds. Hedren arrived on set, prepared to be attacked by mechanical animals as she had been before, only to find a bird trainer hurling all sorts of real life birds at her face. This went on for weeks. Eventually, Hedren’s bloodied head turned into a meltdown, and she was ordered to take a week off by a doctor. “’She can’t rest for a week!” Hitchcock protested. “We have nobody else to film!” The doctor responded by asking “What are you trying to do? Kill her?”
The Tippi vs. Hitchcock hatred continued for years, as Tippi was bound to him by her signature. She was the hottest thing on the Hollywood scene, but was not permitted to take any roles because of Hitchcock’s contractual thumb, nor would he write any new parts for her, refusing to even utter her name, referring to her only as “the girl”. According to Hedren, there was chatter of her getting an Oscar nomination for this performance, but Hitchcock phoned the right people and made sure that would never happen. Tippi eventually got out of Hitchcock’s grasp, and then purchased a pet lion, letting it sleep in her daughter’s bed with her daughter, which has nothing to do with anything, but still a good story. Silly Tippi, that’s how children get eaten!
1. Maria Schneider, Last Tango in Paris (1972)
If the story behind Last Tango in Paris took place today, the entire film would have been torn from its roots by picket signs, and beaten to death before it ever saw the light of day. Maria Schneider was, by all accounts, a perpetual victim of assault throughout the recording, often finding herself in very explicit scenes that she had not been forewarned of. However, at the age of 19, she did not know any better, and she believed in “manipulative” director Bernardo Bertolucci, when he told her this was how movies were made.
The worst of scenes came, when Marlon Brando used butter as a lubricant and stimulated s****y on the girl. No one informed her that this was going to happen, in hopes of generating a genuine “reaction of frustration and rage”. Schneider later revealed that she was “crying real tears”. and this movie was her life’s “only regret”. Once the film was released, it caused much controversy, and director Bertolucci was eventually convicted with a four-month suspended prison sentence for that specific scene; whilst Schneider became severely depressed, falling into excessive drug abuse and even trying to kill herself a few times after. She and Brando still remained good friends until his death, however.
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