Weighing in for Roles: Actors that starve themselves
In ‘Tropic Thunder’, Robert Downey Jr advises Ben Stiller never to go “full retard”, but for many years actors have been going “full fatty” in search of authenticity and awards, from Vincent D’Onofrio in ‘Full Metal Jacket’ to George Clooney in ‘Syrianna’.
Just as piling on the pounds has been a shortcut to Oscar glory for Robert De Niro in ‘Raging Bull’ and Charlize Theron in ‘Monster’, dropping the weight can prove similarly enticing for the Academy. Tom Hanks won his first award after dropping the weight for ‘Philadelphia’. In 2013 Matthew McConaughey rounded of an amazing year’s work by winning his first Oscar for ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, playing, as Hanks had done in ‘Philadelphia’, an AIDS sufferer. Their emaciated appearances alone may not have won them the awards, but it probably didn’t do their cause any harm. Tom Hanks again went skinny for Robert Zemeckis in 2000 in ‘Castaway’, receiving another Oscar nomination, though a third award in eight years eluded him.
It can also be a shortcut for actors looking for credibility. Mark Wahlberg, for example, though good in ensemble pieces like ‘Boogie Nights’, ‘The Yards’ and ‘The Departed’, has never really convinced as a leading man. Last year he lost 61lbs for Rupert Wyatt‘s remake of ‘The Gambler’. The extra commitment paid off as Wahlberg gave one of his best performances. Taylor Kitsch has struggled to shed the pretty-boy image gained from ‘Friday Night Lights’, but attempted to show his method mettle in 2010 by losing 35lbs to play doomed war photographer Kevin Carter in ‘The Bang Bang Club’. Unfortunately for Kitsch, it doesn’t matter how much weight you lose for a film if you follow it up with tripe like ‘John Carter’ and ‘Battleships’. These days, Michael Fassbender is one of the most respected and in-demand actors around, but he was relatively unknown when he played IRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen‘s debut ‘Hunger’. Fassbender’s immense performance certainly got him noticed, and he’s never looked back.
If it seems like every serious actor needs at least one weight-loss role on their CV (and Hanks has two), the king of thin is surely Christian Bale. Not to be outdone by Hanks, Bale has no less than three such parts on his resume. The first and still most striking of his, and possibly anyone’s, efforts was ‘The Machinist’ in 2004. Having previously bulked up for action films ‘Reign Of Fire’ and ‘Equilibrium’ he shed 63lbs, over a third of his total body weight, to portray disturbed insomniac Trevor Reznick. Even director Brad Anderson was shocked by Bale’s appearance when he appeared on set for the first day of filming, and his skeletal frame does haunt the film, particularly in one scene where he sucks his stomach in. Having bulked back up for ‘Batman Begins’ he again showed the kind of commitment you probably need to work with Werner Herzog by losing the weight to play German-American P.O.W. Deiter Dengler in ‘Rescue Dawn’, in which co-star Steve Zahn also lost a similar amount of weight. after making ‘The Dark Knight’ Bale completed his hat-trick with ‘The Fighter’. As in ‘Rescue Dawn’, the weight loss was arguably essential as he was playing a real person, in this case boxer Dickie Ecklund (alongside Wahlberg). Just like with Hanks and Mconaughey, the method commitment shown proved irresistible to the Academy, with Bale scoring his first Oscar from his first nomination. To take things full circle, Bale received his second Oscar nomination after gaining 43lbs for ‘American Hustle’.
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