Method Mayhem: Weird Ways Actors Prepare For Roles

We love to know that our time in front of the screen, being it a cinema or our TV screen, is worth it. You’ve probably read before about all the weird ways actors prepare for roles. This is why they do it. To get rave reviews, to keep us glued to the edge of our seats, to make us wanna see the movie again and again.

1. Heath Ledger – “The Dark Knight” (2008)

weird ways actors prepare for roles: Heath Ledger

Role: The Joker

Heath Ledger immersed himself so deeply into the character of the Joker that he kept a diary, in the character’s voice, filled with disturbing thoughts and images. He also spent six whole weeks in a hotel room with barely any human contact. And to keep things even weirder, here’s what Christain Bale said about Ledger’s self-inflicted wounds: “He was slamming himself around, and there were tiled walls inside of that set which were cracked and dented from him hurling himself into them. His commitment was total.” Ledger’s intense preparation earned him a posthumous Academy Award.

2. Daniel Day-Lewis – “My Left Foot” (1989)

weird ways actors prepare for roles: Daniel Day LewisRole: Christy Brown

Daniel Day-Lewis remained in character throughout the entire shoot and insisted on being carried around the set in his wheelchair. He learned to write and paint with his left foot for the role. He insisted on being spoon fed. He called all the other actors by their movie names. Plus, he spent 8 weeks in a cerebral palsy institution in Dublin. Talk about method acting!

3. Robert De Niro – “Cape Fear” (1991)

weird ways actors prepare for roles: Robert De Niro

Role: Max Cady

To prepare for the role of a menacing ex-convict, De Niro paid a dentist $5,000 to grind down his teeth to make them appear more menacing. And when the shooting was over he had to overhaul his teeth, paying $20,000 to have them done.

4. Adrien Brody – “The Pianist” (2002)

Adrien Brody - "The Pianist"

Role: Wladyslaw Szpilman

To accurately portray the physical and emotional toll of surviving the Holocaust, Adrien Brody sold most of his belongings, learned to play the piano, starved himself, losing a staggering 30 pounds. And here’s why: “There is an emptiness that comes with really starving that I hadn’t experienced. I couldn’t have acted that without knowing it. I’ve experienced loss, I’ve experienced sadness in my life, but I didn’t know the desperation that comes with hunger.”

5. Christian Bale – “The Machinist” (2004)

Christian Bale - "The Machinist"

Role: Trevor Reznik

Christian Bale lost 62 pounds in the four months of pre-production. He did so by going on an extreme diet that consisted of only one can of tuna and an apple per day along with all the cigarettes and coffee he could chug. And he even dabbed in the insomnia trait, having many nights where he would only sleep for two hours.

6. Leonardo DiCaprio – “The Revenant” (2015)

Leonardo DiCaprio - "The Revenant"

Role: Hugh Glass

DiCaprio endured extreme physical conditions while filming, including eating raw bison liver, sleeping inside animal carcasses, and being submerged in icy water. Yahoo Entertainment has him stating: “Whether it’s going in and out of frozen rivers, or sleeping in animal carcasses, or what I ate on set. [I was] enduring freezing cold and possible hypothermia constantly.”

7. Shia LaBeouf – “Fury” (2014)

Shia LaBeouf - "Fury"

Role: Boyd Swan

Shia LaBeouf had one of his teeth pulled without anesthesia and refused to shower during the entire shoot to authentically depict the grueling life of a soldier during World War II. Pair that with joining the US National Guard, watching horses die, and scarring your own face and you get the whole picture.

8. Jared Leto – “Suicide Squad” (2016)

Jared Leto - "Suicide Squad"Role: The Joker

Jared Leto sent bizarre gifts to his castmates, including a live rat, used condoms or bedroom toys. He also spent time in isolation to tap into the Joker’s madness. Whenever he had to take restroom breaks he would use crutches or a wheelchair, making a simple task take way too long and having the whole crew wait on him.

9. Rooney Mara – “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011)

Rooney Mara - "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Role: Lisbeth Salander

Rooney Mara underwent a drastic transformation, including numerous piercings, the famous haircut, and even bleached her eyebrows. She also studied Asperger’s syndrome, all in order to accurately portray the character.

10. Jamie Foxx – “Ray” (2004)

Jamie Foxx - "Ray"Role: Ray Charles

Jamie Foxx wore prosthetic eyelids that made him blind for up to 14 hours a day during filming to experience what it was like for Ray Charles, who lost his sight at an early age. To better resemble Ray, Foxx went ahead and lost 30 pounds.

11. Tom Hanks – “Cast Away” (2000)

Tom Hanks - "Cast Away"Role: Chuck Noland

To convincingly portray a FedEx employee stranded on a desert island, Tom Hanks gained and lost significant weight. The filming schedule was even adjusted to allow for his physical transformation. Hanks took it one step further and refused to cut his hair or bathe, eventually ending up catching a nasty staph infection.

12. Jim Carrey – “Man on the Moon” (1999)

Jim Carrey - "Man on the Moon"

Role: Andy Kaufman

Jim Carrey took his method acting to the extreme when he portrayed comedian Andy Kaufman. He stayed in character as Kaufman or Tony Clifton both on and off the set, often confusing cast and crew. People on set said that: “When he was Tony Clifton, he had cheese — Limburger cheese — in his pockets so he smelled horrible.”

13. Natalie Portman – “Black Swan” (2010)

Natalie Portman - "Black Swan"Role: Nina Sayers
Natalie Portman’s preparation for her role as a ballet dancer pushed her to the limits. She trained intensely for over a year, losing 20 pounds and enduring rigorous ballet training. Her commitment and dedication earned her an Academy Award.

14. Dustin Hoffman – “Tootsie” (1982)

Dustin Hoffman - "Tootsie"Role: Michael Dorsey / Dorothy Michaels

To prepare for his role as a male actor who dresses as a woman to land a job, Dustin Hoffman did the unthinkable. He collected his daughter from school while in drag. “Every man has a woman inside him. Every man has thought about what it would be like to be a woman. I was preparing for the role in Tootsie so one day I just decided to dress up and pick my daughter up from school to see if her teacher realized. She didn’t.”

15. Joaquin Phoenix – “Joker” (2019)

Joaquin Phoenix - "Joker"Role: “Joker”

Joaquin Phoenix embarked on a bizarre quest to get ready for the role. 52 pounds of weight for the character. He would also improvise on the spot. Remember the clock punch? That wasn’t in the script, it was pure Phoenix inspiration.

16. Hilary Swank – “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999)

Hilary Swank - "Boys Don't Cry"

Role: Brandon Teena

For this role Hilary Swank lived as a transgendered man for a month before filming. She cut her hair, used a binder to flatten her chest, and adopted a male identity in public to understand the challenges her character faced. In order to make her face more masculine she lowered her body fat percentage to unhealthy levels. Her hard work paid off. “Seeing what worked and what didn’t work, and losing a bunch of body fat so that my face would be thinner. My neighbors thought that I was my cousin Billy from Iowa.”

Recommended reading next: 15 Weird Netflix Series You Might Actually Fall In Love With

17. Eddie Redmayne – “The Theory of Everything” (2014)

Eddie Redmayne - "The Theory of Everything"

Role: Stephen Hawking

Eddie Redmayne extensively researched and prepared for his role as the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, who had ALS, for six full months. He spent time with ALS patients, consulted medical professionals, and practiced mimicking the physical challenges of the disease.

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