Everyone loves a good onscreen transformation, but nobody more than the people who vote for governing award bodies. When an actor goes through the gruelling demands of physical transformation for a role, we know they mean business - they had to sacrifice something and put themselves through intense pain or discomfort. Or sometimes they just have to make themselves look like shit, which would be challenging enouygh for the vast majority of Hollywood entertainers.
We've compiled a list of the five best onscreen transformations
Christian Bale, Trevor Reznik – The Machinist (2004)
Best Actor Nomination at the European Film Awards
Image: Christian Bale Playing Trevor Reznik In The Machinist (2004).
Bale’s physical transformation in The Machinist is almost legendary. Having beefed up to play Patrick Bateman in 2000’s American Psycho, he had to lose a third of his body weight to play the gaunt insomniac Trevor Reznik. By eating only one apple and a can of tuna each day, and suppressing his appetite with cigarettes, he shed almost 30kgs – 10kgs more than nutritionists said was healthy. The weight loss was so extreme that reportedly his arse muscles lost their elasticity and fell off his hips during shooting in Barcelona.
BALE BULKS, DIRECTOR BALKS
At the end of shooting The Machinist, Bale weighed about the same as the average 18-year-old girl – around 54kg. In little over six months he’d be shooting Batman Begins, which meant he needed gains fast. He started bringing his weight back up by binging on ice-cream and pizza, then started to pack on muscle by combining a high protein diet with plyometric, heavy core, and resistance training. By the time shooting was about to begin, Bale had packed on a solid 45kgs. In what must have a felt like a bit of a slap in the face for ole Baley, director Christopher Nolan actually thought he had overdone it and ordered him to lose 10kgs before shooting commenced.
John Hurt, John Merrick – The Elephant Man (1980)
Best Actor at the British Academy Film Awards
Image: John Hurt Playing John Merrick In Elephant Man.
To take on the role of the disfigured title character, Hurt began his day at 5am, sitting for seven hours as the prosthetics and makeup, which were so delicate they prevented him from eating throughout the day, were laboriously applied. After shooting from midday to 10.30pm it took another hour and half to remove it all. Hurt said it was so arduous that he could only perform on alternating days, but the effort paid off. Not only did he come up for a series of Best Actor awards, winning a BAFTA, but makeup artist Christopher Tucker’s work convinced the Oscars to bestow an award for Best Makeup in the years that followed.
Charlize Theron, Aileen Wuornos – Monster (2003)
Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Charlize Theron Playing Eileen Wuornos In Monster (2003).
Theron’s turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos was much more than just putting on a few kilos (14 of them, actually). To truly inhabit the role, as Theron set out to do, she fried and thinned her hair repeatedly to give it that over-bleached look, had washed-out tattoo ink airbrushed onto her skin to give it a blotchy appearance, partially shaved her eyebrows and wore a revolting set of fake chompers. Each of these changes came together to make Theron – a former model – look like a dead ringer for the real thing.
Natalie Portman Nina Sayers – Black Swan (2010)
Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Image: Natalie Portman Plays Nina Sayers In Black Swan (2010).
The waif-like Natalie Portman weighed about 54kg before she started the year-long preparation for her role as a troubled ballerina in Black Swan. Training for eight hours a day and subsisting on a diet of little more than carrots and almonds, she ended up dropping about 10kg, or almost a fifth of her already tiny frame. The training served her well, though, earning praise for her ballet prowess from other dancers and ultimately taking home the Best Actress Award at the Oscars.
Jared Leto Mark Chapman – Chapter 27 (2007)
Best Performance, Zurich Film Festival
Image: Jared Leto Plays Mark Chapman In Chapter 27 (2007).
Look, sure Leto won an Oscar for his transformative role in Dallas Buyers Club, but it’s his transformation in Chapter 27 that serves as a cautionary tale. Almost unrecognisable as Mark Chapman, the man who murdered John Lennon in 1980, Leto put on 30kg for the role by drinking microwaved pints of ice-cream mixed with soy sauce and olive oil. Unfortunately, his body was unable to cope with the sudden weight gain and he soon developed gout, becoming so debilitated that he required a wheelchair between takes. It then took a year for him to lose the weight – all this for a film that was fairly panned and only netted him a nod from the Zurich Film Festival.