15 Actors Who Dramatically Gained Or Lost Weight For Roles – And The Toll It Took On Their Health

Photo: Denis Makarenko & Ron Adar  / Shutterstock
Christian Bale and Vanessa Hudgens

Mark Wahlberg is currently in the midst of gaining 30 pounds for the upcoming film "Father Stu."

The actor is chronicling his journey on social media, and he has already gained two-thirds of the weight in just three weeks.

Similarly, actress Sarah Paulson is facing controversy after photos surfaced of her as Linda Tripp in the Ryan Murphy series "Impeachment: American Crime Story."

Some consider the casting choice to be fatphobic, as Paulson’s natural body is quite thin.

“Just hire fat people, my god,” one viewer tweeted.

Murphy, on the other hand, said he admires Paulson because “she gained weight to play Linda Tripp…. it’s sort of an amazing thing she’s doing physically.”

“It’s very transformative,” the director continued. “It reminds me a lot of what Christian Bale did a couple years ago — that sort of dedication.”

Bale and other prominent actors have been praised, and often earned awards, for gaining or losing large amounts of weight for roles.

Many critics and audience members believe that this intense form of method acting signifies talent and commitment. But should actors be admired for drastically changing their bodies?

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Rapid weight fluctuation can lead to an array of dangerous consequences, including damaged metabolism, depression, and a heightened risk of developing certain diseases.

Just take a look at the negative health effects some performers have endured.

15 Actors Who Dramatically Gained Or Lost Weight To Transform Their Bodies For Roles

1. Christian Bale for "The Machinist" (2004) and "Batman Begins" (2005)

To prepare for his role in the 2004 thriller, Bale lost an unbelievable 55 pounds in four months.

He achieved this goal through extreme calorie restriction, consuming only black coffee, one apple, and one can of tuna per day. The “Machinist diet,” which has since been shared on pro-eating disorder websites, is undeniably dangerous.

Bale had only about six months after shooting "The Machinist" to bulk up for "Batman Begins" and says he “went way overboard” to prepare.

The actor gained 100 pounds and felt “exhausted” before arriving on set, where he quickly had to lose some of the new weight — again.

Bale acknowledged that making these rapid shifts “was not a very healthy thing to do.”

He has since sworn off intense body transformations.

“I can't keep doing it, I really can't,” Bale said in an interview. “My mortality is staring me in the face.”

2. Anne Hathaway for "Les Misérables" (2012)

Hathaway dropped 25 pounds to play the role of Fantine, a prostitute dying of consumption, in "Les Misérables." She says she lost the last 15 during filming, by eating only two small squares of dried oatmeal paste daily.

“I had to be obsessive about it — the idea was to look near death,” the actress said.

The process was so extreme that Hathaway found it difficult to return to normal life.

“I was in such a state of deprivation — physical and emotional,” she told interviewers. “It took me weeks till I felt like myself again.”

“Looking back on the whole experience,” Hathway said, “it was definitely a little nuts.”

3. Jared Leto for "Requiem for a Dream" (2000) and "Chapter 27" (2007)

Leto is known for roles with extreme physical demands, among the first being the heroin-addicted Harry Goldfarb in "Requiem for a Dream."

Leto lost 25 pounds over a very short period for the part and later revealed that this caused him to develop an eating disorder.

“I got increasingly sick as the film went on,” the actor explained, “and I started getting addicted to losing weight.”

The psychological damage was so intense that Leto had trouble returning to a normal diet after filming.

Years later, Leto bulked up to play John Lennon's assassin, Mark David Chapman, in "Chapter 27." The actor recalled that he gained nearly 60 pounds for the role by “gorging” and “force-feeding” himself.

Leto experienced trouble walking and extreme foot pain due to his weight and was confined to a wheelchair for much of the shooting process.

“It took about a year to get back to a place that felt semi-normal,” he revealed. “I don't know if I'll ever be back to the place I was physically.”

The health toll was enough to dissuade Leto from extreme weight gain in future roles.

“I'd never do it again,” the actor said.

But the accolades that come with such transformations clearly weren't something Leto could pass up — just this year he gained weight to appear in the Denzel Washington film "The Little Things."

4. Natalie Portman for "Black Swan" (2010)

The already tiny Portman reportedly lost 20 pounds to portray a deranged ballerina in "Black Swan," bringing her weight down into double digits.

Director Darren Aronofsky said that his leading lady “suffered” to lose the weight, as she was “just living on carrots and almonds.”

Portman has also spoken about the intense mental and physical demands of her role in the film, admitting that “there were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die.”

5. Mila Kunis for "Black Swan" (2010)

Kunis also seriously slimmed down for the psychological thriller, and the actress told Harper’s Bazaar in 2012 that her body “has never been the same” since.

“My shape is different. When I got down to 95 pounds, I was muscles, like a little brick house, but skin and bones,” Kunis explained. “When I gained it back, it went to completely different areas…. All the weight that left my chest went to my side hip, my stomach.”

6. Tom Hanks for "Cast Away" (2000)

Hanks shed 50 pounds for the survival drama and suspects that such efforts may have contributed to his development of type 2 diabetes later in life.

“The gaining and the losing of weight may have had something to do with it,” the actor admitted, “because you eat so much bad food and you don't take any exercise when you're heavy.”

Hanks is understandably reluctant to repeat the experience.

“I've talked to a number of actors who have gained weight for roles,” he said. “Just out of the sheer physical toll on one's knees and shoulders, no one wants to do it again.”

7. Michael Fassbender for "Hunger" (2008)

In "Hunger," Fassbender portrayed a political prisoner starving to death on hunger strike — and starved himself in the process.

The actor reportedly lost 40 pounds in under three months by restricting his diet to 900 calories a day and eating only nuts, berries, and canned fish.

Fassbender said that the state of starvation limited his mental function and eliminated his sex drive.

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8. Robert De Niro for "Raging Bull" (1980)

De Niro gained almost 60 pounds for a single scene in Scorsese's film and experienced concerning health effects as a result.

The actor said that he “began to realize what a fat man goes through,” when he got rashes on his legs from chafing.

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The director was also worried about De Niro’s well-being.

“His breathing was like mine when I have an asthma attack,” Scorsese said.

9. George Clooney for "Syriana" (2005)

Clooney gained nearly 30 pounds to play a pudgy CIA agent in "Syriana," and apparently hated every minute of it.

“There was nothing fun about it,” the actor said. “Everybody has that year where you age a decade and this was that one for me.”

10. Adrien Brody for "The Pianist" (2002)

Brody's transformation for "The Pianist" was painful and lingering.

He starved himself down to 130 pounds for the role of real-life Holocaust survivor Władysław Szpilman.

“It was excruciating,” the 6'1" actor said. “I was extremely weak.”

Brody also said his fragile physical state helped his acting, but “it took over half a year after the film was done to settle back into things.”

11. Charlize Theron for "Tully" (2018)

Theron put on “close to 50 pounds” for her role in the 2018 film, and says the weight gain damaged her mental health.

“I got hit in the face pretty hard with depression,” the actress divulged in an ET interview.

She also had trouble losing the weight again, which “took about a year and a half.”

“I was worried,” Theron admitted. “I was like, this is taking a really long time.”

12. Russell Crowe for "Body of Lies" (2008)

Crowe gained 63 pounds for "Body of Lies," and says he has since struggled to maintain a healthy weight.

The actor reportedly had issues with mobility and high cholesterol, and it took him almost two years to lose the extra pounds.

Crowe wrote on Twitter in 2011 that, without constant exercise, his body “tries” to revert back to “its heaviest weight.”

13. Michelle Pfeiffer for "Scarface" (1983)

Pfeiffer says the extreme weight loss she underwent in order to play a cocaine addict scared her co-workers.

“I tried to time it so that as the movie went on I became thinner and thinner and more emaciated,” the actress explained. “The problem was the movie went six months.”

“I was starving by the end of it,” Pfieffer continued. “I literally had members of the crew bringing me bagels because they were all worried about me and how thin I was getting.”

14. Vanessa Hudgens for "Gimme Shelter" (2013)

Hudgens only gained about 15 pounds to play a pregnant, homeless teenager in "Gimme Shelter," but she says the weight gain caused her stress and low self-esteem.

"I didn't feel comfortable in my body," Hudgens said, adding that she was "a bit of a mess" after the role.

The actress went on to shed the excess weight by doing SoulCycle workouts twice a day, which amounts to a potentially dangerous level of physical strain.

15. Matt Damon for "Courage Under Fire" (1996)

Damon dieted down to 110 pounds to play a heroin addict in "Courage Under Fire," running every day and eating only protein and vegetables, and later admitted that his efforts “went too far.”

“I wouldn't do that again because it was just too much,” the actor said. “I was a wreck. I was getting dizzy spells and hot flashes. I didn't say anything to anyone for a while because I was afraid I might be really ill.”

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Allie McGlone is a writer who covers a variety of topics for YourTango, including pop culture and entertainment.