Extreme weight loss and tooth extraction: when method acting goes too far

Which star didnt bathe for four months? Who became a cabbie? Our guide to actors who take their art to new levels

Marlon Brando may be the most famous Hollywood exponent of method acting, even if the double Oscar-winning star of On the Waterfront and The Godfather always refused to accept the tag. But even Brandos efforts to prepare for a part which once involved him living alongside wounded soldiers in a veterans hospital for a full month to play an injured second world war lieutenant in his 1950 film debut, The Men pale into comparison with those of some of his spiritual successors.

In the wake of Australian actor Jai Courtneys revelation that he swallowed magic mushrooms and stubbed cigarettes out on his arms to play the unhinged antihero Boomerang in the forthcoming comic-book epic Suicide Squad, here are some of the most inventive and extreme examples of Hollywood A-listers taking their art a little too seriously.

Leonardo DiCaprios bison liver-crunching in The Revenant

The
In living hell DiCaprio in The Revenant.
Alejandro Gonzlez Irritus visually spectacular frontiersman epic was shot in brutal conditions in remote, frozen corners of Argentina, the US and Canada. But at least the films crew,
who complained of being subjected to a living hell of long hours, extensive delays and temperatures dropping to -25C (-13F), had DiCaprio along for the ride. Perhaps with one eye on awards season glory, the Titanic star, who is vegetarian, chowed down on raw bison liver, climbed inside a horses carcass and waded through a frozen river. He did not, however, fight it out with a real bear: the movies central animal attack was Irritus only concession to CGI, and was shot with a rather foolish-looking bloke in a mo-cap bear suit.

Effort: 6/10

Was it worth it? Indubitably. DiCaprio won his first best actor Oscar, while Irritu took home best director and Emmanuel Lubezki won best cinematography for his searing camera work.

Shia LaBeoufs tooth-pulling antics on Fury

Fury
Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf in Fury. Photograph: Giles Keyte/AP

To prepare for his role as a Bible-toting tank gunner in David Ayers claustrophobic second world war drama, the one-time teen idol made himself hugely popular with fellow cast members by refusing to wash for four months, resulting in his banishment to a bed and breakfast in a remote village far from the productions regular hotel. And just in case anyone imagined the Transformers star might not be fully immersed in the horrors of life on the battlefront, LaBeouf also pulled out a tooth and cut his face.

Effort: 9/10

Was it worth it? Fury was well received and LaBeouf is no longer best known for his role in Michael Bays moronic sci-fi saga. But Shia didnt receive any awards-season glory.

Adrien Brodys hungry holiday for The Pianist

The
Fast fingers Brody in The Pianist. Photograph: Rex Features
Brody lost 13.6kg (2st 2lb) to play real-life concert pianist and Holocaust survivor Wadysaw Szpilman in Roman Polanskis harrowing war drama. He also practised piano four hours a day until he was able to play passages by Chopin all this after quitting his US apartment and selling his car to get to the German shoot. There is an emptiness that comes with really starving that I hadnt experienced,
Brody told the BBC. I couldnt have acted that without knowing it. Ive experienced loss, Ive experienced sadness in my life, but I didnt know the desperation that comes with hunger.

Effort: 7/10

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Brody became the youngest person to win an Oscar for best actor and Polanski was the surprise winner of the best director gong.

More tooth pulling from Nicolas Cage in Birdy

Cages early effort saw the actor engage in a spot of amateur dentistry to play a Vietnam war veteran with horrible facial injuries. They were baby teeth, the future Oscar winner told the Telegraphs Anne Billson in 1985. So I took advantage of it and had them out. I thought it would add an interesting dimension to the role. Cage also took to wearing a bandage around his head during filming, which when removed gave him a sinister, sickly appearance due to the resulting acne and ingrowing hairs. The reactions on the street were brutal, Cage revealed. Men and women laughing, kids staring.

Effort: 8/10

Was it worth it? Alan Parkers tale of blue-collar Philadelphian vets won the grand jury prize at Cannes, and if nothing else, helped established Cages reputation for risk-taking and theatricality.

Hilary Swank lives as a trans man for Boys Dont Cry

Boys
Boys Dont Cry. Photograph: Reuters
Swank, who had been completely unknown in Hollywood, lost weight to accentuate her bone structure and lived as a man for a month
to play murdered transgender man Brandon Teena. Her transformation was so convincing that neighbours at the actors home thought her brother was visiting. At the behest of director Kimberly Peirce, Swank also wore socks in her underwear and bound her breasts, as Teena had done.

Effort grade: 8/10

Was it worth it? Swank was catapulted to overnight fame, winning the first of two best actress Oscars.

And tonight, Matthew, Val Kilmer is Jim Morrison in the Doors

The
Kilmer gets in the groove The Doors. Photograph: Moviestore Collection/Alamy

To get in the groove for the role of the Riders on the Storm crooner, Kilmer learned 50 songs from the bands back catalogue and interrogated former Doors producer Paul Rothschild for months, learning specific intonations to help him perfectly channel the spirit of the 60s rocker. Val knows Jim Morrison better than Jim ever knew himself, Rothschild told the Washington Post in 1991. To the extent that the Doors had difficulty telling whether it was Val singing or Jim singing. Early on, Id bring them into a recording studio and I randomly switched Val and Jim and they guessed wrong 80% of the time.

Effort: 6/10

Was it worth it? Kilmer won praise for his performance, but critics thought Oliver Stones direction was self-important and the Doors themselves said they failed to recognise their former bandmate.

Robert De Niro driving a real cab for Taxi Driver

Taxi
Taxi Driver. Photograph: Granamour Weems Collection / Ala/Alamy

To prepare for his role as paranoiac ex-marine Travis Bickle in Martin Scorseses 1976 classic, De Niro lost more than two stone and drove a real New York taxi during breaks from shooting Bernardo Bertoluccis 1900 in Rome. Upon being recognised by a passenger, he is said to have replied: Well, thats acting. One year the Oscar, the next youre driving a cab!

Effort: 6/10

Was it worth it? Taxi Driver won the Palme dOr at Cannes in 1976 and picked up four Oscar nominations, including best actor for its star, who appeared in almost every scene. Scorseses fractured, dreamlike neo-noir is now considered one of the film-makers best movies.

Daniel Day-Lewis total-immersion performing in My Left Foot

My
Holds nothing back Day-Lewis in My Left Foot Photograph: ITV/Rex Features

Day-Lewis is famous for overdoing it a bit, and once lived for days in the wilds of Alabama to prepare for his role as a frontiersman living as a Native American warrior in Last of the Mohicans. While shooting Jim Sheridans biography of the paralysed Irish poet Christy Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy, the English actor refused to come out of character even while the cameras were not rolling. In practice, this meant Day-Lewis spent the entire shoot in a wheelchair, occasionally having to be carried to different parts of the set, and even had to be spoon-fed at mealtimes.

Effort: 8/10

Was it worth it? Day-Lewis won the Oscar, but no doubt really annoyed the kitchen staff.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2016/jul/29/extreme-weight-loss-when-method-acting-goes-too-far

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