Movie Notes: When Great Actors Go Flabby (Or Skinny)

October 18, 2006

Many actors go to mental extremes to prepare for a role, but some take things to another level and push the size of their bodies to the limit, either gaining weight or losing it, to play a particular part.

Robert DeNiro, Raging Bull

Robert DeNiro, Raging Bull

As boxer Jake La Motta, DeNiro is lean, mean, and intense, but by movie’s end, La Motta is washed up, overweight, and doing terrible stand-up comedy in a night club. To play the sad-sack phase of the boxer’s life, DeNiro gained about 60 pounds (eating Italian food) and is nearly unrecognizable.

Webomatica: Raging Bull
IMDB: Raging Bull

Tom Hanks, Cast Away

Tom Hanks, Cast Away

Playing a plane-crash survivor on a desert island with no dessert in sight means your character loses weight. By the middle of Cast Away, Tom Hanks looks like he should be eating the volleyball, not talking to it. Hanks reportedly lost 40 pounds for the role of Chuck Noland (over the course of a year, during a break in production), so much weight that his doctor grew concerned about his health. Not sure if this referred to physical or mental.

Hanks also alternately gained and lost weight for baseball flick A League of Their Own and a man dying of AIDS in Philadelphia.

IMDB: Cast Away

Vincent D’Onofrio, Full Metal Jacket

Vincent D'Onofrio, Full Metal Jacket

Actor Vincent D’Onofrio gained 70 pounds to play the overweight private Pyle in Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam movie Full Metal Jacket. His reward: getting screamed at by Sgt. Hartman (R. Lee Ermey).

IMDB: Full Metal Jacket

Christian Bale, The Machinist

Christian Bale, The Machinist

In The Machinist, Christian Bale looks like hell, but of course he’s playing the paranoid insomniac Trevor Reznick who hangs out with a hooker. He is literally a walking skeleton at 121 pounds. His daily diet consisted of an apple and a can of tuna. You almost want to pause the DVD and give him a hamburger.

Webomatica: The Machinist
IMDB: The Machinist

Christian Bale, Batman Begins

Christian Bale, Batman Begins

Right after making The Machinist, Christian Bale had to get buff for a role as the Dark Knight in Batman Begins. Because of his emaciated state, he reportedly gained 100 pounds over six weeks in order to play a convincing Batman. In doing so, he devoured the record weight gains of De Niro and D’Onofrio. Is there an Academy Award category for dedication?

IMDB: Batman Begins

Renee Zellweger, Bridget Jones’ Diary

Renee Zellweger, Bridget Jones' Diary

Renee Zellweger has also ridden the yo-yo, purposely gaining poundage to play British reporter Bridget Jones in both Bridget Jones’s Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. In between those two films, she lost weight for the dance-heavy role of Roxie Hart in Chicago. Couldn’t they have filmed the two Bridget Jones flicks back to back and saved her some effort?

IMDB: Bridget Jones’s Diary
IMDB: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
IMDB: Chicago

George Clooney, Syriana

George Clooney, Syriana

Clooney gained 30 pounds and grew a beard to play CIA operative Bob Barnes. Was supposedly so depressed about the added flab he complained to co-star Matt Damon about it.

IMDB: Syriana

Charlize Theron, Monster

Charlize Theron, Monster

Weight gain of 30 pounds to play psycho killer Aileen Wournos. Her secret? Loads of potato chips and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

IMDB: Monster

Marlon Brando, Apocalypse Now

Marlon Brando, Apocalypse Now

Although an unintentional body modifier, Marlon Brando’s large girth in Apocalypse Now is worth mentioning. He was supposed to lose weight before filming but never did. So as the mysterious, insane Colonel Kurtz, Coppola filmed Brando covered by shadows to hide his huge girth.

Webomatica: Apocalypse Now
IMDB: Apocalypse Now

Note: Marlon Brando loved food. Some of his bizarre eating habits appear here at IMDB, among them whole jars of peanut butter, five gallons of ice cream at a sitting, six hot dogs at once, an a favorite snack of a pound of cooked bacon stuffed into a loaf of bread. How about that Academy Award for extreme eating?


  1. Truthee says:

    I just want to comment on the whole weight loss/ bulk up Christian Bale had to endure. I mean for-crying-out loud, the guy seriously is a ‘machinist’. I’m sure not many people can engage in such hardship unless there is some crazy amount of dedication involved. And what’s crazy is, the transformation from stick insect to terminator 5 happened in 6 weeks!! How inspiring is that to us!? pretty damn inspiring!

    Conclusion: Christian Bale is a legend, and is pretty much deserves the dark knight title.

  2. webomatica says:

    Yeah Christan Bale is turning out to be a quirky but legendary actor. Really looking forward to the new Batman flick this year. I’m sure he’ll have some cool roles in the future.

  3. Josh says:

    Dang, I just read about all the things that Marlon Brando eats on imdb, that is some crazy shit!!!

    As for Christian Bale, 100 lbs. in 6 weeks is ridiculous. I think he had to have used steroids to get that big so fast. I am NOT someone who accuses every guy who gains weight to have used steroids, in fact I almost always give people the benefit of the doubt and say they did it clean. But 100 lbs, 6 weeks, come on! and that much muscle, too, that’s impossible to do clean. Just inhumanly possible! Now, going from the scant diet he was on to trying to gain as much weight as possible, he could likely gain quite a bit of weight, maybe 40 lbs. or so in 6 weeks. But not 100.

  4. Boki says:

    i cannot believe you guys forgot to mention edward norton in american history X , then lost weight in fight club then re gained it for Red dragon
    and he is a great actor, unlike COUGHS bale COughs

  5. tiffers says:

    I agree with the christian bale idea. He’s definatly gonna make it as like another biggy like jack nicoleson or johnny depp even tim currey or the guy in the peianest, not because of all the movies he probley will do, but when he does to get ready for him and how he really gets into the charictors head. I see him as being one of those that everyone knows like vincent price. . .

    but honistly the only thing i wasn’t too thrilled with was the batman begins, but i guess thats because im a tim burton/jack nicoleson/jim carrey fan. but it was good he didn’t distory it at all i juss think the director wasn’t really good. . .

  6. Maximista says:

    This is so crazy. I’ve loved Christian Bale since American Psycho, but until seeing the pictures in this post, had no idea that he was the guy in the newer Batman movies. I’m glad that he’s getting more work. Hopefully, he will become as legendary as some of you imagine.

  7. Daniel says:

    I agree Bale deserves his credits. His best role still stands as a kid in Spielburg’s “Empire of the Sun”. Or did anyone know that was him? Its interesting to see these guys and women go up and down for a role. But its not that tough. It is just diet. Calories, and a bit of time. Big people lose weight fast if they keep a routine and eat less ( though it is not very healthy) and smaller people can gain weight by adding calories ( oils, dressings, and other condiments often help oddly enough). As for steroids, a 120lb man cannot increase lean body mass in 30 or 60 days up to 100lbs. I know, I weighed 138 when I boxed. Steroids got me up a weight class but it was about 90 days. Water retention is probably where he focused. Some beefed up Creatine that he started taking at the end of the Machinist would have had his body holding more water. Water makes 70% of your body mass, and if retained your body just gets bigger faster. Its the easy way. That is also why he is not as defined in the first Dark Knight movie. Notice they didn’t show much except his arms and maybe a muscle shirt. Looked like a lot of water. I would think the next Dark Knight he is probably in much better shape. Like Stallone when he started was just big, then refined.

    Norton in American X was a great example of transformation. But his physical transformations as he did in The Score, and Primal Fear were exceptional. Not his sizing, but his ability to play with disability or a physical challenge. His ability is astounding. I just don’t see him getting roles that look like they challenge him. Looks more like he chooses his own roles now.

    As for the other pretty boys, well that same ole’ same ole’.
    Its nicer when someone sacrifices their time for their art.

    And remember too that the lowest paid jobs in the North America are from the Arts and Motion Arts entertainment field. Everyone wanting to be an actor. I would, if I could act, certainly lose the weight for the paycheque they are fortunate to get. However, I think I will stick to my business, at least I am good at that.

    Either way, the above mentioned did do well in making the actor suit the part rather than the part changed for the actor. I think.



  8. Steven Steel says:

    You can’t gain 100lbs in 6 weeks. Even with STERIODS that is not feasible.

  9. Linda says:

    Bales is awesome especially in The Prestige…. no one ever mentions that amazing movie

  10. Joshua B. says:

    Christian Bale gained 100 lbs in six MONTHS, not six weeks. At first he just concentrated on gaining the weight back, and looked rather plump. Then after that he trimmed up to get his Patrick Bateman on steroids look for Batman Begins.

  11. Glynnis says:

    They forgot to add Donnie Wahlberg when he played Vincent Grey in “The Sixth Sense”. He ended up losing 43 pounds to play that role.

  12. Johnny Smith says:

    What do you mean bale is a bad actor?!?!?!?! I have seen Bale completely transform himself in roles that you don't even recognize him. I don't just mean gaining weight and losing weight, but look at his american accent in Batman then look at Rescue dawn. He completely changes himself, you don't see Christian Bale you see the character he is protraying

  13. Hoot Owl says:

    The lack of makeup, drab hair, and fake teeth made Charlize Theron look bad in that film. She carried that extra 30 pounds quite well.

  14. DennisCovet says:

    These are the actors who use The Method in the portrayal of their characters, and I have a lot of appreciation for them, because they would do anything extreme just for their art. In my opinion, that's a real actor, who has an ego and just plays for ideas. And besides, we've much too much of a problem out of losing weight, when in fact all you need is a free diet plan but especially hard work and exercise.

  15. Praise God for all He is doing. Thanks!

  16. Interesting post about actors. Most seem to always been in shape

    • Not all actors have been in shape their whole life. Even some movies require them to get fat or a little over weight. Shallow Hal Has A Gal! (but then again those were all fat suits)