Acting is a job that is often talked about in mystical terms. When a famous actor or actress is asked about their “process” on a late-night talk show or in a glossy magazine profile, they usually use metaphors like “transformation” or “getting lost” in a role. The well-known actor often talks about the preparation, which is the most tangible part of the craft, to make it sound more approachable. The better it is, the dirtier and more silly it is.
Even though Method actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis have won Oscars, many other performers have had their hard work made fun of online or, even worse, completely ignored. Laurence Olivier said, “Why don’t you just try acting, my dear boy?” If you read this list, you’ll know the answer: Sometimes, the work itself is the reward.
1. Daniel Day-Lewis
Source: My Left Foot
Daniel Day-Lewis, the Michael Jordan of Method acting, has many impressive preparations. My Left Foot is DDL’s version of the flu game; it defined his career via physical willpower and determination. The actor played Irish artist and painter Christy Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy and could only move his left foot. Day-Lewis reportedly “visited eateries in a wheelchair” and “had to be carried across lighting cables to reach the set”
This kind of commitment made Daniel Day-Lewis a legend beloved by his peers, obsessed by audiences, and fawn over by the press, who can’t stop raving about his acting abilities. If he retires, as he claims to have done following Phantom Thread, it will be a setback for anyone who writes about actor prep.
2. Jamie Foxx
How do you go from starring in Booty Call to winning the Oscar for Best Actor? It all comes down to how much you want to do it. Jamie Foxx lost 30 pounds to prepare for the role of famous blind pianist Ray Charles. At the suggestion of director Taylor Hackford, he also had his eyes glued shut and wore prosthetics that looked like Charles’ eyelids. Foxx told The New York Times before the movie came out, “Think about having your eyes taped shut for 14 hours a day.” “That’s your jail sentence.” More specifically, the rare prison sentence that ends with a shiny statue.
3. Ashton Kutcher
For award-winners like Jamie Foxx or Daniel Day-Lewis, preparation might backfire if the movie is bad. Ashton Kutcher embarked on a “fruitarian” diet to prepare for his role as Steve Jobs in Jobs and ended up in the hospital for two days. His “pancreas levels were off” Michael Fassbender was nominated for an Oscar for portraying the same role in Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs two years later. He didn’t even eat fruit!
4. Leonardo DiCaprio
Source: The Revenant
Even when a Hollywood film is shot in tough conditions, the cast and crew usually stay at a good hotel with a bed. Leonardo DiCaprio slept in an animal carcass to represent Hugh Glass in The Revenant.
When the movie came out, there were many fierce stories about DiCaprio’s hairy slumber. “I can list 30 or 40 challenging sequences,” he told Yahoo. “Whether it’s crossing cold rivers, sleeping in animal carcasses, or what I ate on site. I frequently battled hypothermia and freezing temperatures.” Isn’t that an ambiguous quote? He slept in the carcass for how long? To obtain the shot? Where’s the zinger?
5. Natalie Portman
Source: Black Swan
Natalie Portman didn’t half-assed her Black Swan dancing scenes. Though her use of a dancing double sparked criticism (and a Wikipedia article with a “aftermath” section), it’s impossible to deny her dedication when she says things like, “There were nights I thought I was going to die.” Phantom Menace actress lost 20 pounds, suffered eight-hour dance rehearsals, and injured a rib during production. Worst? Darren Aronofsky reportedly seized her trailer when she requested a medic.
6. Shia LaBeouf
Shia LaBeouf has acted in some movies since leaving the Transformers franchise. For WWII war drama Fury, he went Method. “I extracted my tooth, sliced my face, and watched horses die,” he told Dazed. I went four months without bathing. “Spent days watching horses die” sounds metal, but I’m not sure what he meant.
7. Meryl Streep
Source: Sophie’s Choice
Language learning is difficult. Most actors playing foreign characters study the phrases they need, concentrate on their accent, and call it a day. Nobody expects an actor to “morph” Meryl Streep needs more. For Sophie’s Choice, she worked with a tutor to learn Polish and German. She even spoke German with a Polish accent, telling ET, “Serendipity. Everything sounded Polish because of my accent.”