Celebrities are unicorns — glossy, beautiful people who shine beneath the spotlights of their own creations. We love to see them in our favorite movies, especially when they transform themselves to truly be the characters that they are portraying. Sometimes actors go over-the-top with their method acting and techniques for shape-shifting to get blockbuster roles. From appalling weight gain to extreme muscle bulking to dramatic weight loss to convey that their character is near death, some celebs seem to transform overnight. But these bodily changes are fraught with crash-dieting, full days spent in the gym, and other unsustainable lifestyles. Some celebrity transformations are downright terrifying and others come with a side of mental health repercussions, but in all cases there’s no question that the stars we adore work hard to land their roles (via Men’s Health). Stars, they are just like us! Sometimes they struggle to fit into their skinny jeans. Ultimately, they always do because, duh, Oscars and Golden Globes are on the line here….
Chris Hemsworth for "Thor"
Chris Hemsworth is a stud, in case you’ve been living under a rock. He is the body-transforming superstar of our dreams, quite literally. Hemsworth was fit before getting in shape to play Thor, but his swole AF physique is nothing short of, legend-wait-for-it-dary! His hammer-swinging arms are an entire character of their own; they command the screen and make mere mortals wonder, "How?" Well, according to Men’s Journal, Hemsworth utilizes the services of his long-time personal trainer to make #gains. His trainer has him on a strict regimen of high-intensity workouts using battle ropes, kettlebells, bodyweight movements, barbells, dumbbells, and beyond. He gets his heart rate high by performing circuits — indeed, many workouts on Hemsworth’s own Instagram page include the vomiting emoji, which gives us some insight as to how hard he is working. On set, Hemworth’s trainer keeps a keen eye on his diet and encourages him to pump iron between takes. Based on the sheer circumference of Hemsworth’s swoon-worthy biceps, it is unsurprising to learn that he spends a ton of time doing straight bicep curls. Honestly, thank you, Chris. We are not worthy. Is it hot in here, or is it just Thor?
Charlize Theron for "Monster"
Charlize Theron is no stranger to morphing into her characters. She has done so with epic conviction time and time again, but perhaps her most notable transformation was swapping out her glamorous beauty to play seen-some-things Aileen Wuornos in the 2003 movie "Monster." To play the serial killer and ex-prostitute who was convicted of six murders, Theron’s transformation had to be thorough (via CBS). She gained 25-30 pounds, in addition to having a full set of dentures created, frying and thinning her hair, and shaving her eyebrows. She embodied her character to the fullest extent and earned an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her efforts (via IMDb). Theron was 27 at the time and apparently shed the weight pretty quickly — she has been quoted saying that she didn’t snack for "five days" and she "was fine" (via Insider). More recently, Theron gained a significant amount of weight, and allegedly struggled a bit more to lose it, for her role in "Tully" in 2018. Still, her portrayal of Wuornos is more frightening in its accuracy. Even down to the gelatin used to make her eyelids sag and heavy makeup to create the illusion of rough-worn skin, Theron amazed us all (via Female).
Demi Moore for "G.I. Jane"
Perhaps the female equivalent of Chris Hemsworth’s transformation into Thor is Demi Moore’s fitness-fueled metamorphosis to play Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil in "G.I. Jane." However, the profundity of Moore’s transformation wasn’t merely skin deep. In her recent memoir, Inside Out, Moore outlined her struggles with disordered eating and how shifting her physical shape for roles created harmful patterns (via People). She explained that she was addicted to exercise and that the obsession created toxicity in her relationships and life, most notably in her relationship with her own body. Throughout the early 1990s, Moore changed her shape over and over again, often for roles in which her body would be on display.
For "G.I. Jane," she had to bulk up in a huge way to convincingly depict the fictional struggle of the first woman to successfully undergo special operations training (per IMDb). After filming wrapped, Moore had bulked up and weighed far above her standard, as muscle weighs more than fat. Upon returning home, she realized that her body could not sustain another bout of starvation thinly veiled as crash dieting. This realization marked the beginning of a more healthful journey with her body.
Christian Bale for "The Machinist"
Christian Bale does it for many a person who is attracted to men, many a person. However, his dramatic weight loss transformation for his role in "The Machinist" is honestly what nightmares are made of, and "How can you wake up from a nightmare if you are not asleep?" Bale’s character aptly questions (via IMDb). Bale claims to have consumed only black coffee, an apple, and one can of tuna per day in the time leading up to filming (via GQ). He shrunk down to a startling 120 pounds and wanted to shed more weight, but was encouraged not to by the film’s producers because they were worried about his health. Slimming down for his role in "The Machinist" pushed the boundaries of what this honest-to-goodness superhero is capable of. He succeeded with his haunting performance and then went on to gain back a human body’s worth of weight for the 2005 film "Batman Begins" (via IMDb). And since then, Bale has continued to prove himself as one of the kings of physical transformations, gaining and then losing over 60 pounds for his role of Dick Cheney in Vice (via GQ). Holy Toledo, Batman, that’s a lot of changes!
50 Cent for "All Things Fall Apart"
Do you remember when 50 Cent became popular? Everyone just walked around proclaiming that he’d survived being shot nine times (via BBC), but he has since proven himself to be a talent beyond the lore. Curtis Jackon, aka 50 Cent, aka "Fiddy," drew some inspiration from Christian Bale’s dramatic weight loss for "The Machinist" to fuel his own epic slim-down for his role in "All Things Fall Apart" (via Everyday Health). Ultimately, he found the most inspiration by honoring a friend of his who had died from cancer.
"All Things Fall Apart" debuted in 2011 and depicts the story of a running back who is diagnosed with cancer right before the NFL draft. For the role, Fiddy dropped 54 pounds by following a liquid diet and spending hours pounding away on his treadmill to lose an incredible six pounds per week. As a note, this is not advised! His gaunt face drew attention across social media after he posted photos that starkly contrasted with his usual stocky and strong frame. But Fiddy’s chill-inducing performance paid off, thanks in part to his sickly countenance and dedication to the role.
Zac Efron for "Baywatch"
Zac Efron has come a long way since playing skinny, singing Troy in the High School Musical series. He was beloved then and is beloved now. He has also proven his acting chops by fully committing to embodying the physicality of each role that is thrown his way. Indeed, Efron publicly commented on his periodic avoidance of carbs in his Netflix docu-series Down to Earth, casually shoveling carb-heavy foods into his mouth while proclaiming how much he’d missed them while he was filming "Baywatch" (via Men’s Health).
Efron’s "Baywatch" physique is truly a testament to his efforts — viewers get to see the abs upon abs, and we are fully fine with the scenery. With a keen eye for macros, his trainer whipped him into shape fairly quickly with punishing workouts and a straight-laced diet consisting of lean proteins, tons of veggies, some healthy fats, and a reasonable dose of whole grains (per Many of Many). When it came to the heavy-lifting workouts, Efron’s trainer took an approach that might startle figure competitors and gym rats: he had Efron maintain a low body fat percentage. Instead of guiding Efron through "bulking" and "cutting" phases, he focused on building clean, lean muscle. Efron ended up gaining a solid ten pounds of muscle by sticking with this strict yet powerful diet and exercise plan.
Ryan Reynolds for "Blade: Trinity"
Ryan Reynolds stands in a league of his own when it comes to, dare we say it, middle-aged men’s physiques. Move over, dad bods, the Ryan Reynolds form is all the rage now, whew! Reynolds is fit, no doubt. He can perform a backflip on a moment’s notice and looks generally fantastic while just sauntering around in jeans (via Men’s Health).
The thing that sets Reynolds apart from other Hollywood fitness phenoms is that he maintains his superhero shape year-round. This does not mean that his transformations are easier than those of the other superheroes we see vanquishing bad guys across our screens. Instead, Reynolds works with a trainer consistently so that when he gets a role that requires bulking up, he can make swift changes to get in shape. Avoiding cheat meals and skipping alcohol, in addition to adding some specific workouts, can really help expedite the process. The mental fortitude it takes to support this lifestyle is enviable, for sure. When prepping to film "Blade: Trinity," he reportedly gained around 24 pounds of muscle, and it shows. He beefed his diet up to 3,200 calories per day and worked out aggressively six days per week to get "aesthetically fit." Reynolds’s adherence to a balanced lifestyle as he creeps toward 50 is enviable.
Anne Hathaway for "Les Misérables"
No matter how you slice it, "Les Misérables" sounds … well, miserable. And Anne Hathaway’s efforts to embody this title to its fullest extent shine through in her haunting transformation to play disgraced prostitute Fantine. However, her first Academy Award was delivered with a side of identity crises and illness due to her rapid weight loss (via Vogue). To achieve the character’s hollowed-out aesthetic, Hathaway shed 25 pounds before filming began. She spent about two weeks dropping the first ten pounds and then went full-force into a near-starvation diet to drop the following fifteen, consuming a scant two pieces of dried oatmeal paste per day in order to achieve her glow-y but on-the-verge-of-death appearance for the role.
Hathaway has since reported that it took her a really long time to feel grounded and normal after such an aggressive crash diet, especially amid such a profound season of her life; Hathaway had recently turned 30 and gotten married, two happy events that can also lay the groundwork for identity crises, not that we are speaking from experience or anything (via Newsweek).
Emile Hirsch for "Into the Wild"
The story of Chris McCandless is one that the dreams of restless #vanlifers are made of, until the part where he — SPOILER ALERT — dies of starvation. Directed by Sean Penn and based on a true-story-turned-book by Jon Kraukauer, "Into the Wild" follows the journey and untimely death of McCandless as he rejects the trappings of modern life, burning his cash and setting out into the Alaskan wilderness in search of ultimate freedom, inspired by Jack London and Henry David Thoreau (via SF Gate).
To depict a character that dies of starvation, actor Emile Hirsch had to go to extreme lengths. One of the main elements that sets "Into the Wild" and Hirsch’s performance apart from other Hollywood transformations is that he was required to look healthy in some scenes and then appear to be close to death and dying in others. All told, Hirsch dropped around 41 pounds to convincingly play McCandless near the end of his life. In an interview with Slash Film, Hirsch says that he weighted 156 pounds when he got the part of McCandless. He then dropped to 130 for the bulk or the movie, followed by an extreme fifteen-pound loss for the finals scenes.
Hillary Swank for "Million Dollar Baby"
Is there anything more inspiring than a badass woman who gets into insane physical shape for a role? We think not. For her second Academy Award-winning performance, Hillary Swank fully embodied a powerful, amateur boxer in "Million Dollar Baby," a role for which she put on an impressive 23 pounds of muscle (per Women’s Health). In a 2014 interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Swank outlined her grueling training schedule and diet, saying that training for this specific film was the hardest thing she’s ever done. Whether it was so hard because of the excessive amount of protein she had to consume every day or the nearly full-time job of exercising she had to fit it, she doesn’t say. She does explain that she had to work out for an extreme five hours and consume 210 grams of protein per day, which she struggled to accomplish. In addition to downing 60 egg whites every morning, she would wake up in the middle of the night to pound protein shakes.
George Clooney for "Syriana"
George Clooney deviated from traditional Hollywood transformations with his extreme weight gain for his 2005 role in "Syriana." Despite Clooney’s high-profile residence in carb country, he didn’t enjoy packing on the pounds for this role — unlike the rest of us who effortless plump up on carbonara while traipsing through Italy (via Travel + Leisure and Sydney Morning Herald). Though Clooney won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the role as a CIA agent, he remembers his weight gain and the era of filming "Syriana" as a miserable time in his life — though this may be because, in addition to gaining around 30 pounds to accurately portray his husky character, Clooney also suffered a serious spinal injury during filming. But despite the hardship, "Syriana," and Clooney’s character in particular, are another case of a physical transformation parlaying into a haunting, yet artistically genius, award-winning film. And not even Clooney’s paunch and scruffiness could trick viewers into thinking he is anything but the Sexiest Man Alive.
Natalie Portman for "Black Swan"
"Black Swan" is another gut-wrenchingly grim film that required its lead to shapeshift in order to accurately embody the darkness that lives within the main character. While preparing to shoot this psychological thriller, Natalie Portman endured a year-long professional dance training program, in addition to restructuring her diet, to take on the role of Nina, a disturbed, waif-like ballerina (via People). Portman claims that shifting her eating habits was key for achieving the desired look for her character. Unlike many other actors who cut out certain foods entirely for a short period, Portman told People that her routine was all about quantity and consuming smaller portions. The actress ultimately lost 20 pounds for the role, though she confirms that the diet and exercise habits she took up in preparation did not stick around after filming. But like so many Hollywood transformations, Portman’s paid dividends and helped earn her both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe (via Biography).
Jonah Hill for "Maniac"
Jonah Hill made a name for himself as a husky and comedic protagonist in the early 2000s, but he shed some serious poundage for his role of maybe-schizophrenic Owen in the 2018 series "Maniac" (via Men’s Journal). This was far from his first transformation, though. Hill has fluctuated in the past, dropping weight for films like "22 Jump Street" and then regaining it then some — to the tune of 40 pounds — for "War Dogs." Lately, though, Hill isn’t necessarily maintaining his svelte physique for a role. The actor rose to fame as a bigger-than-some young man and was body shamed by the tabloids, especially when he starred opposite more conventionally attractive actors like Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio (via Goalcast). This harsh criticism has led to Hill working through his own body shame and making some lifestyle changes, including regular boxing workouts, omitting beer from his diet, and keeping a food journal which he shows to a nutritionist. But in any and every version of his body, Hill has proven himself as a serious Hollywood actor with comedic and aesthetic appeal to boot! No matter what Hollywood throws at him next, he will morph to fit the role with power and ease.
Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto for "Dallas Buyers Club"
What happens when you take two of the most attractive men in Hollywood and cast them opposite each other in a movie that centers on AIDS? You get the second best thing to happen in this sphere since "Rent" – you get "Dallas Buyers Club." In the film, Matthew McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a hard-living, homophobic, and racist man who was recently diagnosed with HIV (via IMDb). McConaughey dropped down to 143 pounds for the role, achieving this rail-thin look by hitting the cardio hard and the starvation diet harder (via E Online).
Perhaps even more startling was the transformation of Jared Leto, who went to extreme lengths to encapsulate his character, Rayon. Rayon was not only meant to be suffering from HIV, but was also a trans woman — and to inhabit this role, Leto dropped about 30 pounds, shaved and waxed his entire body (including his eyebrows), and dressed in drag for the entirety of filming (via CNN). Happily, despite Leto’s concern that his eyebrows would be gone for good, they grew back before "Dallas Buyers Club" even premiered (via Cheat Sheet).