40 Actors Who Were So Engrossed In Their Roles That They Went “Loco”By John P.
Actors arrive as a blank canvas for a film or TV show’s writers and directors. On-screen, they are the physical incarnation of their character’s ideas and emotions, going through everything the character goes through. The best performers and actresses are well aware of this. Winning an Oscar is a pleasant side effect of a difficult process that involves feeling all the ups and downs of another person’s life as though they’re your own.
To nail their parts, many of the world’s most famous performers use the method acting technique – embodying the role both on and off-screen and finding emotional moments in their own lives to connect to the character. It’s no surprise that some of these stars nearly went crazy after taking on tough cinematic roles. Some had to go to rehab, while others slipped into temporary insanity. Let’s take a look at 40 of the most outlandish stories.
Heath Ledger from The Dark Knight
We assume you’re familiar with Sir Michael Caine. He’s a well-known actor with a long list of credits to his name. Heath Ledger was so intimidating as the Joker that this seasoned actor forgot his lines. Imagine terrifying a professional actor by being so tuned in to a psychopath.
Heath had gone on a month-long self-imposed exile and starved himself to prepare for the character. We should all know that eating affects mood and sleep patterns. So, this tactic caused depression and insomnia. The passing of this legendary young actor was one of Hollywood’s biggest tragedies.
Christian Bale from The Machinist
You’ll be appalled by Bale’s poor state if you ever see this dark film. When a person’s bones and a thin layer of skin are all that’s left, it is incredibly upsetting. For the movie, the actor shed 60 pounds.
He would only eat a can of tuna and an apple a day. He also forced himself to remain awake for two weeks. Those eye bags weren’t merely a make-up or lighting effect! They were the result of utter physical and mental fatigue. Bale also gained weight for Vice and shredded for American Psycho, proving his commitment to physical metamorphosis.
Jared Leto from Suicide Squad
Jared Leto took method acting to all new extremes when filming Suicide Squad. Even during breaks, he remained in character. There were no greetings, responses, or courtesies. He would play cruel pranks, including one that involved Margot Robbie and a rat.
Leto also sent a dead pig to the rest of the cast. We can easily envision the Joker pulling off something similar, if not worse. So, we suppose he ought to be commended for his enthusiasm. However, the film ended up being a flop.
Leonardo DiCaprio from The Revenant
Leonardo DiCaprio maintains a youthful appearance thanks to his vegan diet. However, he ate raw meat and slept on animal remains to prepare for this part. It’s no surprise that he took home Best Actor at the Academy Awards that year, and not a moment too soon.
It’s possible that if DiCaprio hadn’t put himself through such hardship, we wouldn’t have felt the pain the character was going through. Wouldn’t you want to seek justice if you were left for dead after being attacked by a bear? It’d be enough to get things moving in any case.
Bill Skarsgård from It
It’s no surprise that Bill brought genuine menace to his portrayal of Pennywise. His family is famous for producing actors with impressive skills, including his father, Stellan Skarsgård, and brother Alexander Skarsgård. Remember his drooping, drooling mouth and his lethargic gaze? Skarsgård read King’s novels and based his portrayal of Pennywise on the original book rather than the old movies.
Pennywise’s high-pitched nasal voice came to him only after he’d gone through the entire make-up process. Bill has been able to move his eyes independently and do that weird thing with his lips ever since he was a kid. This actor was tailor-made for the part, and what a terrifying performance he delivered.
Anne Hathaway from Les Misérables
Anne Hathaway won an Oscar for her portrayal of Fantine in Les Misérables. She sang and suffered, but she was dissatisfied with the honor. How would you feel if you shed 25 pounds in exchange for a gold-plated figurine? It isn’t even pure gold.
She shaved her hair and went through a difficult time. On stage, Anne stated she was anxious since she didn’t know “who she was” when accepting the accolade. Actors clearly need to chill out for a while after taking on such roles.
Johnny Depp from Pirates Of The Caribbean
Johnny Depp drew inspiration for Captain Jack Sparrow from Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. In between sets, he was adamant about avoiding distractions. Unapologetic, languid, phantom drink and cigarette always in hand, Depp projected a feminine demeanor – just like Richards.
We’d do the same thing if we were being paid handsomely to act like a pirate and channel a rock star. Because of this, the character became legendary, even though it was not what Disney had in mind when they created him. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Nicolas Cage from host RiderG
Whenever the Ghost Rider showed up, many people wondered who was responsible for Cage’s hideous make-up. As it turns out, Nicolas Cage was the culprit. To mimic Baron Samedi, he wore black contact lenses and painted his face to resemble him.
He stuffed his jeans pockets with various rocks and amulets. After contracting with the devil, he was compelled to summon voodoo death spirits. What a great way to get into character! No wonder he did such a remarkable job of scorching our memories with this film.
Shia LaBeouf from Fury
During the filming of Fury, Shia LaBeouf indulged in quirky behavior, as he is known to do both on and off set. Several of his co-stars expressed their displeasure with his obnoxious body odor. He went 30 days without bathing while filming.
He also nicked his right cheek and refused to cover it with balm or gauze. He even yanked a tooth. He was lucky not to become sick while filming. Microbes can easily infect a wound that hasn’t been cleaned. Is this level of commitment really necessary?
Johnny Depp from Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
Hunter S. Thompson was a friend of Johnny Depp’s, and the two had been living together for months in the lead up to Fear And Loathing. The story revolves around Thompson’s journey to Las Vegas as a drug-addled journalist. Instead of chastising Depp for taking illegal narcotics to prepare for the role, the cast and crew rallied around him.
After filming, however, Depp couldn’t shake Thompson’s tics. In an interview, he described the latter as “a sickness… I can’t shake it”. The movie was wild but still far more toned down than what you’ll find in Thompson’s books.
Jennifer Lawrence from The Hunger Games
The worldbuilding for The Hunger Games was so well done that it drew fans into an alternate reality that felt realistic but unbelievable all at the same time. We were fine with seeing people die on the big screen because we knew it was not real life. Unfortunately, a mechanical malfunction nearly took Lawrence’s life for real.
Lawrence was forced to flee into a tunnel when the fog machine failed. She was huffing and puffing, straining to take a breath in a space she couldn’t easily navigate. Fortunately, the rescue team arrived in just a few minutes.
Joaquin Phoenix from Joker
What’s the connection between weight loss and sanity? Again, this actor decided to lose a significant amount of weight to play a depressed and mentally ill client. He also made it a point to practice Joker’s pitiful chuckle.
The scene where he is run over by a car and his body slams through the windshield is one of the most memorable. Juaquin Phoenix actually did this stunt himself. In fact, he didn’t have a stunt double at all for this film.
Chris Hemsworth from In The Heart Of The Sea
For this part, Hemsworth had to lose 33 pounds. That’s how insane it was. He felt like he was participating in a weight-loss reality show every time he weighed himself. And here we were, assuming his haggard appearance was all makeup and special effects!
Because the film was set in a harsh environment, the character was skinny and had very little muscle. Hemsworth also took up sailing as a way to prepare for the role. Chris Hemsworth’s look in this film is vastly different from the one we’re used to seeing.
Leonardo DiCaprio from Django Unchained
Remember when he wiped Kerry Washington’s face with his bloodied palm? Kerry was horrified to the core! Everybody in the scene froze and switched out of character for a split second. DiCaprio had just slapped his palm against a crystal liquor glass on the dining table and accidentally smashed it.
He had a chunk of glass stuck in his skin, and you could see blood cascading from his hand, but he wasn’t about to break character. This stunt should have earned DiCaprio an Oscar nomination. The dedicated actor took this scene to the next level, but he needed sutures after the cameras stopped rolling.
Michelle Williams from My Week With Marilyn
Michelle Williams said that the more time she spent in character, the more connected she felt to Marilyn Monroe’s legendary persona. She used two of Marilyn’s autobiographies and leaned into her vulnerable side to portray the classic Hollywood starlet.
She was also able to sing in a variety of timbres. Monroe, despite her best efforts, was easily distracted. Everything that came her way would cause her to lose focus. Williams portrayed this side of Marilyn with complexity and color. It didn’t hurt that she looked so much like Marilyn!
Christian Bale from Terminator Salvation
It’s no secret that Christian Bale has a notoriously short fuse on set. If we’re to believe the stories, he’d been acting like a petty tyrant on the set of Terminator Salvation. While portraying John Connor, he launched into an unrestrained tirade against director Shane Hurlbut.
Everyone who heard the now infamous tape assumed he was entitled and full of himself. However, Bale claimed that the issue was rectified immediately, and to his credit, he owned his error and publicly apologized. He confessed that his enthusiasm got the better of him.
Nicolas Cage from Birdy
While Cage would ordinarily seek four million dollars for a film role in the 1990s, he was ready to take on this anti-Hollywood part for just $250,000 because he found it so appealing. He even went so far as to have some of his teeth removed because he was unafraid of “dark material.”
Does that mean he wears prosthetics now? Wearing a bandage over his head while filming and between takes helped him take on the vibe of a mummified person. After removing it, he saw that he had developed acne and ingrown hairs all over his face.
Val Kilmer from The Doors
We were struck by Kilmer’s ability to channel Jim Morrison’s demeanor. He and his band rehearsed “LA Woman” backstage several times. To get the role, he sent a cassette to casting agencies and asked them to tell which songs were his and which were Jim’s. No one could tell, but the truth was that Val had sung them all!
Kilmer was such a fan of the Doors and so determined to get the part that he memorized 50 songs in a short amount of time. Sadly, just a third of the songs made it into the film. However, we’re just glad that Val made the cut. That’s all that matters!
Hilary Swank from Boys Don’t Cry
Sadly, during Brandon Teena’s lifetime, gender identity and sexual orientation were not things people thought could be fluid. Any deviations from “the norm” would put you at risk of drawing criticism, mockery, or worse. Swank did an astonishing job of bringing Teena’s brave narrative to the screen.
She wrapped her breasts in bandages and slept in them to conceal them with the same determination Teena displayed. She only responded when addressed by her male-given name. She packed her jeans to give herself a bulge and slimmed down to make her face appear more angular. She truly paid respect to Brandon, and the film haunts us to this day.
Joaquin Phoenix from I’m Still Here
People often picture a scruffy-haired man with piercing emerald eyes when they hear the name Joaquin Phoenix. In this mockumentary, he transformed into a hip-hop performer. He appeared on Letterman’s show disguised as his imaginary persona and persuaded everyone he was having a mental breakdown.
Our admiration for the actor has no bounds, but we’d prefer to see him continue in the acting business. We’re not so sure he has the talent to be a rapper. Of course, if this movie were based on fact, we’d have no choice but to respect the career transition.
Kate Winslet from The Reader
If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand Hanna Schmitz’s plight. Winslet needed to pick up a whole lot of emotional baggage, and she later explained that it was challenging for her because she couldn’t connect with Hanna on any level.
“You don’t have to forgive it; you don’t have to sympathize with it. You just have to understand why those things happen to that person,” she told the audience after finishing the book. Winslet’s subtlety as a performer contributed to the character’s intricacy.
Jamie Foxx from Ray
We never expected Jamie Foxx, a singer and actor, to be able to capture the spirit of Ray Charles quite as he did. He nailed the persona of the soul singer down to the smallest of details.
He wore prosthetics over his eyes to give himself the felt experience of being blind, and he was helped around the set by the crew. It helped greatly that Foxx is a talented singer. He nailed this part, even though it was challenging to play.
Jamie Dornan from The Fall
The Fall is a British television series about a murder investigation. Jamie Dornan portrays the rather dark and brooding role of Paul Spector. He revealed in an interview that the beard and haircut had a profound effect on his mental well-being.
This is odd because the haircut seems pretty ordinary. Could this be why Jamie had an easier time portraying Mr. Gray in his next film, Fifty Shades of Gray? Self-discipline and perseverance come easy to Dornan, as demonstrated by his performance.
Natalie Portman from Black Swan
Despite Portman’s earlier training in ballet, she had not performed a pirouette in quite some time. “There were certain nights when I felt I was going to die,” she says of her harrowing Black Swan experience.
She was aware that dancers were always on the move, whether they had an injured ankle or a twisted neck. Pain is a thing to be endured no matter what, and the beauty and grace of ballet dancers lie in their ability to conceal agony. For the part, she reportedly shed 10 kilos, although she’s already tiny as it is!
Sydney Lassick from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
When making One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the crew made the wild decision to film it in a real, operational mental institution. While filming in the psychiatric facility, Lassick’s behavior deteriorated dramatically. Being at a facility with other people with mental illnesses made him more unstable. He was taken from the set in the final moments because he was too overwhelmed.
The scene between Nicholson and Sampson is a stand-out for fans of the film. It’s good to know that this groundbreaking movie received the “big five” Academy Awards. It was a tough undertaking, and they did a marvelous job of honoring the book while going in their own creative direction.
Daniel Day-Lewis from My Left Foot
We’re baffled as to why this movie would require a stunt double. However, while portraying the quadriplegic character, Daniel Day-Lewis ended up breaking his ribs. It got so bad that he genuinely had to be spoon-fed by the cast and crew.
In real life, Christy Brown became a painter, writer, and poet as an adult. Daniel Day-Lewis received an Oscar for his fortitude in playing the role. We appreciate his performance in the film and believe he deserves all the praise for his enigmatic portrayal.
Margot Robbie from I, Tonya
Imagine taking on a role in a show where you’ll be out on the ice for half a day, five days a week, for nearly a year, with no prior skating experience. Robbie’s training for this film required an incredible level of balance and coordination, and she had to include pilates and yoga in her routine to ease the physical stress on her body.
She could easily portray her disappointment in failing to land the triple axle since Robbie and Tonya have a similar devotion to their craft. It’s beautiful to see actors revealing pieces of themselves in their characters.
Malcolm McDowell from A Clockwork Orange
Have you ever wondered how Malcolm was able to play such an unsettling and challenging role? As it turns out, he was given free rein to improvise his lines. Observe the character’s emotional turmoil in the trailer, and you won’t be surprised to learn that much of it was genuinely felt by McDowell.
The actor suffered from nighttime seizures and needed treatment. He was temporarily blinded by those infamous eye clamps that scraped his eye. To prevent the symptoms from worsening, he was put on medication. We thought his performance in A Clockwork Orange was terrific, but hearing the story behind it is terrible.
Halle Berry from Jungle Fever
To portray her part as a crack addict, Halle Berry says she didn’t shower for eight weeks. Thankfully, she didn’t go so far as to develop a real drug addiction. Do you think the rest of the crew members were disgusted by her lack of hygiene?
Taking on this job was a nice change of pace from the roles she had previously played. She wanted to step away from the glamorous Bond girl stereotype. This shows Halle’s versatility as an actor, so we’ll give her a pass on not bathing for two months!
Marilyn Burns from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Those worry lines never quite left actress Marilyn Burns’ face, even after filming wrapped on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As a result of a glitch with a very realistic dummy knife that contained a blood tube, director Tobe Hooper accidentally sliced Marilyn’s finger.
The director also instructed the actor portraying the insane killer Leatherface to beat her into submission. Burns agreed to be roughed up but passed out after the eighth take. This horror film sounds a little too real for our liking!
Adrien Brody from The Pianist
Are you familiar with any of the works of Chopin? Every day, Brody played multiple pieces to get into character. He ended his relationship with his long-term fiancée, sold his car, and moved out of his flat to mirror the loneliness of a Jewish Holocaust survivor in Poland.
He was in grief by the end of the film. He had lost over 30 pounds and went months without eating much at all. He had felt sadness and loss before playing Wadysaw Szpilman but never to that degree. His portrayal of the character’s anguish was spot on.
Ashton Kutcher from Jobs
You may have wondered why protein is so crucial for good health. Ashton Kutcher can tell you exactly why this is the case. He went on an all-fruit diet like Steve Jobs but ended up in the hospital due to nutritional deficiencies. The actor also delved into the “nuances of his behavior.”
He met the people Jobs valued and studied the successful entrepreneurs he admired. He even read all the novels Steve was known to have read. Ashton truly took on every aspect of the Apple leader’s life.
Zac Efron from Killing Zac Efron
Zac Efron’s survival reality TV show was rather bizarrely called Killing Zac Efron. During filming, he got so sick and frail in Papua New Guinea that he had to be sent to Australia on a chartered jet for treatment.
Typhoid fever, which is primarily foodborne, was the most likely cause of his illness. Though he became quite sick, he recovered quickly and made it back to California in time for Christmas. Thankfully, the name of his show didn’t end up being prophetic!
Danny DeVito from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
Living in a mental institution doesn’t have to be unpleasant. In fact, if you’re an actor, living there can be a great way to embody your role. What a great way to take on a fictional persona!
DeVito spoke to an imaginary friend during filming and relapsed to his childhood. The crew secretly videotaped DeVito and the other actors for parts of the film, recording stunning performances to get the actors adjusted to the emotional burden of being in the mental institution.
Heather Donahue of The Blair Witch Project
Imagine being led into the woods by your director without being informed of what awaits you out there. There is absolutely no instruction or direction provided at any point in time, and then you’re left alone in the middle of nowhere. Who wouldn’t be apprehensive and on edge?
The crew relied solely on GPS to locate the actors who were filming themselves. They would leave clues and creepy gifts and terrorize the actors to get the reactions they needed for the film. Once filming wrapped, Heather and her co-stars agreed to disappear from the public eye, making it feel like the film was real and they genuinely had gone missing.
John Krasinski from 13 Hours
Krasinski acknowledges that he signed on to play a military contractor when he wasn’t ready. He worked extremely hard to improve his physical fitness. One minute of planking is nothing compared to several minutes of planking – a feat that became easy for this actor.
He learned how to use a gun safely and navigate difficult terrain on high alert. It takes effort to seem slick in commando gear, so they consulted real Navy SEALs for the film. Do you think all that effort was worth it?
Kyle Richards from Halloween
When it was released, Halloween was one of the most exciting films of the year. However, it was traumatizing for this 9-year-old actress. Her parents didn’t realize what they were getting themselves into with the film. Kyle admits to sleeping with her mother till she was 15 years old because she was so scarred by the film.
Fortunately, she was able to overcome her phobia eventually. Halloween Kills was “a little scary, but exhilarating” for her, as she put it. We love a good scary movie, and the original Halloween is much better than any of the sequels or spin-offs that followed after it.
50 Cent from All Things Fall Apart
This film is about a college running back with a spine tumor who tries to finish his senior year strong. It was inspired by a childhood buddy of 50 Cent’s, who succumbed to cancer. The rapper went on a liquid diet to look the part.
He only drank water, juice, milk, and other liquids. Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson also jogged on a treadmill for at least three hours a day. That explains why he appeared so frail in the film. His devotion to honoring the memory of his deceased friend is touching.
Rooney Mara from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Rooney Mara has always seemed like a bit of a wallflower in her interviews. A natural brunette, she has brown eyes that make you think of hot cocoa by the fire. However, in this movie, she unleashed her dangerous side.
She actually loved embodying this tough character, and with her new look and persona, she no longer had to deal with the catcalls or stares from strangers. People did quite like her hairstyle, though, so she probably garnered a few side glances from adoring fans.
John Travolta from Hairspray
After much consideration, John Travolta decided to take on the role of Edna in Hairspray. Though the actor has previously danced in Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction, perfecting the routine in a fat suit and wig was tough.
He needed more than just talent and muscle memory to make it through. On top of that, he had to wear stilettos to play the part. Edna is an effeminate and jovial suburban housewife, and we believe he did a fantastic job with it.