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Top 10 Actors Who Starved Themselves for a Movie Role

See which actors literally starved themselves and got close to endangering their lives for a movie role.

Acting is not as glamorous as it may seem. Sometimes actors need to spend months rehearsing, learning new skills, or transforming their whole appearance.

When the part requires a totally different weight, they just have to say goodbye to their regular eating habits.

It’s easy to gain weight, get crazy with lots of food, and it’s done.

But when it comes to drastically slimming down, things are somewhat complicated. If you lose too much weight in a short time, you can easily get ill.

But some actors are willing to take any necessary risk to play the part right.

Let’s see which actors literally starved themselves and got close to endangering their lives for a movie role.

10. Jake Gyllenhall

Jake Gllenhall
© Deposit Photos

Jake Gyllenhall sure grew up a lot since he portrayed the “Bubble Boy.” Now he is a serious actor who’s not afraid to take challenges and develop his artistic skills.

In 2013 he co-produced and portrayed the lead character in the movie “Nightcrawler.”

He plays a troubled freelance crime journalist who reveals an underground world in Los Angeles.

Though he describes himself as being “obsessed with food,” he gave up and lost over 20 pounds to relate better to the intense character.

9. Colin Farrell

Collin Farrel
Image via Gage SkidmoreCC BY-SA 3.0

In 2009, he took the part of a photojournalist in the movie “Triage.” The character suffered from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to war, so the role required the actor to be really skinny.

To accomplish the physical requirements, he went on a peculiar diet. Farrell fed himself only with tuna, drank much coffee and diet Coke, and smoked a lot.

That’s a fishy diet, isn’t it? But dubious or not, he lost around 40 pounds because the daily caloric intake only reached about 300 calories.

Due to the delicate topics, the movie was distributed in very few cinemas.

It didn’t reach commercial success and was somewhat overlooked in the industry. As a result, Farrell didn’t receive any nomination or award for his performance.

8. 50 Cent

50 Cent
Image via MTV UK
CC BY 3.0

Though bad boy 50 Cent is usually only known as a rapper, he played in a few movies.

In “All Things Fall Apart,” released in 2011, he really wanted to get his acting to a whole different level.

He portrayed a football player who is fighting cancer. His inspiration was a childhood friend who went through this horrible situation.

The rapper lost 54 pounds in nine weeks by pushing the workout limits and eating an all-liquid diet.

His famous muscles vanished due to malnourishment, and his figure looked skinny and terribly frail.

Unfortunately, the movie didn’t reach commercial success and remains somewhat unknown.

7. Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender
Image via Gage Skidmore
CC BY-SA 4.0

This actor had his share of starving too. In 2008, he did it for 10 weeks. He lost around 40 pounds to look emaciated for the lead role in the biographical movie called suggestively “Hunger.”

He played an activist who led the strike in prison and didn’t eat for 66 days. Fassbender lost the weight by eating 600-1000 calories a day, mainly berries, sardines, and nuts.

He also engaged in lots of speed-walking and yoga.

“Hunger” was well-regarded by critics and won several international movie awards like Sydney Film Prize.

Fassbender received important awards in movie festivals like the Stockholm International Film Festival or the Montréal Festival of New Cinema.

6. Jared Leto

Jared Leto
Image via Gage Skidmore
CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the women’s favorites, Jared Leto, tried to prove that he is not only a pretty face but a talented actor as well.

In 2013, he accepted the challenge to play a transsexual with AIDS in the movie “Dallas Buyers Club.”

He was so determined to play the character well that he lost about 40 pounds. Although in his case, there wasn’t any special diet to do this, he basically simply stopped eating and held on only by hydrating himself.

The movie was greatly received by critics, and it received six Academy Award nominations. Leto’s performance was highly acclaimed, too, turning into his most significant film success.

He received several awards like New York Film Critics Circle, Screen Actors Guild Awards, or Critics’ Choice Movie Award. In addition, he was nominated for many others, including for an Oscar.

5. Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey
Image via All-Pro Reels
CC BY-SA 2.0

Even if he is known for his muscular fit body, he took a challenge in 2013. He lost around 45 pounds to portray an AIDS patient in the same “Dallas Buyers Club” that made Jared Leto starve.

To lose his athletic figure, McConaughey only ate tiny portions of food. He was supervised by doctors as this was a drastic change to his diet and regular habits.

The movie was critically appreciated and received many nominations to essential awards. McConaughey’s performance boosted his career as well, adding significant nominations to his actor portfolio.

4. Matt Damon

Matt Damon
Image via NASA/Bill Ingalls
Public Domain

In 1996, when he was just a newbie to the acting business, Matt Damon accepted a risky role in the movie “Courage Under Fire” that could have been life-threatening. He was supposed to lose an incredible amount of weight for only two days of shooting, portraying an opium-addicted soldier.

To establish himself as a dedicated actor in the industry, he took the challenge and lost about 40 pounds following a self-dictated diet and through an exercise program. Unfortunately, this didn’t bring him any awards, but he still reached his goal of getting noticed in the business.

That wasn’t his only starving endeavor. In 1999, he starred in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” as the lead role. Then he lost around 30 pounds fast as his diet was all about starvation.

This part got him several nominations, like for a Golden Globe and a Blockbuster Entertainment Award.

3. Adrien Brody

Adrien Brody
Image via Georges Biard
CC BY-SA 3.0

In 2002, Adrien Brody faced a highly challenging role: to play a polish pianist during World War II in the movie “The Pianist.”

He faced tremendous pressure as the director Roman Polanski experienced Holocaust himself, and everything had to go perfectly. In addition, the movie was based on an autobiographical book, so Brody had to give his best to relate to the character.

To do so, he changed his life drastically to have the mindset of the troubled pianist.

He got rid of all his possessions (apartment, car, etc.). Then, he experienced the desperation of hunger that made him lose over 30 pounds. He managed to do this by having the same strict menu consisting of two eggs and a bit of chicken for six weeks.

The movie was very successful, and his starving paid off. His performance earned him several awards, including an Oscar.

Being just 29 at that time made him the youngest winner for Best Actor in history.

2. Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks
Image via John Bauld
CC BY 2.0

He has an established reputation as a good actor, and he has his fair share of starving to get that reputation. His first major hit was the 1993 movie “Philadelphia.” He played a homosexual lawyer with AIDS.

Hanks lost around 35 pounds to portray him right and underwent other physical transformations such as thinning his hair. Nevertheless, the character was so convincing that Tom Hanks got an Oscar and a Golden Globe.

In 2000, he did it again for the “Cast Away” role. There he had to play a man whose plane crashed, and he is forced to survive on an uninhabited island using only remnants. He initially gained weight to look out of shape for the first part of the movie.

Then he got a year off and lost 55 pounds by following a strict diet that allowed him to eat some fish, vegetables, and fruits and practice intense workouts.

This paid off too. Hank’s performance got several award nominations, another Golden Globe, and the movie was highly acclaimed.

1. Christian Bale

Christian Bale
Image via Harald Krichel
CC BY-SA 4.0

He is an actor who starved so much in the name of art that he set a record. His first starving period was in 2004 when he accepted to play the lead role in “The Machinist.”

This required having to drastically lose weight. Bale went on and lost a record amount of 63 pounds. He did it by eating only tuna, an apple, and drinking coffee.

This later became known as the Christian Bale Diet to lose incredible amounts of weight fast. But, starving himself to the point of becoming sick, he still managed to play the part.

Critically, the movie did quite well, even if it didn’t become a massive hit. Bale received some nominations and awards at film festivals.

He went extreme again in 2011 and lost 30 pounds for the movie “The Fighter,” where he played a crack addict. The story was widely appreciated by critics. This movie proved to be much more successful for Bale too. He received an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Guilds Award.

Clara Living
Clara Living
I'm a health and lifestyle writer in Kentucky. I grew up in Connecticut, where I attended the University of Connecticut. After graduating from the university's journalism school, I embarked on my career as a freelance journalist before moving to rural Kentucky for family reasons. My two Labrador retrievers are my constant companions while working from home.
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