How Should Body Changes For Roles Be Treated?

Opinions – we all got ’em…Even Trial By Films does.  When we do, we’ll let you know. This is one of those times.

A time honored tradition in Hollywood has been showering acclaim (and shock) over the ways actors and actresses seek to change their physical appearance to transform into character for film roles.  Whether it is out of curiosity or shock over the dramatic weight losses and gains, any actor that can make the scales change in the double digits for an upcoming part is going to be met with publicity.  Some up-and-coming actors use their body metamorphosis to show their commitment to the craft and catapult themselves into bigger and bigger roles.  Others try to keep a low profile, and only whispers and rumors of the extent of their preparation are leaked; usually around awards seasons.  And then there are the actors that alter their bodies hoping for some extra headlines in the press, only for the film to flop.

With these actors and actresses pledging their dedication to the craft, the question that needs to be considered is whether these body transformations should be taken into account when reviewing the end product – what ends up on film.

Let’s take a look at a few recent examples of actor who subjected themselves to over-the-top, and sometimes unsafe, weight changes for roles; and the impact (or fallout) within the film community.

The Good:


Actor: Eric Bana in Chopper

Body Transformation: Gained 28 pounds of fat for the role

Eric Bana was an Australian sketch comedy actor unknown outside of his native country until Chopper premiered in 2000.  This Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James…) film centers on infamous Australian criminal ‘Chopper’ Read.  Bana is reported to have gained nearly 30 pounds to prepare for the role, the changes are self-evident.  The film role won Bana the Best Actor award at the AACTA (Australia’s counterpart to the Academy Awards).

The following year, when casting for Black Hawk Down; Ridley Scott couldn’t have ignored the actor’s ‘method’ preparation for Chopper when casting Bana in a lead role. Eric Bana made his name synonymous with dedication by gaining an enormous amount of weight; and leveraged that into a nearly 20 year Hollywood career.  Would Eric Bana be a Hollywood leading man if he hadn’t stunned audiences back in 2000 with all that extra weight? Maybe.

The Bad:


Actor: Jared Leto in Chapter 27

Body Transformation: The 5’8″ actor gained 67 pounds to play John Lennon’s killer; he was eventually forced into a wheelchair after complications for gout.

This 2007 Sundance biopic about Mark David Chapman was the talk of the festival circuit; not for the quality of the film but for how shocking a weight change the slight actor made for the role.  Divisive among critics and Beatles fans alike, Chapter 27 didn’t win awards and Leto didn’t find the acclaim he perhaps thought he’d get for ‘drinking microwaved pints of ice cream mixed with soy sauce and olive oil every night’ – per reports.

But fear not, because the devotion Leto showed in Chapter 27 was heavily documented in the press, showing future directors he was ready to do what it took to win a role.  Six years later, Leto finally got the Academy Award he was fishing for in Dallas Buyers Club; where he lost over 30 pounds and maintained character so thoroughly during production that director Jean-Marc Vallée stated ‘I don’t know Leto.  Jared never showed me Jared.’  One has to wonder though, was his acting all that was being considered by award voters or was Leto’s reputation for his commitment to his craft, well documented from Chapter 27, playing in voters’ minds.  Maybe if Michael Fassbender’s Edwin Epps from 12 Years A Slave had been written as 30 pounds heavier, he’d have one the Oscar that night?

The Ugly:


Actor: Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson in All Things Fall Apart

Body Transformation: Lost 67 pounds by subsisting on a liquid diet and 3 hours a day on a treadmill.

Released in 2011, and starring Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, All Things Fall Apart is the story of a football player who is afflicted with cancer.  Raise your hand if you’ve heard of this film.  No? Curtis Jackson lost more weight than almost any actor in film history, but it was for naught as the film was never released theatrically; instead going directly to home media.  Maybe he used the role to show how hard he is willing to work for a film, but with only 3 reviews on ‘Rotten Tomatoes’, the movie and his weight loss didn’t even register in the industry’s collective consciousness.  Jackson wasn’t able to turn All Things Fall Apart into a serious acting career.  He shouldn’t have wasted all that time on the treadmill if he wasn’t going to work as hard on his acting talent to back it up.

So what has been learned from this?  Whether they are gaining 40 pounds by eating ice cream all day, or starving themselves to play a diseased character; committing 6+ months of an actor’s life to body changes is not a sure fire way to critical acclaim.  If it helps the actor get into the mind of their role, they should do what it takes to make it feel authentic.

But using a major body transformation as awards bait or as a replacement for acting talent is cheap and misses the point.  Actors need to do more than just look the part, they need to convey the role onto film for their audience.  Hopefully, critics and award voters remember that shocking body alterations is just preparation; and what is on screen is what matters.


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