Tom Hardy is no stranger to packing on the muscle for a movie.
The British actor bulked up to an almost-unrecognizable mass to portray Charles Bronson in 2008's "Bronson." Likewise, he reportedly added 30 pounds of muscle and studied numerous fighting styles (according to imdb.com) to play the intimidating Batman villain Bane in this year's hotly-anticipated "The Dark Knight Rises," which opens in general theaters at midnight tonight. If the various trailers from "Rises" are any indication, Hardy's workout regime definitely paid off. He's hulking, he's scary and he'll undoubtedly be a better Bane than the campy, mindless henchman in the ridiculous, nipple suit-laden "Batman & Robin."
The practice of actors gaining or losing a significant amount of weight for a role is fairly common in today's movie industry. For certain roles, it's a big part of their process of getting into character. Would anyone have accepted Will Smith as a convincing Muhammad Ali if he still looked like the skinny, cocky kid from "Fresh Prince of Bel Air"?
As a self-proclaimed (and borderline obsessive) movie buff, I've seen my fair share of actor transformations. It always amazes me how actors can dedicate themselves to a role in this way. Most people struggle to lose/gain weight just to live healthy; these actors are doing it for the sake of art (and presumably a sizable paycheck). It's an exercise in discipline and dedication that many desire, but only few possess.
In honor of "Dark Knight Rises" coming out today -- and since it's been a relatively uneventful week for me on the health & fitness front -- here's a few of the more memorable roles I've seen for weight gain/loss. Feel free to chime in with other examples if you're so inclined. Unless noted otherwise, all weight loss/gain information is courtesy of IMDB, a movie website that I likely need an intervention from in the near future:
Christian Bale -- The Machinist (2004)
Speaking of Batman, Bale looked more like a third-world refugee than the Caped Crusader in this movie about an emotionally-damaged insomniac. Bale dropped more than 60 pounds -- weighing in at sickly 110 pounds -- for the role by eating nothing more than a can of tuna and an apple each day. Supposedly, Bale felt so weak during filming that he could barely do a push-up. It was hard to watch this movie without wanting to reach into the screen and give his character a cheeseburger. His next role after this? You guessed it: Batman. He put on close to 100 pounds(mostly muscle) in less than a year to play the Dark Knight, and was reportedly able to do much more than one push-up.
Natalie Portman -- Black Swan (2010)
Portman isn't a plus-sized woman to begin with, but her petite figure looked downright anorexic in this psycho-sexual ballet thriller. To prepare for her role, Portman dropped roughly 20 pounds and started a training regime a year before filming began that included rigorous ballet practice and swimming a mile a day. She definitely earned her Oscar in this movie. (Random side note: If you'd have told me five years ago that I'd thoroughly enjoy seeing a movie about ballet, I would have made a disgusted face and called you a liar)
Robert De Niro -- Raging Bull (1980)
My favorite boxing movie also featured one of the all-time great actor transformations. To portray Jake La Motta, De Niro not only trained extensively as a boxer (even entering into a few amateur boxing matches), he also packed on 60 pounds to portray the older, fatter La Motta in later scenes. Just watch this clip; you can hardly recognize him. Also, it's incredibly hard to find a clip for this movie that isn't full of profanity.
Matt Damon -- Courage Under Fire (1996)
Before he ever asked Scott William Winters if he liked apples, Damon turned heads by losing 40 pounds -- supposedly by smoking and running 5-10 miles a day, according to an interview with the Screen Actors Guild -- for his role as a soldier in this movie. Interestingly enough, Damon's weight loss almost cost him the role in "Saving Private Ryan" the following year, as director Steven Speilberg previously thought that Damon was "too skinny" for the part. Also interesting, Damon went the other direction weight-wise years later, packing on 30 pounds with a "diet" of junk food and dark beer to play a pathological liar in 2009's "The Informant!"
Vincent D'Onofrio -- Full Metal Jacket (1987)
The normally-lanky D'Onofrio was barely recognizable in this Vietnam war epic, as he put on 70 pounds to play the bumbling Pvt. Leonard Lawrence (also known as Pvt. Pyle by R. Lee Ermey). Supposedly, the extra weight led to him tearing a ligament in his knee while filming the obstacle course scene. Also, I'm guessing he needed a therapy session or two after getting yelled at so much by R. Lee Ermey. (note: I couldn't find a clip of Pvt. Pyle that wouldn't get me in trouble at work, LOTS of profanity in this movie)
Charlize Theron -- Monster (2003)
I remember seeing this movie on cable and being utterly shocked to find out later that the gorgeous Charlize Theron portrayed the grisly prostitute-turned-serial killer. Theron certainly wasn't gorgeous here, packing on 30 pounds, wearing ghastly makeup and letting obscenities fly at a rapid-fire rate. Her hard work paid off though, as she took home the Oscar and became known for something other than being the sexy safe cracker in "The Italian Job."
Tom Hanks -- Cast Away (2000)
Hanks gains and loses weight for roles so often, people barely even notice it anymore. However, everyone noticed it in this one. Hanks stopped working out and allowed himself to grow pudgy in order to play the working-class version of Chuck Noland. Production of the movie was then halted for a year so Hanks could lose 50 pounds to play the stranded-on-an-island Noland. The weight loss appeared to affect Hanks' social skills, as he clearly overreacts to a minor argument with Wilson the volleyball.
Edward Norton -- American History X (1998)
Norton didn't need the CGI from "Hulk" to look buff. He put on a reported 35 pounds of muscle to pull off a neo-Nazi in this movie. The added bulk didn't stay on him for long though, as he starred as the scrawny insomniac in "Fight Club" later that year.
Hilary Swank -- Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Another boxing movie with a memorable actor transformation! Swank went all out for this role, packing on 20 pounds of muscle and training extensively to make herself into a convincing boxer. Like De Niro's boxing turn, she also took home a best acting Oscar for her efforts. She also gets bonus points for being the subject of a spirited argument in "The Office" over whether or not she's hot.