15 Actors Who Underwent Major Weight Loss For Movie Roles

POSTED BY Tayyab Khalil, UPDATED ON February 20th, 2024
Actors Who Underwent Major Weight Loss For Movie Roles

Weight-loss regimens are not only for fitness freaks or ordinary people trying to stay healthy. As it so happens, acting is much more than memorizing dialogues and having convincing facial expressions. On some occasions, losing a ton of weight is part of the job description. Here are 15 actors who underwent major weight loss for movie roles:


15. Liam Neeson (Silence)

skinny Liam Neeson in Silence 2016

Although it received rave reviews, Silence was not only one of the most forgettable movies directed by Martin Scorsese but also a commercial failure. Actor Liam Neeson was cast as the starving Catholic priest Cristóvão Ferreira and his pictures taken while walking through the streets of New York alarmed everyone.

Neeson looked extremely frail as a result of the preparation for his role as the actor had shed 20 lbs and admitted that he had taken things “too far”. His weak appearance even caught co-star Adam Driver off guard who remarked that he looked like a prisoner from the Auschwitz concentration camp.


14. Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Jared Leto Underwent Major Weight Loss For Dallas Buyers Club

Beginning his career by playing extras and minor roles, Jared Leto gradually made his way to the top and Dallas Buyers Club serves as his most memorable movie. For his role as a transgender woman, the 30 Seconds to Mars frontman lost 30 to 40 lbs.

Leto’s dedication paid off as he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. On a related note, the actor had also gained significant weight in one of his previous movies. For the role of Mark David Chapman in Chapter 27, Leto gained 67 lbs.


13. Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Matthew McConaughey Dallas Buyers Club

Jared Leto’s co-star Matthew McConaughey was not too far behind when it came to weight loss in Dallas Buyers Club. Due to the extremely limited nutrition of two Diet Cokes, egg whites, and a piece of chicken every day for three months to portray the real-life AIDS patient Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club, the actor was on the verge of being blind.

McConaughey lost 50 lbs for his role as he intended to but being blind was not part of the plan. Due to the scarcity of vitamins and minerals, the actor’s near loss of vision can be attributed to the medical fact that malnutrition and starvation can lead to blindness. The risk paid off as McConaughey won the Academy Award for Best Actor, beating Leonardo DiCaprio in the process.


12. Michael Fassbender (Hunger)

Michael Fassbender Underwent Major Weight Loss For Hunger

True to the spirit of the movie title, Michael Fassbender was fully committed to accurately portraying the real-life Irish prisoner Bobby Sands who had gone on a hunger strike. The actor stuck to only 900 calories daily for ten straight weeks.

Fassbender would only eat nuts, sardines, and berries the entire day. Additionally, the actor would skip rope, do yoga, and walk four and a half miles every day. He had lost so much weight that he was forced to undergo periodic medical checks.


11. Mila Kunis (Black Swan)

Mila Kunis Black Swan

Mila Kunis had to train for six months to gain a specific body type and muscle tone akin to professional ballet dancers. For five to six months, she engaged in cardio and Pilates for five hours. Furthermore, she had limited herself to eating merely 1200 calories daily.

As a result, Kunis lost 20 lbs. When shooting for Black Swan began, the actress weighed only 95 lbs at 5’4’’. Her dedication did not go unnoticed as she was nominated for several awards and won Best Supporting Actress at the Saturn Awards, Scream Awards, and Oklahoma Film Critics Circle.


10 Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)

Hugh Jackman Les Misérables

Popular for his role as the vicious Wolverine, Hugh Jackman had to kiss his muscular physique goodbye to shoot the opening scene of Les Misérables. To achieve the frail look of the French prisoner Jean Valjean, the actor would engage in morning runs on an empty stomach for 45 minutes and liquid fasts that would last 36 hours.

Such minimalistic diet plans coupled with intense workouts resulted in Jackman losing up to 10 lbs of water weight from the exterior of his body. Not only did the actor achieve a lean physique but he also had his eyes and cheeks significantly sink.


9. Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

Joaquin Phoenix Underwent Major Weight Loss For Joker

Since the 1960s, fans have seen various interpretations of the Clown Prince of Crime. Cesar Romero demonstrated the campy and comedic iteration of the Joker while Heath Ledger was able to pull off the demented and sadistic portrayal of the character. The less said about Jared Leto’s take on the Joker, the better.

It can be argued that Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the beloved DC supervillain was the most unique and different interpretation ever seen. It was not a mere walk in the part for the actor as he lost 52 lbs to play the character. By eating an apple, lettuce, and green beans, Phoenix achieved a slender frame that he believed would be suitable for his take on the Joker.


8. Chris Hemsworth (In the Heart of the Sea)

Chris Hemsworth In the Heart of the Sea

We all know how much Chris Hemsworth loves to bulk up for his prominent role of Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet he willingly took on the challenge of losing weight for his role as first mate Owen Chase. The entire case of In the Heart of the Sea were on a diet of about 500 calories per day so they could lose weight whereas Hemsworth dropped to 175 lbs. While speaking to the Daily News, the actor recalled:

“This was physically and emotionally the hardest movie that I’ve been a part of. Losing the weight to this length, I just never want to do it again, but it had such an emotional effect on us … in some small way, we felt like we were doing what these men went through justice.”


7. Tom Hanks (Philadelphia)

Tom Hanks Philadelphia

For his role as AIDS patient Andrew Beckett, Tom Hanks consulted sports doctors Paul McCauly and Dan Isaacson. They usually aid people in gaining muscle but Hanks asked them to do the opposite. Eventually, the actor lost 26 lbs.

As recalled by Hanks, he would feel woozy after losing so much weight that he was unable to stand up without the need to grab the edge of a chair. The actor wanted to convey what it feels like to be a cancer patient so he underwent extreme weight loss. It paid off as Hanks won his first Academy Award for Best Actor.


6. Matt Damon (Courage Under Fire)

Matt Damon Courage Under Fire

Matt Damon was still a struggling actor when he was cast in Courage Under Fire but he capitalized on the opportunity to make a name for himself. To lose 40 lbs for the role, he underwent physical training and deprived himself of proper food as he would only eat chicken breast, egg whites, and one baked potato.

Damon would also run six and a half miles in the morning and at night. The then-rookie actor made such a huge impact with his weight loss and performance that Hollywood directors Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg soon offered him roles in their movies The Rainmaker and Saving Private Ryan, respectively.


5. Jake Gyllenhaal (The Nightcrawler)

Jake Gyllenhaal The Nightcrawler

While explaining the role of freelance photographer Louis Bloom to Jake Gyllenhaal, director Dan Gilroy mentioned that the character was a coyote driven by its hunger. The actor took the explanation literally and worked hard to lose 35 lbs.

Gyllenhaal would limit his diet to just kale salads and chewing gum. Furthermore, he would run 35 miles daily. Some members of the crew felt that Gyllenhaal’s dramatic weight loss was unnecessary but director Gilroy respected the actor’s decision.


4. Jonah Hill (Moneyball)

Jonah Hill Moneyball

As one of the many actors who dared to break typecasting, Jonah Hill starred as Peter Brand, an economics graduate from Yale University. For his dramatic performance, the actor lost almost 40 lbs but it was not through a strict diet plan. Hill merely began eating less and stopped drinking beer.

Co-starring with Hollywood A-lister Brad Pitt in Moneyball assisted Hill in redefining his career as he soon began starring in more dramatic movies. For his performance as Brand, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor but lost to Christopher Plummer.


3. 50 Cent (All Things Fall Apart)

50 Cent All Things Fall Apart

When rapper 50 Cent accepted the role of a football player dying of cancer in the straight-to-video movie All Things Fall Apart, he went on a liquid diet and ran on a treadmill for three hours a day to lose more than 50 lbs. After dropping down to 160 lbs in two months, the rapper was still bent on getting smaller.

As recalled by 50 Cent in his book Hustle Harder, Hustler Smarter, he was inspired to lose weight after watching Robert De Niro gaining weight for his Oscar-winning role in Raging Bull. Although All Things Fall Apart was barely publicized nor won any awards, 50 Cent was committed to working hard to get to De Niro’s level.


2. Natalie Portman (Black Swan)

natalie portman black swan weight loss

For her role as ballerina Nina Sayers, actress Natalie Portman lost 20 lbs through a five-hour workout daily. Apart from the dramatic weight loss, she took ballet lessons so she could perform her scenes instead of relying on a stunt double.

It was one of her most demanding roles and it came with a heavy price as the actress suffered a concussion and dislocated one of her ribs during the shooting. Fortunately, Portman walked away with the Academy Award for Best Actress due to her stellar performance.


1. Christian Bale (The Machinist)

Christian Bale The Machinist

As bizarre as it may sound, Hollywood megastar Christian Bale limited his diet to just one can of tuna and an apple a day to reach 120 lbs for his role in The Machinist. He had intended to reach 99 lbs but stopped at the request of the producers who were gravely concerned for his health.

Interestingly enough, the actor was offered the role of Batman a year later so he had to engage in an intense three-hour workout to get back in shape. Being the professional he is, Bale managed to do it as if there was nothing to it.

Did we miss any note-worthy celebs on our list of top actors who underwent major weight loss for movie roles? Let us know in the comments below!

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