Stars who went to extreme lengths for a role

Life as an actor or actress sometimes involves extreme physical transformations. Whether it's a request to lose weight or gain it, these stars were asked, and sometimes ordered, to essentially shapeshift for the cameras.

Margaret Cho

In the mid '90s, comedian Margaret Cho starred in a sitcom called All-American Girl, which was based on her life and stand-up routine. It was one of the first American network television shows to feature an all-Asian cast, but despite the show's groundbreaking turn, it wasn't the best time for Cho. "The network required her to lose weight to play herself, and she did — 30 pounds in two weeks — and ultimately suffered kidney failure," reported the Los Angeles Times. "I was starving," Cho said.

In subsequent years, Cho fought back, not just for herself, but for other female celebrities who face similar scrutiny. In 2012, she lashed out at designer Karl Lagerfeld, who referred to singer Adele as "a little bit fat." Cho posted a video about the issue on her blog (via The Huffington Post): "I am anorexic and bulimic, and I think these diseases are just as deadly as AIDS or cancer," she said. "It's a disease that's spread by casual ignorance and casual cruelty … So many girls have been told, myself included, 'you would be so pretty if you lost weight.' I am sick of people casually saying things like that." According to The Huffington Post, Lagerfeld apologized for his comment; Cho suggested he "design a new line for full-figured women instead of simply issuing an apology."

Jason Segel

While we often hear about actresses being pressured to lose weight for the cameras, it happens to men too. Appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman, Segal said he needed to lose 35 pounds to star alongside Emily Blunt in The Five-Year Engagement. According to Segel, the studio president told him he needed to shed the pounds for it to be "conceivable that Emily Blunt would ever choose [him] to be her husband."

Matt Damon

When Matt Damon signed on for The Informant!, he literally bit off more than he could chew. The movie told the true story of Mark Whitacre, a whistle-blower with some secrets of his own. While Whitacre was informing the FBI about his boss' price-fixing schemes, he was at the same time embezzling millions of dollars from the company. To achieve the proper look, Damon gained 30 pounds, and he did so the old fashioned way — by eating a lot of junk food. The actor specifically name-dropped Doritos, McDonald's, and beer while doing press for the movie. When filming wrapped, Damon struggled to shed the weight because apparently, even actors are human. He eventually took up boxing to rediscover that classic Matt Damon action hero look. 

Amy Schumer

Comedienne Amy Schumer got the shock of a lifetime when movie executives behind her debut film, Trainwreck, told her she had to lose weight. She revealed on Live! with Kelly and Michael that after the film got green-lit, Schumer met with execs who basically told her, in her words, "maybe skip a meal." They also hired a celebrity trainer who put her on a strict diet and exercise regimen and looked at her "how you would look at a burn victim," Schumer said. She kept her spirits up and said she proudly lost a whopping…three pounds! The movie was a hit, so it's safe to say Schumer got the last laugh on that one.

Jared Leto

In order to properly portray Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon, Jared Leto gained 67 pounds. The film, Chapter 27, tells the story of a man slowly going insane who ultimately makes a horrifying decision. For most of us, getting fluffy isn't a complicated thing to do, but for Leto, a naturally slim person, he apparently had to go to extreme lengths to pack on the pounds. 

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Leto ate "a diet heavy with microwaved pints of ice cream mixed with olive oil and soy sauce." He put on so much weight that he developed gout and had to start taking medicine for high cholesterol. The worst part: Chapter 27 was a box office dud that was panned by critics, so this whole thing was a real waste of soy sauce.

Carrie Fisher

Things are rough even for actresses in a galaxy far, far away, or at least that's what Carrie Fisher said. According to a 2015 cover story for Good Housekeeping, Fisher said the only way she was allowed to reprise her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was if she dropped an absurd amount of weight. According to Fisher, 'They don't want to hire all of me — only about three-quarters!"

"Nothing changes," she said, "I'm in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. That is so messed up. They might as well say get younger, because that's how easy it is."

Christian Bale

Christian Bale loves pushing his body to the limit for his roles. When he did The Machinist, he dropped 60 pounds and looked like a human skeleton. He followed that by packing on the muscle for Batman Begins. For his role in American Hustle, Bale gained 43 pounds and gave himself a comb-over. He's not actually bald, so he purposely shaved parts of his head to help sell his aged hairstyle. He basically transformed himself from a badass superhero to a sleazy con artist. 

Bale routinely makes headlines for his shape-shifting abilities, so if he ever quits acting, at least we know he could be a dietitian.

Nia Vardalos

Nia Vardalos was pressured to lose weight to portray herself in her own creation: the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Among the many changes studio execs wanted to make to the film, which was based on her one-woman show, was the size of Vardalos.

In 2009, Vardalos wrote a piece for CNN called "What's the big fat deal?" She said, "It's just weight. Just 40 pounds of fat now gone from my body, but wow, it's pretty much all I get asked about. In the last year, I got to star in a movie, wrote and directed my next one, and adopted a three year old from American Foster Care. But guess what I'm asked…how did I lose the weight?"

Vardalos managed to retain creative control over her project, maintain her self respect, and establish a healthy career on her own terms. "Studio executives and movie reviewers let me know I had a confidence in my looks that was not shared by them," she said. "In other words: they labeled me with words like, overweight, unattractive, unappealing. Hey, just say fat. I love the word fat. I used it in the title. It's actually not a naughty word. We give it a power it actually doesn't have. So, you're fat. Big deal."

Chris Noth

Chris Noth, also known as Mr. Big from the Sex and the City franchise, got an earful from the film's director about his belly. Noth told The Huffington Post that before shooting the first movie, director "Michael Patrick King came up to me and said, 'Listen, dude, we're not calling you Mr. Big because of the size of your stomach, so go lose that before we start shooting,'" A tad harsh, but Noth said he went ahead and lost the weight. If his diet made him miserable, it didn't show on camera.

Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron is a stunningly beautiful actress, but when she was cast to play Aileen Wuornos, those model looks were not going to cut it. The movie, Monster, portrayed the story of Wuornos' murdering spree between 1989 and 1990. While working as a prostitute, Wuornos kills a man in self defense. Unfortunately, this flips a switch inside of her, and unable to escape life as a prostitute, she begins killing many of her would-be customers. Theron was unrecognizable in her Oscar-winning role, gaining 30 pounds and shaving her eyebrows. She reportedly gained the weight by murdering a whole lot of donuts and potato chips.

Hayley Atwell

Agent Carter star Hayley Atwell had to deal with weight-loss demands while filming Brideshead Revisited. Luckily, she had co-star Emma Thompson to come to her defense. According to First Post (via New York magazine), the weight issue came to a head at Thompson's house during dinner. In Atwell's words, "I went round to Emma's one night and she was getting very angry that I wasn't eating all the food she was giving me. I told her why and she hit the roof." Thompson was reportedly "so outraged that she called the producers the next day and threatened to resign from the film if they forced Atwell to lose weight. Faced with Thompson — a two-times Oscar winner — on the warpath, Miramax Films swiftly relented."

Way to go, Thompson! We'd like to see them try that with Atwell now that again she's the butt-kicking Agent Peggy Carter.

Rob McElhenney

It can be hard to keep a comedy feeling fresh after several seasons, but Rob McElhenney came up with a unique solution. For the seventh season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the actor purposely gained 50 pounds. A lot of comedies will have actors donning fat suits for an episode or two to get some cheap laughs out of it, but that wasn't the motivation behind this stunt. McElhenney said the inspiration for the "fat Mac" story arc was that it was the opposite of what typically happens on sitcoms. Since It's Always Sunny is supposed to be a deconstruction of typical sitcoms, Mac decided to look less like the stereotypical movie star as the years went by. The move was perfect for his character on the show, who is vain and self-centered but also very stupid. Mac doesn't see himself as getting fat but merely bulking up so that he can turn the added weight into muscle. McElhenney eventually lost the weight, but Fat Mac will live in our hearts forever.

Judy Garland

Judy Garland was essentially starved by studio executives during her legendary role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. According to The Telegraph, Garland's troubles with her weight began at age 14, when MGM told her she looked fat on film in Pigskin Parade. The studio, with whom Garland was contracted, reportedly assumed strict control over her diet. 

"Because her calories were so restricted — executives would go so far as to remove a plateful of food when she was about to eat it — she was permanently hungry and fantasised wildly about such things as chocolate sundae with pecan nuts and whipped cream. Still a child, she fell into habits of starving and bingeing," reported The Telegraph. At age 18, Garland was reportedly instructed to "consume only black coffee and chicken soup, plus 80 cigarettes a day and pills every four hours to quell her appetite."

According to Garland, she wasn't the only actor subjected to this kind of treatment at the time. "They'd give us pep pills. Then they'd take us to the studio hospital and knock us cold with sleeping pills. After four hours they'd wake us up and give us the pep pills again." she wrote (via The New York Times). Garland developed a lifelong eating disorder and drug addiction, struggled with depression and financial woes, attempted suicide, endured several failed marriages, and died, at age 47, from an accidental drug overdose in 1969.

Ryan Gosling

While most actors who put on weight for a role get to bask in the glory of suffering for their art, things didn't work out that way for Ryan Gosling. In 2009, Peter Jackson released The Lovely Bones, a supernatural story about a murdered young girl. The story focuses on her ghost, and is split between her entrance into the afterlife and her family trying to deal with her death. The movie stars Mark Wahlberg as the girl's father, but Ryan Gosling was originally cast in the role. When Gosling was hired, he reportedly decided the father should be overweight, so he gained a whopping 60 pounds for the role. Unfortunately, he never ran this idea by Jackson, who didn't take to an obese Gosling and dropped him from the film. "Then I was fat and unemployed," he said (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Jennifer Lawrence

According to a 2013 interview with Harper's Bazaar UK, actress Jennifer Lawrence was once told to lose a certain amount of weight or face being fired from a film. She didn't reveal which film, but she did reveal how low this person, or people, stooped to get her to shed the pounds. "They brought in pictures of me where I was basically naked, and told me to use them as motivation for my diet," she said.

Let's hope those filmmakers now feel like fools knowing that Lawrence is one of the most sought-after actresses in the world, no matter what the scale says. The Oscar-winning actress said she'll never allow herself to be pressured like that again. "If anybody even tries to whisper the word 'diet', I'm like, 'You can go f**k yourself,"' she said.

​Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway's portrayal of poverty-stricken prostitute Fantine in the 2012 adaptation of Victor Hugo's French historical novel Les Misérables may have earned her an Academy Award, but it also took a huge toll on her health. The actress — who had previously described her regimen in the run up to shooting the musical as "starvation" — finally elaborated on the extent of her dramatic weight loss in an interview (via the Daily Mail), admitting that she had to shed 25 pounds to be convincing as her character. "I just had to stop eating for a total of 13 days shooting," Hathaway said.

Ten-year-old British actress Isabelle Allen spent a lot of time in Hathaway's company, both on camera as her daughter Cosette and off it as a superfan of the A-lister. When asked about her co-star, the youngster said Hathaway's diet consisted of "rabbit food" and had left her so skinny that she broke her arm falling from a bicycle shortly after the production wrapped. Hathaway later revealed that she'd kept quiet about her injury because she worried about the backlash. She told The Ellen DeGeneres Show (via JustJared) that she her pharmacist had actually joked that Catwoman couldn't even ride a bike.

​Mila Kunis

Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky decided that Mila Kunis would be the perfect frenemy for leading lady Natalie Portman after seeing Kunis in the rom-com Forgetting Sarah Marshall – a film in which the Ukrainian-American beauty was noticeably curvier than she appeared two years later in the lauded best picture nominee. In order to fit the bill of tiny dancer Lily, Kunis had to slim down to the size of your average ballerina, and that started with three months of solid training. When that wasn't enough to reach her size zero target, the raven-haired actress took to some unconventional (and rather unhealthy) methods.

"I had to look skinny in order to look like a ballerina," she told Howard Stern's SiriusXM show (via Entertainment Tonight). "You fake it. So, the best way to fake it is to unfortunately look like it… And I'll tell you this, I'm not promoting this at all, but I used to be a smoker, and so I smoked a lot of cigarettes and I ate a limited amount of calories." Kunis revealed that she kept her intake at a shocking 1200 calories per day (an average adult woman needs between 1,800 and 2,400 daily) and by the end of the shoot, she tipped the scale at just 95 pounds, describing herself as "crazy thin."

​Natalie Portman

Kunis' transformation for Black Swan was indeed a shocking one, though it wasn't quite as shocking as the weight loss her co-star went through for the movie. Count Natalie Portman among the actresses awarded with an Oscar for abusing their bodies in the name of art. Portman called her training for the psychological thriller the hardest thing she has ever experienced, revealing (via the Daily Mail) that she was working 16 hour days while barely eating. "I was almost method acting without intending to," she said. "I do wonder now how people can do this kind of role when they have a family."

Portman's frail figure started to become a concern for director Darren Aronofsky, who later told Access Hollywood about the moment he had to say enough was enough. "At a certain point I looked at [Portman's] back and she was so skinny and so cut. I was like, 'Natalie, start eating!' I made sure she had a bunch of food in her trailer. [She] took [her role] very seriously — these dancers get really, really skinny." Portman managed to maintain her frighteningly thin frame for the duration of the shoot, though the second it was over her first thoughts were "pasta, pasta, pasta!"

​Margot Robbie

If there was ever a sign that Hollywood is operating in a different universe, it's this: Margo Robbie was reportedly told that she needed to shed 20 pounds if she wanted her name on the A-list. The Australian beauty dropped jaws and won over critics with her memorable performance opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, but as good as she looked in that movie, it apparently wasn't good enough. A source close to the star told OK! magazine (via SheKnows) in 2015 that despite her best efforts to stay in shape, studio fat cats wanted more. "She's been working out like a fiend," the insider claimed, "but has been told she should lose a lot more."

The source failed to name which movie the actress had been told to shape up for, though it wasn't 2016's The Legend of Tarzan, as the actress herself revealed that she had no intention of losing weight for a picture set in a time when women didn't know what size zero was. "I'm not going to look thin just for the sake of it," she told Australia's TV Week (via Closer) "It was my first time living in London properly and I wanted to try every pub." 

That makes DC's Suicide Squad (also 2016) the likely culprit, with People reporting that the Harley Quinn actress was required to meet with a personal trainer for three hours almost every day over the course of the shoot to make sure she fit into those infamous red and blue shorts.

​Raven-Symoné

Without The Cosby Show, Raven-Symoné Pearman might never have broken into the business, having been handed her big break by the shunned star of the long-running sit-com. Bill Cosby liked the young actress so much that he created the part of step-granddaughter Olivia just for her, though her excitement at joining the show quickly faded after she started getting body-shamed on set. 

"It was definitely hard," the actress and comedienne admitted on ABC's The View (via People). "I remember not being able to have the bagel or anything at [craft services] — we would call it crafty, where it's just a table of food, ready for you to eat whatever you want. And I remember people would be like, 'You can't eat that. You're getting fat!' I'm like, 'I'm 7! I'm hungry!'"

The young star later faced similar insecurities about her size behind the scenes on Disney's That's So Raven. The experience is one that stuck with her for the rest of her career, contributing to her early retirement and retreat from Hollywood in 2012. That retirement was cut short in 2015, when a stint on Fox's smash show Empire was followed up by her appointment as a co-host on The View. Her outlook evolved during her hiatus. "Maybe I just know how to hide it a little better," she said. "I'm like, my insecurities? Lock them in a closet until I get back home. Put on an extra pile of makeup or a girdle and let's go."

Todd Lawson LaTourrette

Most of the extreme lengths discussed here involve gaining or losing weight, either of which clearly comes with health ramifications. But actor Todd Lawson LaTourrette went much further than a crash diet or fatty binge to secure stardom— he cut off his own hand and told producers he lost it in combat.  

Speaking with KOB4, the New Mexico actor confessed to maiming himself during what he described as "a psychotic episode." LaTourrette said he suffers from bipolar disorder, and wasn't taking his medication prior to amputating and cauterizing his hand and part of his arm. While the gruesome act was part of a manic episode, LaTourrette admitted that, combined with the lie that he was a war veteran, it gave him an edge as an aspiring actor, helping him land roles in films and on shows like Longmire, The Messengers, and Better Call Saul.

"The film industry … they trusted me that I was exactly who I said I was, that I was a war veteran. I was hired because I lied," LaTourrette told KOB4. As for why he came clean now? LaTourrette said that the lie was "dishonorable" and has been "difficult to live with." He also said he knows his confession will likely destroy his career, but he hopes his candor will encourage others struggling with mental illness to take care of themselves.

"The power is in your hands to take your medication in the morning, or at night," LaTourrette said. "So that, this, this discourse of my life doesn't need to necessarily be yours."