Some actors get really committed to their roles, to the point that they will radically change their appearance just to get into character. Robert De Niro has done this time and time again. He trained as a boxer to play young Jake LaMotta and gained a ton of weight to play old Jake LaMotta – in the same movie. He had his teeth ground down and his body fat cut back to virtually zero to play Max Cady. There have been a ton of cases where actors have gotten ripped to play an action role. Here are the 10 who were the most dedicated!
10. Vin Diesel for Fast Five
Vin Diesel’s workout to get in shape for Fast Five is a favorite among fitness enthusiasts. It was a retooling of the franchise, so he figured he might as well retool his body. Diesel works out for three days a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Monday, he does chest, triceps, and shoulders. On Wednesday, he does back and biceps. And on Friday, he does arms and legs. He tends to do either four sets of between five and six reps or three sets of between ten and twelve reps, depending on the exercise. The actor has various tips for working out and dieting and getting in shape. For one, he says that you should eat between six and eight small meals per day, rather than the usual three big ‘uns. He recommends that you focus on strengthening your core, because that’s where it all comes from. That’s why they call it your core. He also speaks highly of the importance of breathing properly while you’re lifting, because it improves cardiovascular conditioning. By following this regime, Diesel has become famous for having huge arms and huge pecs and a toned set of abs, so he must be doing something right.
9. Tom Hardy for Warrior
While it wasn’t a huge hit at the box office, Warrior is a brilliant movie. The critics praised it for being an emotionally charged story about family and brotherhood. It focuses on wider themes, which is what makes it such a great movie, but it’s still a movie about mixed martial arts, so the actors starring in it had to be match fit. To play Tommy Riordan, a former U.S. Marine and current MMA fighter, Tom Hardy had to get into serious shape. He was working out four times a day, doing a lot of short workouts, rather than one big one. So, instead of hitting the gym for a couple of hours and killing himself, Hardy would work out in small amounts, but often. His trainer explains, “I call my philosophy ‘signalling.’ Throughout the day, you need to send constant signals to your body, so that it adapts in the direction you point it in. It’s better to do ten press-ups every hour than a hundred in a single burst. If you do things often enough, your body adapts for the task you set it, and you evolve.” He says that the most important thing to remember is that “there are no shortcuts.”
8. Sylvester Stallone for The Expendables
Sylvester Stallone has always been known for being buff. His big break was Rocky, which was a very physically demanding role since he played a boxer who had to get into even better shape in the space of a montage. But that was when he was a young man. The ensemble action piece The Expendables came a few decades into his career, and it was a return to the kind of old-school action pictures that made him one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Stallone had previously worked with Mr. Olympia champion Franco Columbu to build up muscle for his roles like Rocky Balboa and John Rambo. For the role of Barney Ross in The Expendables, he went for smarter, more focused workouts. He said, “Now, I focus on a variety of exercises, working out three times a week for ninety minutes per session. I really feel good – much stronger than I’ve ever felt, actually. Something is working.” For 1997’s Cop Land, for which Stallone was praised since it was a real three-dimensional role with dramatic weight, rather than just a one-dimensional action role, the actor gained forty pounds and let go of his perfect bodybuilder physique to look more believable as a tired, aging sheriff.
7. Gerard Butler for 300
When Gerard Butler was training to be in the graphic novel adaptation 300, he set himself a very specific goal and that was to impress the stuntmen. He explained, “I was surrounded by hundreds of stuntmen, who were amazing. Stuntmen are my favourite people on a film set, but I had this thing that really helped me get through, which was this thought in my head that, ‘If I can train in such a way that they’re actually going, ‘He is a badass…’ – because I know stuntmen and they like actors, but mostly they see them as wet blankets. [I wanted] to train in a way so they would actually take their hats off to me and, in a way, so that you would believe that they would actually follow you. I was [working out] six hours a day: two hours with them, two hours doing the 300 workout, two hours with my own bodybuilder…pumping 25 times before each take. But I was also surrounded by a lot of guys putting in a lot of effort. It was great having that unity of purpose, both as an army and in terms of what we were trying to make in this movie and in terms of fitness, training and that warrior spirit. It was a very powerful place to be.”
6. Michael B. Jordan for Black Panther
Celebrity trainer Corey Calliet got Michael B. Jordan in serious shape to play a boxer in Creed, but that was nothing compared to their grueling regime for Black Panther. In order to play the villainous role of Erik Killmonger in the critically acclaimed Marvel hit, Calliet had Jordan working out six days a week and eating six meals a day to gain fifteen pounds of muscle. Jordan and Calliet began working out together during the production of 2015’s Fantastic Four reboot. When the production began, according to Calliet, the actor could barely lift 25 lbs, but by the end, the producers told them to slow down, because Jordan could hardly fit into his Human Torch costume anymore! For Black Panther, Calliet had Jordan doing less cardio than when he was training to play a boxer in Creed – he needed to gain serious muscle mass to play the role of Killmonger. Calliet says, “He told me, ‘I need to look like this,’ and it’s a picture of Killmonger fighting Black Panther. He was very big, so I knew I had to make Mike look like a free safety or a Marine. If you want to be a villain, you have to have that savage type of demeanor.”
5. Jake Gyllenhaal for Southpaw
The movie Southpaw is beautiful because it’s not really a movie about boxing – it’s a movie about a father’s relationship with his daughter. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead role and he actually didn’t get all the recognition that he deserved for his performance. That was like Oscar caliber stuff. Gyllenhaal was so dedicated to getting this role right. In preparation for getting into the mindset of the character, he did “tons of reading on boxers, orphan boxers, the spirit of gyms all over America, children who start early, [and] the history of foster care in America.” And physically, he didn’t even really train to play a boxer – he trained to be a boxer! He explains, “I went into full training camp mode and I got myself – what I consider in my mind as an actor – in shape to fight. I was literally learning the skills of boxing, which is not only for the body but also for the mind. You can’t play a boxer and just look like a boxer – you have to believe you can exist in that world. Honestly, I just trained like a boxer for five months. We shot the fights in the first two weeks of the movie, so I trained basically for five months up until those fights – we shot four fights in a row over roughly two weeks. But I basically trained how a professional boxer would train.” This was the same guy who got his big break for playing a brooding, dorky goth in the movie Donnie Darko.
4. Josh Brolin for Deadpool 2
At the age of 49, Josh Brolin still managed to get a superhero body to play the role of Cable in Deadpool 2. His transformation impressed even his Avengers: Infinity War co-star Dave Bautista, who when he saw his changed body, asked him, “What the fuck happened to you?!” Brolin called this the “best compliment ever.” Men’s Health magazine and its team of experts have pored through Brolin’s Instagram posts from his workouts in the lead up to the production of the sequel in order to ascertain just how he did it. As it turns out, it was mostly just hard work and dedication. But they did find some useful little nuggets that can be applied to your workouts. Apparently, he utilized drop sets a lot. He would start high and then go for lower and lower weights until he couldn’t even lift up the weight of his own arms anymore. This is a technique that a lot of bodybuilders use and it is clearly very effective. He also did a lot of shoulder work to broaden his physique. His diet? “Totally clean: no sugar, no breads, no pastas, no drugs, none of it. Fish, rice, eggs, veggies, water.” This man was dedicated to achieving the musclebound appearance of Cable from the comic books – and he succeeded.
3. Christian Bale for Batman Begins
Christian Bale underwent a radical change for one role and then underwent another radical change completely in the other direction for another role. It was actually quite astounding. First, he lost 62 pounds to play the gaunt, insomniac character of Trevor Reznik in the dark psychological thriller The Machinist, which was inspired by the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, getting his total body mass down to 120 lbs. He actually wanted to get it down to 99 lbs, but the producers wouldn’t let him, because they were concerned about his health and they have to insure him to even let him be in the movie. So, basically, Bale was even more committed to the role than he was allowed to be. He lost so much weight with a ridiculously minimal diet of “water, an apple, and one cup of coffee per day, with the occasional whiskey.” And then right after that, he had to gain 100 lbs back in order to play the muscular role of Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. He started lifting a ton of weights and eating a ton of pizza and ice cream to get his weight back up, and actually, in the end, he gained too much weight and the producers were worried about having a fat, unagile Batman. So, he had to lose weight then. What a rollercoaster year his poor body went through.
2. Zac Efron for Baywatch
Zac Efron may have been nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor for his rather cliched performance in the underwhelming Baywatch, but one thing you can’t fault him on is his physique in the movie. He was cast alongside Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, aka the most buff actor in Hollywood, and he took on the challenge to match his brawn. Efron worked out with Patrick Murphy, who says the actor managed to get his body fat content down to just 5% in twelve weeks of training. They would train in periods of three alternating days: one day for back and biceps, another day for legs, and another day for shoulders, chest, and arms, with a little bit of abs thrown in every day. The results are pretty clear. There’s even a scene where Efron gets into a lifting competition with Johnson and actually manages to hold his own. It’s pretty awesome. This is the guy from High School Musical squaring off against a former professional wrestler who weighs 260 lbs. According to Murphy, Efron also adopted “an all organic whole food diet,” consisting of lean proteins and whole grains and healthy fats and high fiber fruits and all kinds of vegetables. Doesn’t that sound awful?
1. Chris Pratt for Guardians of the Galaxy
It felt unusual that Chris Pratt had been offered the lead role in a Marvel superhero blockbuster movie where he was going to be an action hero and a love interest, because for so many years, we had gotten to know him as Andy Dwyer, the simple, chubby, excitable schlub from Parks and Recreation – no way could he pull off the role of Star-Lord! But then we saw that selfie from the gym. He was thin, he was muscular, he had rippling abs, it was triumphant! He lost sixty pounds in six months on a very strict diet and exercise regime. It really shows in the movie, too, as he plays the most physically demanding role we’ve ever seen him in and he genuinely looks like a buff, muscular guy. And then in Avengers: Infinity War, it was all flipped on its head as the Guardians started calling him fat. When Thor boards the ship and they gush over his muscles and good looks, Star-Lord says, “I’m muscular.” And then the Guardians start saying things like, “Who are you kidding, Quill? You’re one sandwich away from fat,” and “You have gained a little weight.” So, Star-Lord says, “Wow. This is a real wake-up call for me. I’m gonna commit. I’m gonna get some dumbbells.” Then Rocket quips, “You know you can’t eat dumbbells, right?” Ouch.