Drastic Body Transformations: Three Actors Who Pushed Their Bodies to the Limit for a Role

Drastic Body Transformations: Three Actors Who Pushed Their Bodies to the Limit for a Role

With the recent release of Man of Steel (2013) and the seeming rise-from-obscurity of its star, Henry Cavill, Hollywood fitness pushed its way to the front of the line in fitness forums across the web. 

Just how did Cavill transform his body from a doughy twig to a rock-solid oak in such a short amount of time?  The answer is simple: he fell under the tutelage of the fitness trainer and fight choreographer (Gym Jones and Damon Caro, respectively) who helped Gerard Butler and his co-stars turn into Spartan warriors for 300 (2006). 

In an interview with ScreenRant.com, director Zack Snyder summed it up pretty well:  “Henry’s gonna be hitting the iron pretty hard.”  And that he did.  But who else in Hollywood has undergone such a massive transformation?  Here we take a look at three famous actors who transformed themselves for a role.

3. Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (2000)

Bret Easton Ellis penned American Psycho in 1991, carefully crafting the aesthetically-obsessed Patrick Bateman.  From his business cards to his apartment to his physique Bateman demanded perfection.  So when in 2000 Christian Bale began studying and working to fill the role of Bateman in the movie adaptation of the book, Bale set himself on being Bateman down to the last detail.  And what happened was the transformation of a lifetime. 

In Bale’s own words, he had never touched a weight before he was cast in the movie.  Immediately, he thrust himself into a workout routine to rival all:  obsessively clean diet, weight training, and more, all ramping up to three hours of training per day during pre-production.  All of that dedication paid off in spades.  Bale’s physique served to heighten the truly insane personality of Bateman and resulted in one of the most compelling scenes in cinema:  Bateman’s morning routine.  I’ll spare you the spoilers.

2. Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV (1985)

Ah, yes.  The Cold War era.  Full of chest thumping and intimidation and the hilariously thin line between rhetoric and nuclear war.  The Soviets proclaimed the evils of the West, and the West bragged about blue jeans, Coca-Cola, and Rocky’s victory over Ivan Drago.  I mean, when I think Cold War I think Rocky vs. Ivan Drago.  While completely fictitious, I am 100% certain that Rocky IV led to the downfall of the USSR. 

At any rate, the co-star of this illustrious piece of Cold War propaganda, Dolph Lundgren, wanted to embody the imperialistic might put forth in Soviet propaganda.  So, he became the Russian bear. 

This Olympic athlete was already in amazing shape by society’s standards, but he pushed his body further:  “We trained six days a week—weights in the morning for about an hour, then boxing in the afternoon. We did a split of chest and back one day and then shoulders, legs, and arms the next. We boxed for an hour and a half, practiced the fight choreography, and did bag work and abs.” 

Pretty crazy, huh?  It gets better.  On the set, he once punched Sylvester Stallone so hard that Stallone was hospitalized with swelling of the chest.  But Rocky still won, so take that, Soviets! 

1. Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta in Raging Bull (1980)

When one thinks of “physical intimidation,” one places Robert DeNiro fairly far down the list—probably somewhere ahead of Jack Nicholson but behind Jackie Gleason.  That being said, in his heyday DeNiro rocked a stellarly in-shape body.  When tasked with playing the role of famed boxer Jake La Motta, DeNiro not only faced the struggle of portraying a terribly troubled man, but also the struggle of looking convincing as a boxing champion. 

An article from Vanity Fair characterizes De Niro’s transformation:  “By the time the cameras rolled, the star was an extremely fit and well-trained cockroach. He had worked with La Motta for nearly a year, boxing some 1,000 rounds in a gym on 14th Street, adding 20 pounds of muscle to his 145-pound frame.”  DeNiro is the go-to when discussing body transformations for movies, and with good reason:  he so thoroughly captivated his audience that he earned an Oscar for his efforts.

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