Filming on Gavin Hood’s adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game is underway – and if you’ve not been following along at the movie’s official blog, you’ve missed out on some interesting behind-the-scenes details.
The latest chronicles how the young cast members spent a week at Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama to better prepare for the rigors of playing students in outer space. It’s the kind of method acting we here at Movies.com appreciate – particularly in the age of CGI everything. Hopefully it will add another level of reality to the finished film, which is slated for a 2013 release.
Hearing about the Ender’s Game kids going to Space Camp got us thinking about some of the best stories of how actors prepped for classic roles. After much research and internal discussion, here are five of our favorite examples of actors going above and beyond the call of duty for a role.
Christian Bale in The Machinist
While pretty much everyone who loves movies is already familiar with the story of how actor Christian Bale dropped 63 lbs to play the lead character in Brad Anderson’s film about an industrial worker with a year’s long case of insomnia, there’s still no denying how impressive (and a little bit gross) it is.
The normally hunky Bale subsisted on a diet comprised of one can of tuna and an apple per day to achieve his ghastly skeletal physique for The Machinist, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Bale is utterly convincing as a character who’s starting to doubt his own sanity. It’s an amazing physical transformation made even more impressive when one realizes that the actor had gain about 100 lbs immediately afterward to get to the proper weight to play Batman. I don’t advise anyone to take on these extreme diets, but I admire Bale’s dedication to his craft.
Daniel Day-Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans
I could have done an entire article made up entirely of the crazy things revered actor Daniel Day-Lewis has done for a role – the guy makes other method actors look like slackers. He broke two ribs from sitting hunched in a wheelchair in My Left Foot. He spent 18 months learning to box for The Boxer. He caught pneumonia while filming Gangs of New York because he refused to break character and wear modern era coats to keep warm between takes… DDL is the definition of hardcore.
One of his most impressive feats was completed before starring in Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans. In preparation for the role of Hawkeye, Day-Lewis spent six months living in the wild with only the bare necessities to keep him going. Six months. Half a year. I cry like a spoiled child if my electricity goes out for ten minutes or the grocery store is out of Twinkies. Spending six months roughing it in the wild sounds like torture. Now imagine doing it when you’re a huge Hollywood star used to having people cater to your every whim. Insanity. Hats off to you, Daniel Day-Lewis. You’re a better man than I – not that it was ever in question.
Robert De Niro in Raging Bull
Everyone knows about how De Niro gained 60 pounds to play Jake LaMotta in the character's later life. It’s an impressive feat (and was eventually outdone when Vincent D’Onofrio gained 70 to play Private Pyle in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket), but De Niro did something even more amazing in preparation for Raging Bull – he learned to box.
Granted, any actor who’s playing a boxer learns the rudimentary elements of the sweet science, otherwise the film is a disaster. De Niro took it a few steps further, though. Not only did the actor learn the basics of how to conduct himself in the ring, he put those skills to the test in real hand-to-hand combat. As proof he was ready for the role, De Niro took part in three separate Brooklyn boxing matches. Even more impressive than the fact that Bobby D. had the cojones to get into the ring with real fighters is that he won two of those bouts. It’s hard to imagine a studio letting a star risk his face and health like that today.
Gene Hackman in The French Connection
Gene Hackman is a badass – look no further than the 2001 story about the 71-year-old actor punching out a guy half his age after a fender bender erupted into a physical altercation. He’s also a fantastic actor – one who really puts effort into making sure the characters he plays come across as real.
A great example of this can be seen in the way the actor prepped for The French Connection. In order to really nail the character of Popeye Doyle, Hackman (and co-star Roy Scheider) spent a month riding along with NYPD officers. Hackman was allegedly disgusted by some of the things he saw on these ride-alongs, but that didn’t stop him from getting involved in the action when necessary. In one incident, the actor was called upon to physically restrain a suspect and get him into the police cruiser.
The reward for going above and beyond to prepare for the part? An Academy Award for Best Actor.
Choi Min-sik in Oldboy
Korean actor Choi Min-sik might be the least recognizable name on this list, but he proves that method acting isn’t just an American phenomenon.
Choi was the star in Park Chan-wook’s brilliant revenge film Oldboy. In the movie, he plays a man who’s kidnapped and locked in a hotel room for fifteen years. When he’s eventually released, he has no idea who abducted him or why, but he sets out on a mission for answers.
In the film, Choi uses a hot wire to burn marks onto his body to chronicle the passage of time. Rather than just let the special effects and make-up department handle this, Choi actually burnt real marks onto his skin. Every time you see him marking off another year on his body, those are real burns.
Equally impressive is that Choi was forced to eat live octopi in the film (which is going the extra mile in and of itself as far as I’m concerned) – something that went against his beliefs as a Buddhist. Because of this, the actor had to stop and pray for forgiveness after each and every take. Risking angering your deity over a role in a movie? That's pretty hardcore -- and one more reason why we love Choi Min-sik so much.