For movie fans, there is nothing quite like stories of actors who take it to the next level on sets. Perhaps the best example is Tom Cruise, who is never afraid to put his life in danger, including climbing the tallest building in the world to film scenes for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.
However, there is a thin line between taking roles to the next level and taking roles too far. And the actors who go too far usually end up putting themselves in danger as well as the cast, crew, and even family.
Who, then, are these actors that have gone too far? Here is a roundup of our definitive list!
Part of what makes Christian Bale so impressive is that he isn’t afraid to either lose or gain a ton of weight for a role. Most recently, he packed on the pounds to convincingly portray former Vice President Dick Cheney in the 2018 film Vice. In 2004, though, he lost so much weight for The Machinist that the emaciated actor was barely recognizable!
Dustin Hoffman generally enjoys a reputation as an affable and laid-back guy. But while filming Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), in which he and his co-star Meryl Streep portray a couple in a bitter divorce, he allegedly slapped Meryl Streep across the face during the first take of a scene.
Charlize Theron has had many impressive roles, but the most dangerous one may have been her performance in Atomic Blonde (2017). Theron insisted on doing her own action scenes, and this led to her bruising her ribs and actually cracking a couple of her teeth.
These days, an entire generation mostly knows Danny DeVito for playing the deranged Frank Reynolds on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Long before that, though, he stayed in a real mental asylum with the rest of the cast to prepare for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). This eventually led to DeVito creating an imaginary friend that he was convinced was actually real!
Robert De Niro
There are few things as intimidating as Robert De Niro’s performance as the mentally unstable Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976). One thing that might be more intimidating, though, is that De Niro snagged a fake license and drove around New York’s streets in the dead of the night to get into the head of his troubled character.
Ashton Kutcher got to show off his real acting chops by playing Steve Jobs in the 2013 film Jobs. However, he put his life in danger when trying to copy the all-fruit diet of the real Steve Jobs. Kutcher actually landed in the hospital a couple of days before the shooting started, and doctors diagnosed him with both bone density reduction and vitamin deficiency.
Kate Winslet’s portrayal of a Nazi concentration camp guard in The Reader (2008) was pretty damn intense. To get ready for it, she only spoke in a German accent at home, and she later reflected on how difficult it was to leave this complex role behind.
Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight is downright hypnotic. To achieve this effect, the actor locked himself up in a hotel for a month and only sleeping about two hours each night. He spent the rest of his time filling a diary with in-character rantings from the Joker!
Brody impressed the entire world with his Oscar-winning performance in The Pianist (2002), playing Holocaust survivor Władysław Szpilman, but he ended up disrupting his entire life to give the role his all. To get ready for the part, Brody broke up with his girlfriend, sold his home, and severely starved himself to portray the emaciated Szpilman.
Anne Hathaway’s performance (and especially her song “I Dreamed a Dream”) in Les Misérables (2012) will easily bring you to tears, and we can see why she snagged the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. But to get ready for the role of the starving prostitute Fantine, Hathaway cut off most of her hair and lived off of nothing but lettuce and oatmeal paste.
Daniel Day-Lewis is a method actor you can always count on to go to crazy lengths. And while preparing for his role in The Last of the Mohicans (1992), he lived alone for half a year in the wilderness just to get into the right mindset.
Hilary Swank was dazzling in Million Dollar Baby (2004), but she really paid the price for her Oscar-winning role of amateur boxer Maggie Fitzgerald. Swank spent so much time in the gym (six days a week for three straight months) that she developed a near-fatal staph infection from a burst blister on her foot that was nearly the size of her palm. She also switched to such a fish-heavy diet in order to gain 19 pounds of muscle for her role that she got mercury poisoning!
Johnny Depp was eerily convincing as Hunter S. Thompson’s mentally-unstable drug-addicted alter ego Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). To get everything just right, Depp spent his time as Thompson did: on a ton of drugs, with nights spent sleeping next to plenty of nitroglycerine and gunpowder.
Joaquin Phoenix seems to have taken up the mantle for “most insane modern method actor.” In order to get ready for his 2010 mockumentary I’m Still Here, the actor faked leaving Hollywood to pursue a hip-hop career, right down to staging fake interviews that threw red meat directly to the gossip magazines that believed he was really throwing his acting career away.
Nicolas Cage has a well-deserved reputation for being weird onscreen. This continued offscreen when he performed in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2007). Despite the fact that his head was going to be replaced with a CGI skull, Cage put corpse paint all over his face and covered himself in magical amulets and Egyptian symbols, which had the expected side effect of really weirding out his costars.
Jared Leto’s method acting high jinks on the set of 2016’s Suicide Squad have become legendary, though the actor has pushed back on some of the claims others made about his behavior. Some of his alleged actions included sending cast members condoms, bullets, and a bizarre video of himself hanging out with a dead pig.
Val Kilmer is proof that method acting isn’t always a good idea. He spent a year basically living as legendary rock singer Jim Morrison while playing the role in The Doors (1991), resulting in him mastering 50 of Morrison’s songs and forcing everyone on set to call him “Jim.” Eventually, the actor had to go to therapy to rediscover who Val Kilmer was.
Makeup experts can work wonders for actors, but that wasn’t enough for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) star Rooney Mara. To get her character just right, Mara ended up piercing her nipples, bleaching her eyebrows, and actually lopping off a ton of hair to wow us all in this David Fincher adaptation.
Before she was a household name, Halle Berry was an up-and-comer hoping to make an impression as a crack addict in Spike Lee’s 1991 movie Jungle Fever. To get her appearance perfect, Berry actually stopped bathing for two whole weeks!