Anthony Hopkins reportedly declined to gain a great deal of weight to play iconic director Alfred Hitchcock in “Hitchcock,” which opens here this weekend. The movie takes place during the 1959 filming of “Psycho.” (Look for a review Friday).
Instead, moviemakers relied on makeup and padding to give Hopkins a hint of that famous pouty lower lip, round head and even rounder torso.
Some might question Hopkins’ dedication as an actor. You might be thinking these actors get paid a lot of money, so extraordinary efforts go with the territory.
Others might praise Hopkins’ sanity, especially doctors who say ballooning up and down in weight can be hazardous to your health.
I’m somewhere in the middle. There’s no question weight gain or loss has enhanced many a performance and character realization. But permanently damaging your body with an unsupervised extreme diet isn’t worth the rewards of any role. Yo-yoing back and forth is especially bad.
The topic came up again recently when a gaunt Matthew McConaughey appeared on “Good Morning America” to talk about losing nearly 40 pounds for the movie “The Dallas Buyers’ Club.” He signed on to play a man who’s diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, then seeks alternative medicines to stay alive.
McConaughey’s appearance drew criticism, alarm and tabloid rumors.
The danger to their health hasn’t stopped a lot of famous actors from packing on the pounds — or, just as dangerous, quickly dropping lots of weight — to meet the demands of a part.
Anne Hathaway, who is widely being touted as an Oscar contender this year, dropped 16 pounds and had her hair chopped off to play ill prostitute Fantine in “Les Miserables.” The movie opens Christmas Day.
Tiny Natalie Portman lost 20 pounds from her already lean frame to play a neurotic ballerina in “Black Swan.” She was rewarded with an Academy Award.
Charlize Theron is another famous example, gaining 30 pounds to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster.” She, too, won an Oscar for her trouble.
Svelte Hilary Swank went the opposite direction, working out and sticking to a particular diet to gain 19 pounds of muscle. She felt she needed it to be believable as a female boxer in “Million Dollar Baby.” Oscar smiled on Swank as well.
Other Oscar-winning weight droppers: Adrien Brody, 30 pounds from 160 to 130 to play a starving WWII-era Polish Jew in “The Pianist”; Christian Bale, 20-plus pounds for the role of a drug-addicted boxer in “The Fighter”; and Tom Hanks, 30 pounds to appear as a lawyer dying of AIDS in “Philadelphia.”
Robert DeNiro set the weight-gain bar really high back in 1980 when he gained 60 pounds to play boxer Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull.” He, too, won an Oscar for his troubles.
George Clooney reportedly became depressed after gaining 30 pounds to play CIA agent Robert Baer in “Syriana.” The Oscar he won for that part probably cheered him up, and he soon lost it all to play the title role in “Michael Clayton.” That movie scored him a nomination, but not a win.
That’s not to say weight gain or loss always leads to Oscar land.
Matt Damon was a fledgling in the industry when he lost 50 pounds to play a heroin addict in “Courage Under Fire.” The effort left him with damage to his adrenal glands.
Years later, as an established star, he gained 30 pounds to play a doughy corporate executive in “The Informant.” No gold for either role. Not even a nomination.
Ryan Gosling gained 60 pounds, from 150 to 210, to play a grieving father in “The Lovely Bones.” His director did not share his vision for the role. He was fired, and Mark Wahlberg ended up in the movie.
Jared Leto gained 67 pounds to play John Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman, in “Chapter 27.” The movie got horrible reviews.
Vincent D’Onofrio is the weight-gain champ among movie stars, gaining 70 pounds to appear in Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam movie “Full Metal Jacket.” The reviews were much better for that one.
Russell Crowe gained 35 for “The Insider,” only to lose it all for “Gladiator.” Later he packed on 63 pounds for “Body of Lies.”
Renee Zellweger gained 28 to play the title character in “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” gaining an Academy Award nomination. Then she lost the weight, and got another Oscar nod, for “Chicago.” Then she gained it back for a sequel, “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.” No nomination that time.
Bale lost 60 pounds, getting down to 122 and suffering liver damage, for “The Machinist.” Then he gained almost 100 pounds to play Batman in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins.”
Hanks gained 30 pounds as a has-been baseball star in “A League of Their Own,” then lost that and more for “Philadelphia.” He lost 55 pounds (225 to 170) for the island exile portion of “Cast Away.”
Let’s give the last word on weight loss to Jennifer Hudson, who lost more than 50 pounds over six months to play Winnie Mandela in “Winnie.” Hudson did it the right way — the gradual, healthy way — by using the Weight Watchers program.