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10 Method Actors Who Went Way Too Far
Method acting has been in vogue since Marlon Brando first mumbled his way through Stanley Kowalski’s lines in Elia Kazan’s 1951 adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire. But while many of the greats have tried their hand at truly becoming their characters, some actors have taken it to new extremes. A select few have taken it upon themselves to stay in character too long, violate social norms, and go off the deep end, alienating their fellow actors and engaging in behaviors most of us would consider, at best, inadvisable.
10 Ashton Kutcher Gave Himself Pancreatitis
Following Apple founder Steve Jobs’s untimely death in 2011, studios were clamoring over themselves to put an A-lister in a turtleneck and make big bucks from the story of the tech mogul’s life—whether that life was especially entertaining or not.
Joshua Michael Stern’s biopic Jobs was one of the first out the gate in 2013, taking a gentle resemblance between a young Steve Jobs and Punk’d alumnus Ashton Kutcher and running with it. Desperate to boost his status from mass-market comedy actor to something considerably more serious, Kutcher threw himself into the part, aping as many aspects of Jobs’s life as he conceivably could in preparation. Unfortunately for him, Kutcher’s body couldn’t hack Jobs’s so-called fruitarian diet.
Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003, Jobs sought a series of alternative medicine solutions and swore by a regimen of fruit and veg in his day-to-day life. In a moment of dark irony, Kutcher’s attempt to follow this diet, which included drinking carrot juice pretty much non-stop, ended up sending him to the hospital with—of all things—pancreatitis.
9 Michael Fassbender Starved
Steve McQueen’s first feature, Hunger, saw him hit the ground running in 2008 and set the tone for a career dominated by intense subject matter and themes of social strife. Focusing on the 1981 Irish hunger strike by republican prisoners during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the film stars Michael Fassbender as real-life prisoner Bobby Sands, a member of the Irish Republican Army who died in HM Prison Maze.
As this was Fassbender’s first major dramatic role, he went all-out for the part, researching and preparing thoroughly for the role. Unfortunately, he decided—and McQueen agreed—that to portray the full toll extracted by Sands’s hunger strike, he would also have to starve. Despite a nutritionist telling the actor he shouldn’t eat less than 900 calories per day, Fassbender couldn’t get the weight off. So he went down to just 600 calories while meeting all the demands of a working actor. Living on a diet of only a couple packets of berries and a sardine each day for a period of four weeks, the actor dropped over 50 pounds ((22.6 kilograms) in body weight and became a ghost of his former self.
8 Dustin Hoffman Abused His Co-Stars
A modern classic of the legal drama genre, Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), elicited some career-defining performances from its stars—especially Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman, who play the titular husband and wife at war.
Already a well-regarded lead with some serious dramatic roles to his name, Hoffman heartily embraced the role of miserable, self-absorbed, workaholic Ted Kramer (the antithesis of the actor’s real personality), applying an antagonistic persona and dogged particularity that extended far beyond the scenes captured on film.
In an attempt to get the best out of every second of screentime, The Graduate actor went out of his way to push the rest of the cast to their limits. Going for the maximum possible tension, he sought to locate their real-world vulnerabilities and exploit them in-scene—and nobody got it worse than Streep. Hoffman insulted the actress frequently, slapped her around the face, and even went as far as making fun of her recently deceased boyfriend. Oh, and he also made his on-screen son, seven-year-old actor Justin Henry, cry by telling him he wouldn’t see his friends on the film crew ever again.
7 Jamie Foxx Glued His Eyes Shut
There are few musicians more highly regarded than Ray Charles. So it was imperative when casting his 2004 biopic Ray that director Taylor Hackford select someone who could immerse themselves in all aspects of the part, from Charles’s passion for music to the more physical elements of his persona.
At the time, comedian and sitcom host Jamie Foxx may have seemed an odd choice for the leading part, but he really threw his weight behind his performance. He went deep into the music, studied Charles’s vocal and physical mannerisms, and came out the other side with the Academy Award for Best Actor. Despite this, there was one major challenge along the way, in which the actor might have just gone a little too far.
As Charles was blind since childhood, Foxx wanted to find an authentic way to replicate the experience. This began with a little help from the make-up department. The actor had them glue his eyes shut to try and replicate Charles’s lack of sight. Needless to say, this didn’t really work for anyone involved, and they settled on prosthetics that nevertheless made Foxx unable to see for the duration of the shoot.
6 Jim Carrey Feigned Possession
Jim Carrey’s time on the set of the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon (1999) was anything but a smooth ride. Instead of making everyone laugh and preparing a loving tribute to the oddball comedy hero of the ’80s, Carrey decided to go full method and unleash a series of misery-inducing personas upon the cast and crew for the duration of the shoot.
Detailed extensively in Chris Smith’s 2017 documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, Carrey never broke character, playing not just Kaufman but seamlessly morphing into the comedian’s alter-egos on a whim, including Tony Clifton, an egotistical and downright offensive lounge singer with a convertible that Carrey actually bought and drove.
Claiming to be possessed by the spirit of the late comic, Carrey antagonized everyone on set and baffled director Miloš Forman, who afterward claimed never to have worked with Jim Carrey. But perhaps the actor’s worst transgression of all was staying in character while interacting with Andy Kaufman’s parents, Stanley and Carol. Thankfully, they were able to take it with a pinch of salt and accommodated Carrey as best they could.
5 Adrien Brody Abandoned His Life
Roman Polanski’s harrowing holocaust drama The Pianist (2002) was never going to be taken lightly by its cast. But the film’s lead, Adrien Brody, who played the real-life Jewish pianist, composer, and holocaust survivor Władysław Szpilman, took things to another level.
Seeking to get as immersed in Szpilman’s psyche as possible, Brody shed his Hollywood lifestyle upon taking the role. He sold his car, broke up with his girlfriend, shunned his social life, took on a rigorous regime of piano lessons in order to master the instrument, and went on a starvation diet. So deep did he go in the part that he made himself physically and mentally ill and struggled to get back to good health when filming was over—in his words, spending his days “on friends’ couches trying to start a life again.”
Lucky, then, that all this ended up bagging him the Academy Award for Best Actor—making him the youngest and only actor under 30 to win it. Otherwise, it might all have seemed a bit… much.
4 Shia LaBeouf Cut Up His Face
In the run-up to his ultimately disastrous Suicide Squad in 2016, director David Ayer was putting out smaller, grittier films and working with some of Hollywood’s best. And in terms of star power, he hit the jackpot with Fury (2014), a small-scale WWII film with Brad Pitt, Jason Isaacs, Jon Bernthal, Scott Eastwood, and, of course, Shia LaBeouf on its roster.
Ayer brought a dedication to realism influenced by his family’s military service and an extensive period of research. Still, one member of his cast took this to heart more than anyone else. While Pitt, Bernthal, and the others are no strangers to hard work and dedication, LaBeouf decided to go the whole hog and live like a real soldier on the front lines.
The actor refused to shower or shave while filming, disgusting his castmates and leading to stern words from Pitt—the de facto group leader. But the fun didn’t end there, as LaBeouf had a tooth pulled in preparation for the role and took it upon himself to cut his own face between takes, keeping a series of facial wounds open for the duration of the shoot.
3 Robert Pattinson Wet His Pants
Shot for the narrow and unconventional 1.19:1 aspect ratio, presented in black and white, and using dialogue and speech patterns true to the insular community of lighthouse keeper “wickies” in late-1800s New England, Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse is a strange and unnerving film. But it wouldn’t be half as strange or unnerving if it weren’t for its cast—Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson—who bring to life the tale of two lighthouse keepers going mad in isolation.
Unfortunately for Eggers and Dafoe, one cast member took his role a little too seriously. The habitually mild-mannered Pattinson plumbed the depths of his character’s madness and carried it with him between takes while shooting for hours on end in a real lighthouse.
Prior to his scenes, the actor would sit on the floor growling, mumbling incoherently, and eating mud. When it came time to shoot the various sequences in which the wickies are drunk on kerosene, Pattinson doubled down on this behavior by vomiting and wetting himself—much to the chagrin of his co-star, who threatened to walk off the set.
2 Leonardo DiCaprio Slept in an Animal Carcass
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s frontier survival movie The Revenant (2015) pushed the limits of what the director and his star, Leonardo DiCaprio, were capable of. Having made his name in contemporary psychological dramas that blurred the boundaries between Mexican and American culture (along with one Harry Potter film), Iñárritu went against type and took us back to the early 1800s to tell the tale of fur trapper Hugh Glass. And who better than DiCaprio to portray him, dedicated as the actor has always been to finding new outlets for his art and attracting the Academy’s attention.
Determined to get that elusive Oscar in the bag, DiCaprio went all-out for his role. Although the film required him to shoot on location in freezing conditions—something most of us would balk at—the Titanic actor went far further than the call of duty (one might say too far). He plunged in and out of frozen rivers, fighting possible hypothermia day in and day out, slept in real animal carcasses, and even ate the things we see on screen, including raw bison liver. If he hadn’t won the Academy Award for Best Actor that year, who knows what he would have done next.
1 Jared Leto Gifted His Used Condoms
The cautionary tale for method actors the world over came from the aforementioned David Ayer film Suicide Squad (2016). The all-star cast had some serious Hollywood pull, with Margot Robbie playing Harley Quinn, Will Smith playing Deadshot, and Jared Leto rather controversially playing the Joker—a part that has all but replaced Hamlet as the most desirable role for male actors.
Riding high on his Oscars success in Dallas Buyers Club (2014), Leto went way too hard from the get-go, forgetting that this was a superhero studio movie and treating his part like a new skin to wear wherever he went.
Staying in character as the clown prince of crime for the duration of the shoot, Leto sought to break down walls and generate an atmosphere of terror. The Thirty Seconds to Mars frontman refused to engage his co-stars out of character, remained separated from them during the shoot, and sent a series of unsavory items to everyone, including rats, bullets, anal beads, and used condoms. Pity, then, that his performance was so uneven, the film was a critical disaster, and his antics were frowned upon by the film community at large.