Losing It

Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale and More Stars Who Lost Weight For Roles

From Matthew McConaughey shedding pounds to play an AIDS victim to Jonah Hill dropping it for 21 Jump Street, see Hollywood's most famous Method eaters.

Matthew McConaughey

Magic Mike abs, we barely knew ye. Matthew McConaughey, star of this summer’s hit stripper comedy, has gone from eating five protein-packed meals a day (which produced the glory of this photo) to consuming little more than “a lot of tea” to lose 30 pounds and look the part of an AIDS-infected man for an upcoming role in The Dallas Buyer’s Club. The film tells the true story of a man seeking out experimental HIV drugs in the mid-1980s, explaining why McConaughey looks, well, sickly. “I should not look healthy by the time I’m doing this,” he told Larry King Now in July, when he had lost half of the 30 pounds. “It’s a bit of a spiritual cleanse, mental cleanse,” he added. “[I’m] drinking a lot of tea ... It takes a while for your body to understand that it has to feed off of itself and that you’re not going to give it something else from the outside.”

Michael Fassbender

Before he played a cold and calculating android or the X-Men’s worst enemy, Michael Fassbender took on the role of Bobby Sands, the Irishman famous for the hunger strikes he led in Ireland’s HM Prison Maze in 1981, in Steve McQueen’s Cannes Camera d’Or–winning film, Hunger. Fassbender, an Irishman himself, lost about 40 pounds over 10 weeks on a 600-calorie-a-day diet to achieve the emaciated look. Besides the skin-and-bones physique, Fassbender later admitted there were other, unexpected side effects: “My libido disappeared for about six weeks,” he has said, but added, “It felt very liberating. You don’t realize how distracting all that stuff can be. Your body streamlines and focuses on what’s important. I suppose that’s why monks and religious people do it.”

AP Photo

Jonah Hill

Jonah Hill showed up to the ESPY awards in 2009 looking like a shadow of his former self. The actor reportedly lost 40 pounds for his role in 21 Jump Street. Hill discussed getting in shape saying, “It’s not fun. I wouldn’t say it’s the most fun endeavor I’ve ever took on in my life – but it’s important. And I’m enjoying it. If I eat something unhealthy now, I kind of feel a little weird and my body hurts.” He also admitted that the weight loss was not just for his new movie role. Hill added that he “thought it was important to be healthier."

Rick Diamond / Getty Images; Scott Garfield, © 2010 Screen Gems, Inc

Gwyneth Paltrow

Waifish Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow claims to have let herself go recently for a role, but it’s hard to see the photographic evidence. For Country Strong, in which Paltrow starred as an alcohol-addicted fallen country music singer, the actress reportedly packed on 20 pounds. “I was so bad with the food and alcohol in Nashville,” Paltrow told Harper's Bazaar in May of her diet while filming. Seemingly, however, the 20 pounds Paltrow’s personal trainer says she gained did not show on screen (right) or at the film’s premiere this week (left). "They wanted her to eat a lot of fried chicken," trainer Tracy Anderson told People magazine. "It was frustrating for me… When I trained her for the first Iron Man movie, I took 30 pounds off her.” Was there ever a time when Paltrow needed to lose 30 pounds or another when she gained 20? It’s a mystery to us, but the actress also told Bazaar: “If you saw me naked [now] compared to what I looked like when I did Iron Man 2, when I was exercising every day… I've never eaten so much fried food and white flour in my life, ever.” Now, that is not hard to believe for a Master Cleanser like Paltrow.

Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images; Everett Collection; Newscom

Matt Damon

To play the role of soldier Ilario in 1996’s Courage Under Fire, baby-faced Matt Damon dropped 40 pounds through a strict regimen of food deprivation and physical training. He apparently ran six-and-a-half miles in the morning and another six and a half at night—and also partook in large amounts of coffee and cigarettes. More than a decade later, he gained 30 extra pounds to play a whistleblower in The Informant. The former Sexiest Man Alive joked with USA Today that People magazine took back the title. “Now I'm the Sexiest Man Alive's chunky cousin,” he said. Damon has since slimmed down.

Steve Granitz, WireImage / Getty Images; Fame Pictures; Everett Collection (2)

Christian Bale

When it comes to bulking up or disintegrating in the name of acting, Christian Bale is king. How else would you describe his drastic weight loss for his role in The Machinist, which he achieved by subsisting on nothing but apples and coffee? Bale lost 63 pounds off his strapping 180-pound frame to play Trevor Reznik in the film, weight that he put back on (and then some!) to play the part of Batman. Bale had only six weeks to go from playing an anorexic to a buff vigilante, a difficult task considering how low his metabolism had dropped as a result of his crash dieting. But through a combination of martial-arts training and a stable diet, the consummate Method actor was back in fighting form in no time. Is he up for it again? The Caped Crusader is extra-lean once more for his upcoming role in The Fighter, a movie about a famous boxer turned cocaine addict.

MJ Kim / Getty Images for MTV; Peace Arch Films / Everett

Jared Leto

What could be better than getting paid millions of dollars to eat anything and everything? It’s an infallible excuse for ordering seconds: “I have to get fat for a movie.” But it’s not all candy-coated fun and games, says Jared Leto, who gained so much weight for his role as John Lennon’s assassin in Chapter 27 that he actually got gout as a result. So what does it take to pack on 60 pounds in a short period of time? “My little trick was I would take pints of chocolate Haagen Dazs and put them in the microwave and drink them,” Leto said of moving up a weight class (or three). “The sick thing is I would actually pour olive oil and soy sauce into the mixture as well—to get me bloated even more.” After filming for Chapter 27 wrapped up in 2006, the actor embarked on the Master Cleanse fasting-style diet used by stars and yogis alike. “I think I lost 20 pounds in that first 10 days,” he said.

Lester Cohen, WireImage / Getty Images; Everett Collection

Ed Norton

Edward Norton decided to slim down his already wiry frame to play opposite Brad Pitt in Fight Club as a subtle indication of his character’s fragility. “I decided I was going to get very, very thin, because in essence my character is wasting away, falling apart,” Norton said of the 15 pounds he dropped for the role. It wasn’t until he starred as Derek Vinyard in American History X that the actor tested his own bodily boundaries with the “Neo-Nazi Diet.” The high-protein meals and zero-cardio, heavy-lifting workouts made a hulking white supremacist out of Norton—and the swastika tattoo may have had something to do with it.

Splash News; X17online.com

Colin Farrell

Can’t a reformed drug addict drop a few stone without starting up the cokehead rumors again? Not in the case of Colin Farrell, who whittled down for his role in the upcoming film Triage. “I lost weight because my role demanded it,” Farrell said of his character, a war reporter in Bosnia. The actor remained mum on what exactly his weight-loss regimen entailed, pausing at a press conference last year to read a passage from the novel upon which Triage is based. “He went to the bathroom to shave,” author Scott Anderson writes. “Once his beard was gone he saw that his face had become drawn. He pressed at the hollows beneath his eyes, the pronounced nubs of his cheekbones.”

Jason DeCrow / AP Photo; DreamWorks / Everett

Beyonce Knowles

Sure, when a male movie star barely stops short of amputation to lose weight for a role, it’s art—but if an actress follows suit? Why, that’s poor self-esteem at best and disgraceful role modeling at its worst. Beyonce Knowles opted for the Master Cleanse to help her lose weight for Dreamgirls, relying on a two-week diet of water mixed with lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper to drop around 20 pounds. The actress described the Master Cleanse as her own personal hell, but necessary so she could play her character at different ages and dress sizes. The media thoroughly enjoyed reporting that Knowles had abandoned her bootylicious roots, but the star bounced back to her natural weight after filming.

C.J. LaFrance / Getty Images; Warner Bros / Everett

Gerard Butler

It’s a scientific fact that lines like “tonight we dine in hell” fall flat unless the person delivering them is suitably beefy and all-around ruggedly hot. So when Gerard Butler agreed to suit up in a red cape and loincloth to play Leonidas in 300, you’d better believe that just your average six-pack wasn’t going to make the cut. Butler trained intensely for four months to sculpt his body into graphic-novel eye candy with a Venezuelan bodybuilder and former world-class mountain climber, who said the mere thought of one of his workouts should turn his clients’ stomachs. “It feels like you just killed my dog,” one of Butler’s costars told the trainer upon hearing instructions for the workout. The result? Butler looked like The Hulk, and a nation fell in love.

Evan Agostini / AP Photo; Newmarket / Everett

Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron transformed into a nearly unrecognizable version of herself in Monster, which garnered her an Academy Award. Gaining 25 pounds wasn’t easy for the actress, who cites potato chips as one of her favorite guilty pleasures, but the film’s producers were striving for authenticity and couldn’t afford expensive prosthetic fat suits. “I added capillaries and freckles,” said makeup artist Toni G. of transforming Theron’s face. “But you can’t get jowls like she did without gaining weight, and she did it without complaining.” The hardest part? Theron had just one month after wrapping up Monster to get back into her skinny jeans for Head in the Clouds. She lost about six pounds per week.

AP Photo; Everett Collection (2)

Renee Zellweger

To play lovable, “normal size” Bridget Jones, the usually svelte Renee Zellweger gained and lost more than 30 pounds, yo-yoing from a size 6 to a size 14 and back again. "Can I just tell you my body is whacked by the time we finish one of those,” she told the Daily Mail, after wrapping the second film. Her special diet to “get in shape” for the role has included biscuits and gravy, Snickers, milk shakes, pizza, and butter-soaked potatoes, according to People. The Oscar-winner is about to go through the cycle again, the magazine reports, for the third Bridget installment.

Jason Merritt, FilmMagic / Getty Images; Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Seth Rogen

Famously flabby comedian Seth Rogen made his excess weight work for him in films like Knocked Up and Zack and Miri Make a Porno. But last year, he seriously slimmed down to play the role of newspaper-publisher-turned-vigilante in the silver-screen adaptation of The Green Hornet, slated to hit theaters next summer. Unlike other stars, Rogen is blasé about his appearance. "I personally do not care how I look or physically feel," he told Ryan Seacrest in 2008. He doesn’t weigh himself, he says, so he isn’t even sure how much weight he lost.

Junko Kimura / Getty Images; Everett Collection (2)

Tom Hanks

Two-time Oscar-winner Tom Hanks has been lauded for his ability to morph into whatever role he’s playing—both figuratively and literally. After packing on the pounds to play alcoholic schlub Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own, Hanks slimmed down to portray gaunt AIDS victim Andrew Beckett in 1993’s Philadelphia. But his most drastic weight loss came while filming Castaway, seven years later. To show the effects of time and malnutrition on Hanks’ character, the film was shot in two parts—with a year’s hiatus between the two, allowing the actor to drop pounds. “Losing the weight was just time and discipline; it wasn't as if I were living on bacon and grapefruit for eight months,” he told CNN. “I was just watching what ate, and working out with a very specific task at hand.”

Kevin Winter / Getty Images; Everett Collection (2)

Robert De Niro

To portray self-destructive middleweight boxing champ Jake LaMotta in 1980’s Raging Bull, Robert De Niro started out svelte—but eventually put on 50 pounds for the role, ballooning to around 200 big ones. To give De Niro time to gain the weight, director Martin Scorsese apparently halted production on the film for four months while the actor went on a binge-eating trip around Italy and France. Once he returned, they filmed the scenes involving the older, fatter LaMotta, when he announced his retirement from boxing and eventually spent time in a Florida jail cell.

Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images; Warner Bros / Everett

George Clooney

It’s hard to imagine an unattractive George Clooney, but the actor managed to make himself, well, ordinary looking for his role in 2005’s Syriana. To play the part of a heavyset CIA operative, Clooney gained 30 pounds and (gasp!) grew a beard. While some actors enjoy taking a break from their often restrictive diets, Clooney’s not one of them. “There was nothing fun about it,” he told Reuters. Some speculated (snarkily) that he went to such dramatic lengths in a shameless bid to score an Oscar—but either way, it worked. Clooney won Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film.