Trophy Diet

The Oscar Diet: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto & More (PHOTOS)

See what the stars of 'Dallas Buyers Club,' Anne Hathaway, Tom Hanks, and more ate to achieve their Oscar-bait transformations.

Anne Marie Fox/Focus Features; 20thCentFox/Everett Collection; Newmarket Releasing/Everett Collection; Paramount/Everett Collection

Oscar Diet

Moms, agents, God—they routinely get tearful shoutouts while actors clutch their trophies at the Academy Awards. But it’s increasingly becoming the case that stars’ nutritionists deserve mentioning alongside that holy trinity in thank you speeches. This awards season The Dallas Buyers Club stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto join the ranks of actors who turned to drastic diets in order to physically transform for their baity new roles. From Anne Hathaway’s award-winning oatmeal paste diet for ++Les Miserables to Renee Zellweger’s Bridget Jones donut binge, here’s a look back at what other Oscar-minted stars ate—or, more often, didn’t eat—for their award-worthy performances.

Anne Marie Fox/Focus Features

Matthew McConaughey, 'Dallas Buyers Club'

For nearly two decades of his film career, the best reviews Matthew McConaughey received were his gym-perfect body. Well now, all right all right all right, the actor is cresting the peak of a “McConaissance,” receiving two thumbs up for his riveting performances in a series of indies instead of his washboard abs. Now the guy who was once around for banging his bongos in the buff is now an Oscar frontrunner for Dallas Buyers Club. To play HIV patient-turned-activist Ron Wooroof, McConaughey ditched the Adonis-like image altogether, shedding 47 pounds to look like Woodroof at his sickest. To lose the weight, he drastically cut his calorie intake after consulting with a nutritionist and…Tom Hanks? “I actually called Tom and had a great conversation with him about what he learned about losing weight for Philadelphia and Cast Away, McConaughey told People. He was pleased with the results, too. “I was going around and people were going, ‘Hey, are you feeling alright?’” he said about reaching his initial weight-loss goal. “But then I hit 135 lbs. I ran in to somebody and they didn’t just ask if I was all right, they said, ‘My God, we need to get you some help.’ And I thought, ‘There we go. That’s the perfect spot.’”

Anne Marie Fox/Focus Features

Jared Leto, 'Dallas Buyers Club'

Jared Leto’s made a career out of transformations. He was the epitome of teen heartthrob as Jordan Catalano in My So-Called in Life, then a mesmerizing character-actor chameleon in Fight Club, American Psycho, and Requiem for a Dream. Then came the rock star, with the wild success of his band 30 Seconds to Mars. He famously gained 67 pounds to play John Lennon’s assassin in Chapter 27. “[I did it by eating everything you think you’re not supposed to—pizza, pasta, ice cream, but my little trick was I would take pints of chocolate Haagen Dazs and put them in the microwave and drink them,” he said (he’d also add olive oil and soy sauce into the shake to up the calories). He dropped to a frightening 118 pounds to play a drug addicted, HIV positive, transsexual in Dallas Buyers Club, taking the opposite route of his Chapter 27 days to reach his goal weight: “I stopped eating.” He tells The Daily Beast that the drastic weight fluctuations suit him: “I enjoy the transformative process. I would have it be that way every time, although I kind of do, I suppose.”

Laurie Sparham / Universal Pictures

Anne Hathaway, ‘Les Misérables’

“I dreamed a dream” … of a hamburger, am I right, Anne? Anne Hathaway won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her turn as the doomed mother Fantine in Les Misérables, revealing that she dropped a startling 25 pounds—15 of which she shed in just two weeks—off her already slim frame to believably portray a woman suffering from tuberculosis in the film. To achieve the gaunt results, Hathaway said, she subsisted on just two squares of dried oatmeal paste each day. How she mustered any energy at all, on those pitiful rations, to belt Fantine’s signature ballad “I Dreamed a Dream,” may be the Oscar season’s biggest mystery.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Sally Field, ‘Lincoln’

To authentically capture the look of Mary Todd Lincoln in Lincoln, a role she fought years to land, Sally Field tacked 25 pounds onto her slight 5-foot-2, 100-pound frame—that’s an astounding 25 percent increase in body weight. To do it, Field gulped down a protein drink called pro-Gain—“Oh God, it was just disgusting,” she recalled—and supplemented it with brown rice. Ultimately, the weight gain proved too much for wee Field’s body; the 66-year-old’s knees eventually required surgery from carrying the added heft. Getting back down to normal size wasn’t a picnic, either, for the actress. “It took me six months to gain it,” Field said, “and about a year to lose it.”

Jojo Whilden / The Weinstein Company

Jennifer Lawrence, ‘Silver Linings Playbook’

Credit Jennifer Lawrence, currently doing the press rounds to promote her Best Actress–winning performance in the dramedy Silver Linings Playbook, for being refreshingly candid when it comes to the typical size of Hollywood’s starlets. “Oh God, yes, I’m so tired of the lollipops,” she recently said, referring to her twiggy comrades. “But it’s hilarious, the way I’m supposedly the overweight one?” The Hunger Games star revealed that she was even asked to put on some weight for her role in Playbook, to which she giddily responded, “Hell, yeah!” The food-loving star, however, was confused about how she’d accomplish the task: “I don’t know how I can eat any differently because I already eat like someone is proving something.”

Paramount / Courtesy Everett Collection

Christian Bale, ‘The Fighter’

Christian Bale’s extreme roller-coaster weight transformations are notorious by this point. His intense commitment to changing his body for a role first surfaced in 2004’s The Machinist, for which Bale subsisted on a diet of water, an apple, and one cup of coffee every day in order to drop 65 pounds from his six-foot frame. He then only had five months to bulk up from an underweight 121 pounds to a more superhero-befitting 220 pounds to play Batman in Batman Begins, and then again in The Dark Knight. But to play a slim, drug-addicted welterweight boxer in The Fighter, for which he won the Oscar, Bale would have to shed those beefy Caped Crusader muscles again. Unlike with The Machinist, Bale copped to losing the pounds more responsibly this time, by eating nutritiously and “running like crazy.” Of course, he joked, for an extra boost he would “do a lot of coke whenever I lose weight.”

Niko Tavernise / Fox Searchlight

Natalie Portman, ‘Black Swan’

For her Oscar-winning performance as a ballerina in Black Swan, Natalie Portman put her body through the same self-flagellation that a professional dancer would. According to the star, that meant living on a strict diet of mostly carrots and almonds and working out between five and eight hours each day. In the end, Portman lost an astonishing 20 pounds off her petite 5-foot-3 body, and looked so skeletal that director Darren Aronofsky said, “At a certain point, I looked at [her] back, and she was so skinny and so cut … I was like, ‘Natalie, start eating.’”

Universal / Courtesy Everett Collection

Renée Zellweger, ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’

Before winnowing away before our very eyes, Renee Zellweger was more famous for putting on weight. A strict ban on exercise and a switch to gluttonous gorging on cheese pizza and doughnuts helped Zellweger score her first Oscar nomination as the titular pudgy, unlucky-in-love writer in Bridget Jones’s Diary. And she was committed: “One doughnut does not do a thing,” she said. “You’ve got to eat 20 a day for at least five weeks to get results.” Zellweger famously rose to the challenge twice, adopting a 4,000-calorie-a-day diet again for the film’s sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Of course, the swiftness with which the actress tossed off the weight is as remarkable as her discarding her vanity to put it on in the first place. A regimented diet of tuna, dressing-free salads, and raw veggies helped Zellweger reclaim the bony frame that draped those flapper dresses for her second Oscar-nominated role in Chicago the next year.

Newmarket Releasing / Courtesy Everett Collection

Charlize Theron, ‘Monster’

Silver-screen siren Charlize Theron was practically unrecognizable under layers of skin makeup, teeth implants, and the 30 pounds she gained to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a performance that won her the Best Actress Oscar for Monster. Putting on the pounds was a matter of pure indulgence for the star. “I first began stuffing myself with Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but after a while I got sick of them,” Theron said. She also had a “secret stash” of potato chips on hand at all times. “Basically you eat all the junk you really want to eat for the first few months, but after a while that gets boring,” she said. “But I never got tired of potato chips. I could live off potato chips.”

20thCentFox / Courtesy Everett Collection

Tom Hanks, ‘Castaway’

In 1994, Tom Hanks lost 30 pounds to play a dying AIDS patient in Philadelphia, winning his first Oscar for the role. (Take this excuse—any excuse, really—to blubber at his perfect, heartbreaking acceptance speech.) But that’s nothing compared with the 50 he dropped to play a modern-day Robinson Crusoe in Castaway. First, Hanks pudged up to play a pilot in the first half of the film. Production was then stopped and resumed the next year after Hanks had lost the drastic amount of weight. Joking about how he did, it Hanks said, “You know coconuts? Think you can eat a lot of coconuts? Well, let me tell you, it’s a natural laxative. So just put two and two together there. Take a coconut, drink all the milk out of it, and then eat all the insides, and you tell me how you feel after an hour and a half …”

Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

Hillary Swank, ‘Million Dollar Baby’

After being cast in Million Dollar Baby, Hillary Swank had just 30 days to learn how to box—and to make her body look like a boxer’s. Four hours of boxing and weightlifting helped with the first part, and, to pack on a crushing 19 pounds of muscle, Swank ate 210 grams of protein daily. That meant eating every hour and a half, and resorting to drinking egg whites (eating eight to 12 eggs in a sitting would otherwise be impossible). While Swank was given the arguably envious assignment to sleep nine hours a day to ensure her muscles recuperated, she also was forced to interrupt that slumber several times a night to drink protein shakes, “because I couldn’t go that long without eating.” She won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance.

Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

George Clooney, ‘Syriana’

Being paid to pig out and put on weight—and win awards for the exercise, natch—sounds like the average person’s dream. But George Clooney, it need not be said, is not the average person. The former Sexiest Man Alive put on 30 pounds to play a potbellied CIA operative in Syriana, and won Best Supporting Actor for his performance. Yet, “there was nothing fun about it,” Clooney said about the pasta-heavy diet that transformed his body for the film. “There was not a moment that was fun about shooting this film … It’s just that everybody has that year where you age a decade and this was that one for me.”

Merrick Morton / Columbia Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

Rooney Mara, ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’

In a memorable—and, in hindsight, probably mortifying—guest turn early in her career, on Law & Order: SVU, Rooney Mara played a girl who viciously bullied fat people. The early introduction to Hollywood is made all the more cringe-worthy considering the lengths the actress went to in order to achieve the emaciated look of Lisbeth Salander for her Oscar-nominated turn in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Mara “starved” herself before filming began, part of a head-to-toe makeover that included shaving her eyebrows and half her head, and getting eye, ear, and nipple piercings. She says her director, David Fincher, played no part in the weight loss. “David didn’t want me to lose any weight,” Mara said. “That was something that I wanted to do that he was, kind of, opposed to.” Yet during a widely circulated interview with Vogue, the interviewer noticed that Mara wouldn’t order food until Fincher gave her permission—joking, “You can have lettuce and a grape. A raisin if you must”—and even then she only ordered fish, which she “barely” touched.