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It’s hard to say for certain what drives actors to make their most extreme choices, but when the performance in question wins an Oscar, you can assume gold statues were never far from their mind. Pushing your body to inconvenient, even dangerous places for a role may sound irrational, but these actors proved it can also be award-worthy.
Daniel-Day Lewis (My Left Foot)
Daniel Day-Lewis is the master of insane acting sacrifices—and he has three Best Actor Oscars to prove it. He set the tone with his first Oscar-winning performance (as cerebral palsy sufferer Christy Brown), refusing to leave his wheelchair, demanding that crew members feed him with a spoon, and maintaining an awkward posture that ultimately broke two of his ribs.
Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry)
In order to convincingly portray trans man Brandon Teena, Hilary Swank spent several months adopting a low voice, bandaging her breasts down, and introducing herself as Hilary’s bro, James.
Charlize Theron (Monster)
If there’s one person Monster’s Aileen Wuornos does not resemble, it’s the actress who played her: Charlize Theron. This transformation came about with the help of prosthetic teeth, some reckless eyebrow shaving, and many bags of potato chips.
Adrien Brody (The Pianist)
To capture the rootless desperation of The Pianist’s Wladyslaw Szpilman, Adrien Brody stripped his life of all structure and comfort. Before boarding a flight for Europe, he abandoned all his belongings, first packing a couple bags—and a keyboard.
Jamie Foxx (Ray)
The Academy was clearly impressed by Jamie Foxx’s convincing depiction of blindness in Ray, but he didn’t have to fake a thing. As it turns out, he got a valuable assist from a pair of prosthetic eyelids, resulting in a sensation the actor compared to “having your eyes glued shut for fourteen hours a day.”
Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
There would probably be more ballet greats in the world if it wasn’t such a grueling art form. Natalie Portman learned this the hard way during her preparation for Black Swan. Her diet and training regime were so cruel that she genuinely feared she might not survive.
Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
With the help of a nutritionist, the already-slim Anne Hathaway lost 25 pounds to play Les Misérables’ destitute Fantine. The worst part? She lost more than half of that weight during the shoot, thanks to a fast that lasted 13 days.
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
The following year, the cast of Dallas Buyers Club seemed determined to outdo Hathaway. For his performance as HIV-positive trans woman Rayon, Jared Leto became altogether skeletal after dropping over 30 pounds.
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Since Matthew McConaughey is the star of Dallas Buyers Club, it’s only fair that he outdid Leto. According to the actor, he lost a jaw-dropping 47 pounds, leaving him in a state that he compared to “a baby bird with its mouth open, crying, ‘Feed me, feed me.’”
Kate Winslet (The Reader)
The pampered children of movie stars rarely have the sensation of being parented by an illiterate German concentration camp guard—unless their mom’s starring in The Reader. For a few dark months in 2008, Kate Winslet was consumed by this bleak character, causing her kids’ bedtime stories to take a turn for the depressing.
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
As of this writing, Leonardo DiCaprio has to yet to receive his Oscar for The Revenant, but let’s face it, that’s really just a formality. Having endured every insane inconvenience in the book—swimming in frigid waters, sleeping in an animal carcass, eating raw bison liver—he might as well clear a spot on his mantelpiece now. See if Leo takes it February 28 on CTV!