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Vice's Christian Bale and 5 other method actors who go all-out for their craft


Staggering weight fluctuations; eating live octopuses; sending rats to other cast members. Welcome to the wacky world of method acting.

There's no denying the extreme lengths to which some actors will go in the name of authenticity. Repeatedly straddling both ends of the bodily transformation spectrum and defying all anatomical rhyme or reason – not to mention the advice of his GP – Christian Bale is an actor who wholeheartedly embraces the art of method acting.

His latest film Vice, a political comedy-drama biopic from The Big Short director Adam McKay, sees Bale pile on the pounds in his decade-spanning portrayal of former US Vice President Dick Cheney. The movie is out this Friday and showcases another startling appearance from the acclaimed performer.

Having already picked up Best Actor gongs at the Golden Globes and Critics' Choice Awards, Bale's authentic look and nuanced performance are certainly generating a lot of awards chatter. He's also received his first ever Oscar nomination for Best Actor and is being widely tipped to win during the 91st Academy Awards on 24th February.

It's characteristic of Bale's approach to roles – in the past he's shrivelled down for the likes of The Machinist (see below) and The Fighter (for which he won an Oscar), and bulked up for superhero movie Batman Begins.

But he isn't the only actor to completely disregard the notion of 'a step too far'. To celebrate the imminent release of Vice in Cineworld cinemas, here are five other method actors who go all out for their craft…

1. Marlon Brando

The roots of method acting lie in techniques championed by Konstantin Stanislavski at the Moscow Art Theatre in the late 19th century, and many regard 20th century acting icon Marlon Brando as the (God)father of mainstream screen method acting.

Such dedication was first showcased during his Broadway days where, playing a psychopathic killer in Maxwell Anderson's Truckline Café, he would run up and down stairs until he was out of breath and then have a stagehand pour a bucket of icy water over his head before going on stage to give the illusion of having just emerged from a freezing lake.

To prepare for his debut screen role as an injured war veteran in The Men (1950), Brando reportedly did not move from a hospital bed for an entire month in the hope of exploring first-hand the mindset of the character he was playing.

By today's standards, his methods might appear rather elementary. Nevertheless, his approach helped redefine the work of screen performers and set the bar for method actors to come.

2. Robert De Niro

Along with Harrison Ford, no actor has appeared in more of the IMDb's Top 250 films than Robert De Niro (eight in total). Displaying extraordinary range and versatility, it's no coincidence that most of De Niro's films – The Godfather: Part II (1974); The Deer Hunter (1978); Heat (1995) – are regularly heralded as some of the all-time greats.

But it is his frequent collaboration with director Martin Scorsese, and De Niro's infamous commitment to such roles, that is truly the stuff of movie folklore. To prepare for the character of Travis Bickle in 1976's Taxi Driver, not only did De Niro rigorously study mental illness, he also got a cab licence and worked 15-hour days for a month, driving people around New York to capture an authentic sense of Bickle's fragile, flailing psyche.

Even more impressive was De Niro's physical transformation four years later to portray real-life boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. Subjecting himself to intense physical training with LaMotta himself to play the younger Jake (even fighting in three professional boxing fights, winning two), De Niro subsequently added on a then-record 60 pounds to depict the older LaMotta. It paid off in the end, with De Niro's performance earning him a Best Actor Oscar.

3. Daniel Day-Lewis

If you were to look up 'method acting' in the dictionary, you might be surprised to find there isn't, in fact, a picture of Daniel Day-Lewis.

The three-time Oscar winner brings an entirely new meaning to the notion of 'getting into character'. While playing a paralysed poet in My Left Foot (1989), he reportedly refused to leave his wheelchair for the entirety of the shoot and even insisted that all his meals were spoon fed to him.

Three years later while filming Michael Mann's adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Day-Lewis immersed himself in 18th century frontiersman life: learning survival techniques, how to track, hunt, skin, and cook animals (allegedly refusing to eat anything else), and even how to build a canoe from scratch.

As the eponymous American president in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (2012), Day-Lewis never broke character, insisting all the cast and crew refer to him as 'Mr. President' and keeping up his Kentucky accent for the duration of filming. The result: a third Best Actor gong at the Oscars that year.

4. Hilary Swank

Sadly, in the discussion of great method actors, female performers are often overlooked. Thankfully, the work of acclaimed contemporary actors – the likes of Kate Winslet, Charlize Theron and Rooney Mara – are rightly setting the record straight.

But perhaps the most devoted of them all is Hilary Swank. A two-time Oscar winner, Swank's commitment to her work is nothing short of remarkable. To prepare for her leading role as Brandon Teena in Kimberly Peirce's Boys Don't Cry (1999) – the true story of an American Trans man who was brutally murdered in 1993 – she lived for a month as a man and never once broke character.

Equally profound was her dedication in portraying female boxer Maggie Fitzgerald in Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby (2004). Swank trained intensely for three months prior to filming, gaining 19 pounds of muscle in the process to authentically capture the look and feel of a professional fighter.

5. Jared Leto

Few actors go to quite the same lengths for their craft as Jared Leto. His antics on the set of Suicide Squad (2016), in which he played super-villain The Joker, allegedly included sending live rats (among other things) to fellow cast members, are well-documented.

But for his other roles, Leto's approach is equally extreme. For his Oscar-winning performance alongside Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club (2013) Leto dropped 30 pounds and waxed his entire body head to toe.

Similarly, prior to his portrayal of a drug addict in Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream (2000), Leto also lost weight and even lived on the streets of Brooklyn for two weeks to plunge himself into the real world of addiction.

It's almost time to see Christian Bale's latest remarkable appearance in action. Click here to book your tickets for Vice, opening this Friday in Cineworld, and tweet us your favourite method acting performances @Cineworld.

George Nash is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.