Most Extreme Movie Performances

The Witches (1990)

Huston shows us beauty really is only skin deep, enduring horrendous prosthetics to transform into the Grand High Witch – warts and all. Wonder if it’s a comment on surface-level beauty in Hollywood?
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Patch Adams (1998)

Not just extremely annoying, but also extremely well-researched, as it happens. Robin Williams helped prepare for his role by spending months performing as a clown for sick children. We almost feel guilty we hate the movie.
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Jungle Fever (1991)

Halle Berry made her debut as a crack addict in Spike Lee’s gritty drama. We’re not sure how many friends she made on set, though – to get into character she decided not to wash for two weeks. Phew

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The Godfather: Part II (1974)

Robert De Niro, one of the most reliably extreme actors of his generation, spent four months learning to speak the Sicilian dialect for the film.
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Music of the Heart (1999)

Extremely time-consuming if nothing else. Meryl Streep practiced the violin for six hours a day over eight weeks for the film.

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Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Robin Williams transforms himself into a pension-grabbing nanny, boobs and all. It took over four hours of prosthetic-applying to accomplish. Apparently Williams tested out the credibility of the costume by going into an adult bookstore and buying something smutty – without even raising an eyebrow.

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Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb... (1964)

Peter Sellers turned himself into a living legend by taking on numerous iconic characters in this classic – something he’d tested out beforehand in 1959’s The Mouse That Roared.

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The Crucible (1996)
Anti-Method man Daniel Day-Lewis skipped over rub-on tattoos and just went ahead and got some real ones for this performance. Doesn’t he know tattoos are for life, not just for movies?

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Man on the Moon (1999)

Jim Carrey was reported to be obsessed with playing the comic idol. Carrey seemingly paralleled Kaufman’s weird ways during the entire shoot. His unusual antics on the set included his refusal to be called by his real name throughout production. He insisted on being dealt with only as “Andy Kaufman” on and even off the set. He also insisted on doing many of the dangerous wrestling stunts himself. Then there was the supposed issue with Jerry Lawler who played himself in the movie. Jerry had a memorable “beef” with Andy in real life.
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Marathon Man (1976)

“Why not try acting? It’s a lot easier,” said Laurence Olivier to Dustin Hoffman, who trained for Marathon Man by running four miles a day. Hoffman even reportedly ran half a mile prior to scenes that required him to be panting…

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12 Monkeys (1995)

How do you find out what it’s like to live in an asylum? Well, live in an asylum - which is exactly what Brad Pitt did to get in character for 12 Monkeys. He only stayed a day, of course.

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Don't Move (2004)
Penélope Cruz learned Italian because she wanted her part in the movie really badly. It paid off and she went on to win the Italian equivalent of the Oscars for Best Actress.

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Gia (1998)

Angelina Jolie proved she was taking her first big role seriously when she went Method with Gia. She kept herself isolated and in character as a model suffering from AIDS.

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Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Swank’s rigorous training schedule saw her shed 20lb. Not only that, but she was almost hospitalised for three weeks after a blister from training got infected – something she kept secret from Eastwood. The training was worth it, though. “That's part of my job,” she says. “If I'm going to play a boxer, I better look like a boxer.”

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The Boxer (1997)

Daniel Day-Lewis spent 18 whole months training with former world champion Barry Mcguigan. He got so good that Mcguigan admitted the actor could’ve gone professional.

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Glitterati (2004)

This film was shot non-stop over a fifteen day period throughout Europe, with Pardue remaining in the character of Victor Ward the entire time. The characters in the film, with the exception of Kip Pardue, are all non-actors. Apparently, the entire film was improvised, with Pardue remaining in character as Victor Ward 24 hours a day. The people he met during his travels (mostly models) through over 15 cities "fell into the movie" and became part of it without knowing that it was a movie.The movie was never released.

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Tropic Thunder (2008)
Robert Downey Jr transformed himself into a black man to play Kirk Lazarus in this explosive comedy. Like the character he was playing, Downey Jr’s a Method man, and stayed in character throughout filming.

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Rescue Dawn (2006)

Christian Bale proved he’s not above anything when he ate maggots for real.

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Sling Blade (1996)

Billy Bob Thornton put crushed glass in his shoes to ensure that his character’s halting steps would be as consistent as possible.

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Black Swan (2010)

A press furore engulfed Portman’s transformation into a ballerina for Darren Aronofsky’s dark drama, as her dance doubles claimed they did most of the work. Still, there’s no doubting the actress’ dedication – she lost 20lb for the role, swam a mile a day, dislocated a rib during filming and underwent exhaustive ballet training.
Good old Daniel Day-Lewis. Not content with just, y’know, acting out the role of Nathaniel Hawkeye, he lived out in the wild for six whole months before filming, surviving off the land. Is there anything this man can’t do?

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Vampire's Kiss (1988)
Anything Christian Bale can do, crazy Nic Cage can do better. Whereas Bale scoffed maggots in Rescue Dawn, Cage dined out on live cockroaches in Vampire's Kiss.

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The Last of the Mohicans (1992)

Good old Daniel Day-Lewis. Not content with just, y’know, acting out the role of Nathaniel Hawkeye, he lived out in the wild for six whole months before filming, surviving off the land. Is there anything this man can’t do?

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The Bourne Identity (2002)

In preparation for the iconic franchise kickstarted by helmer Doug Liman, Matt Damon spent two weeks running around crowded train stations, hiding behind columns, and beating the hell out of people using only rolled-up magazines. Damon spent 6 months training in boxing after director Doug Liman suggested that he needed to “walk like a fighter”. He also did extensive training with a former Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T) shotgunner.
He also spent a little over six years practicing getting the SIM cards out of various cell phones really, really quickly.

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My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (1989)

Day-Lewis remained wheelchair bound between takes, resulting in two broken ribs from being continuously hunched over. He spoke in character at all times during the shoot whilst remaining in his character’s wheelchair and insisting on being spoonfed by an understandably flabbergasted cast and crew. He also won an Oscar.

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There Will Be Blood (2007)

So that he could hone his chops for the role of soulless oilman Daniel Plainview, Day-Lewis spent the year before that just being a total d*ck to everyone he knew. He’s such a method actor that it was really the only way. He went to restaurants and tipped 11%, would bring his girlfriend to poker night, and would get into his car parked at crowded malls, then take forever to back out of his space for the waiting car.

With that kind of preparation, it’s no wonder he got the Oscar.

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The French Connection (1971)
To prepare for the role of Popeye Doyle; Hackman and co-star Roy Scheider actually spent a month in a patrol car on the beat with genuine New York detectives Grosso and Egan. In doing so they truly got a feel for their characters. Interestingly, Hackman reportedly became disgusted at some of the more off-putting sights he saw during these patrols. During one incident he even had to help restrain an unruly suspect and get him into the squad car.

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Boys Don't Cry (1999)
Before she went tough as a boxer, Swank spent a whole month living as a man in preparation for Boys Don’t Cry. She taped her chest down and put socks in her trousers to achieve the desired effect.

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Gangs of New York (2002)

Daniel Day-Lewis risked his own health when he refused to wear modern coats during filming despite freezing temperatures, arguing they wouldn’t have existed back in the day. He was diagnosed with pneumonia on set. Oh, and he also trained as a
butcher…
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Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)

With an eye on detail to the specifics of the car theft subculture, the producers behind Gone in 60 Seconds wouldn’t let any actor join the cast until they had stolen five cars. Nicholas Cage famously placed himself outside Morton’s during the Vanity Fair Oscar party, stealing Helen Mirren’s Lamborghini and Jonathan Lipnicki’s Escalade.

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Sophie's Choice (1982)

The film was about a Polish immigrant, Sophie, who was a survivor of Nazi concentration camps. Meryl put other actors and actresses to shame with her dedication for this particular role. She cut off her hair and lost 25 pounds specifically for a scene in Auschwitz. She also learned how to speak German fluently and learned a Polish accent.

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Taxi Driver (1976)
De Niro worked for a month as a taxi driver in preparation for his role as Travis Bickle, putting in 12 hour days. He also studied mental illness, and based Bickle’s movements on that of a crab’s.

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Borat (2006)

Sacha Baron Cohen pushes the boundaries of taste and decency in an attempt to expose America’s ugly underbelly. He stayed in character the entire time.

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Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Linda Hamilton went from poofy-haired wallflower in The Terminator to ball-busting warrior in T2. She trained for 13 weeks, three hours a day with former Israeli commando Uzi Gal. Her training included lifting weights, Judo and learning to pick locks. It was so extreme that she refused to do it all again for T3.

King Kong (2005)

A master of motion-capture, Andy Serkis prepared for his role of King Kong in Peter Jackson's CG remake by befriending real gorillas in London Zoo. One female gorilla, Zaire, took such a liking to him, when Andy and his wife later visited her, the ape
squirted water on her love rival to ward her off.
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Serpico (1973)
Al Pacino got so into his role as the undercover cop that he actually pulled a truck driver over for exhaust fume pollution and tried to put the guy in cuffs. He also invited the real Serpico to live with him in New York just before filming.

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The Last King of Scotland (2006)

In preparation for his Academy Award winning portrayal of Ugandan General Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, Whitaker immersed himself in research about the charismatic but ferocious dictator. He studied books, documentaries, TV interviews and recordings of Amin’s speeches, and learned Swahili to be able to imitate Amin’s accent. While shooting on location in Uganda he met with members of Amin’s family, including some of his Government and Army officials and even the country’s King. He also learned to play the accordion and gained 50lbs (23kg) to embody Amin’s bulky physique.
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The Dark Knight (2008)

Heath Ledger lived alone in a hotel room concocting every little twitch and idiosyncrasy of The Joker’s unique physicality.According to Heath himself, “I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices – it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath – someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts. He’s just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown, and Chris Nolan has given me free rein.” What Heath accomplished in his role as Joker will live on not only in the memories of comic book fans but film enthusiasts alike for many years to come.

The Men (1950)

For his film debut in The Men as a paraplegic World War II Lieutenant, Brando stayed nearly a month in bed at a real life veterans hospital and spent much of the duration of the film shoot confined to a wheelchair, even when off set.

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Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Ever the boundary pusher, Nicolas Cage filmed himself while drunk, then studied the results in order to give his performance an authentic edge. Wonder what happened to those tapes…

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Rocky IV (1985)

Stallone didn’t want to go about Rocky IV half-cocked, insisting that the blows dealt during the boxing scenes were for real. The result? Lundgren’s blows gave Stallone heart and rib problems – albeit temporarily.

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Blue Velvet (1986)

In David Lynch’s cult film Blue Velvet, there is the infamous scene depicting a disturbingly abusive sexual encounter between Dorothy Vallens (Rossellini) and Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). In part of the scene, Frank inhales gas through an oxygen mask while kneeling on the ground and looking between Dorothy’s open legs. In a behind the scenes interview, Rossellini reveals that she was actually naked underneath her robe for scene, because underwear would’ve been visible on camera. The day of shooting this scene happened to also be the first day she and Hopper met.

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The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
For Maria Falconetti, the performance was an ordeal. Legends from the set tell of Dreyer forcing her to kneel painfully on stone and then wipe all expression from her face--so that the viewer would read suppressed or inner pain. He filmed the same shots again and again, hoping that in the editing room he could find exactly the right nuance in her facial expression. There is an echo in the famous methods of the French director Robert Bresson, who in his own 1962 "The Trial of Joan of Arc'' put actors through the same shots again and again, until all apparent emotion was stripped from their performances. - Roger Ebert
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Apocalypse Now (1979)

Martin Sheen took his character’s alcohol-fuzzy behaviour a little too far when he got drunk for real while filming. The infamous scene in the hotel room sees a drunk Sheen put his fist through a mirror…

The Brown Bunny (2003)

Chloe Sevigny blurred the lines between reality and fiction when she got down on her knees to perform oral sex on Vincent Gallo – for real. The result? She lost her agency contract, but got mega famous.

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The Jacket (2005)
Adrien Brody risked his own sanity when he voluntarily got locked into a mortuary drawer for hours while donning a straightjacket. As you do. Has he never heard of just acting?

Cape Fear (1991)

Robert De Niro was so dedicated to his role that he paid a dentist $5,000 to near-destroy his teeth – all to attain that ‘been in prison a while’ look. He spent a further $20,000 fixing them…
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Malcolm X (1992)

To prepare for this role Denzel talk to more than a dozen of Malcolm X's living relatives and friends, read prison and FBI records, attended classes that shared information about the Fruit of Islam (which Malcolm X was apart of), and even fasted. Washingon would only eat one meal a day to follow the way Malcolm X lived during shooting the film for 16 whole months! "I just tried to make a spiritual connection," he says.
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Up in the Air (2009)

As someone who has only flown private for the past 15 years or so, Clooney had to prepare for his role as an unencumbered frequent flier by reading hundreds of in-flight magazines, studying back issues of SkyMall, and practicing rolling his eyes and muttering under his breath when he learns that his flight is delayed.
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Always one to over-prepare for a role, Clooney spent two weeks living in the Chicago O’Hare Admirals Club where he learned how to blandly ask about last night’s football game. He also spent fifteen weeks eating lunch at Chili’s Too, where he was taught the intricacies of making awkward advances towards female travelers while sipping an Electric Lemonade.

Inception (2010)
This was a more scientific undertaking than it was a psychological problem. Whenever DiCaprio and Gordon-Levitt were in character, explaining the “levels” of dreams to other characters onscreen, their ears and eyes would begin hemorrhaging blood. It was never enough that Christopher Nolan or the crew would fear for their safety, but it was enough to require frequent costume and makeup changes!Initially, Nolan spent the better part of nine months putting the cast before dream experts and physics professors to explain the plot, but when even the academics’ eyes started to spew blood, Nolan cut his losses and simply cleared out all the blood in post-production, courtesy of Industrial Light and Magic.

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The Pianist (2002)

Adrien Brody became the youngest person to date to win the Best Actor Oscar when he starred as Wladyslaw Szpilman in Holocaust drama The Pianist, and all he had to do for the role was shed 31lbs and, in order to evoke the same feeling of loss and isolation felt by his character, he got rid of his apartment, sold his car and, worst of all, avoided television.

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