To make it easier to believe what we are seeing at the cinema, actors are frequently shifting and gaining weight so that they better represent the part that they are playing. This begs the question: if they can do it, why can’t I?
The simple answer is that you can. While undoubtedly talented, actors possess no superhuman power that enables them to change their bodies as and when they please. What they do rely on is incredible amounts of determination and dedication to their work.
Since Robert De Niro gained 60lbs in 1980 to star in Scorsese’s Raging Bull it has become more and more common to see actors making these incredible changes. The list of examples is long and growing every year.
Those who shifted large amounts of weight include Tom Hanks (Cast Away), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) and Christian Bale (The Machinist), with the latter being arguably the most famous and extreme transformation out there.
The famous weight gainers include Christian Bale again (for Batman Begins & American Hustle), Renee Zellweger (Bridget Jones’s Diary) and Charlie Theron (Monster). Most recently, Jake Gyllenhaal has undergone an astonishing transformation to get in shape for his soon to be released sport drama, Southpaw.
The methods vary, from living on chocolate ice cream and olive oil, to running 15 miles to the set each and every day. And I’m sure if you take a look you will find even crazier tactics than that. But are these methods that we should be looking to replicate?
Well the first thing to remember is that we are all constantly searching for a sustainable way to train; something that we can realistically continue with for the duration of our lives. That isn’t what these actors are doing. They are getting to a predetermined size/shape in a designated period of time in order to secure their employment. Once that job is finished, the obligation no longer exists and they can move onto a new project.
That being said, the hard work is getting to the size or shape that you want, then it is a case of staying there. So surely you could adopt the training practices of an actor who demonstrates the physical attributes that you desire and then carry on alone, right?
Ultimately this comes down to the question of safety. Actors’ dedication to their art is admirable but they aren’t selling fitness DVDs and they know that. That doesn’t mean that certain methods won’t work safely though. Stripping back fat, or cutting, followed by a period of muscle gain is a method shared by actors and bodybuilders the world over. If you are starting from that initial position when body fat is low then you are taking the strain off your body.
Going the other way around is almost always more dangerous. Although saying that, unless you are getting fat for an acting role I can’t actually imagine why anyone would be trying it, unless they felt they needed a new challenge.
These actors brilliantly demonstrate the extent that we can take our bodies to without cracking but that doesn’t mean that we can take it. Their ability to transform comes from the dedication to their work, not a desire to have their bodies appear in that particular way.
So ultimately, yes, there is no reason why we couldn’t transform our bodies like many of our favourite actors but just because we are able to do something, doesn’t mean that we should go ahead and do it.