Watching Into the Wild yet again (don't worry; I'm not reviewing it two days in a row) (though I could), I couldn't help but be amazed by the physical transformation Emile Hirsch undergoes to portray Chris McCandless in his final days. He diets himself down to a gaunt 115 pounds, according to the featurette on the DVD. Hirsch isn't the first actor to lose (or gain) a prodigious amount of weight for a role. Some great moments in body change include:
Bruno Kirby in The Godfather, Part Two -- To play young Clemenza, the late Kirby packed on the pounds by binging and never purging. In the DVD extras on the Godfather set, he gleefully remembers his sessions of "guilt-free eating." He also remembers the post-film dieting. Less gleeful.
Christian Bale and company in Rescue Dawn -- For Werner Herzog's tale of Lt. Dieter Dengler, Bale reduced by a reported 55 pounds. In the same film, Steve Zahn dropped 40 pounds and Jeremy Davies lost 33. To show solidarity, the whole cast and crew went on diets, including director Herzog who knocked off 30 pounds, himself. Probably the biggest collective weight loss in the history of film.
Christian Bale in The Machinist -- Bale strikes again. This time he dropped a whopping 63 pounds to play Trevor Reznick, the haunted machine factory worker in Brad Anderson's psychological thriller. This is said to be a record for any actor losing weight for a part. Bale limited himself to one can of tuna and one apple per day. And you thought your diet was tough.
Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor -- Okay. So it's a ringer. Murphy obviously didn't beef up to play Sherman Klump. But for those of us with weight issues, the professor's magic formula is like unto a Holy Grail. Who wouldn't take their chances on becoming the jerky Buddy Love to slough off a few hundred pounds? It beats eating one can of tuna and one apple per day.
Matt Damon in Courage Under Fire -- For the role of the doomed Specialist Ilario in Edward Zwick's Gulf War drama, Damon shed 40 pounds and reportedly was so weak from the ordeal, he had to be placed on medical supervision for months after the film completed.
Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull -- DeNiro packed on a then-record 60 pounds to play Jake LaMotta in his broken-down later years. He trimmed down to an athlete's physique to shoot the boxing scenes. His record for weight gain was broken less than a decade later by ...
Vincent D'Onofrio in Full Metal Jacket -- As the doughy, psychotic Private Gomer Pyle in Stanley Kubrick' s Viet Nam film, D'Onofrio reportedly gained 70 pounds. It took him 7 months to pack it on and a subsequent 9 months to exercise it off.
Tom Hanks in Cast Away -- Director Robert Zemeckis shot the first part of the film, before Hanks is washed ashore on the island and his earliest days there, then shut down production while Hanks dieted off 50 pounds. In the interval, with the crew still on the clock, Zemeckis filmed What Lies Beneath. Afterwards, the Cast Away shoot completed with the now- lighter Hanks and his volleyball pal. Wilson (slacker) lost no weight for his role.
Toni Colette in Muriel's Wedding -- On the female side of the ledger, Toni Colette put on 40 pounds to play the title character in her breakout role. Donna Pescow did the same in order to be dumped by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.
And there are others. Russell Crowe trimmed down substantially for both Gladiator and Cinderella Man. Renee Zellwegger famously packed it on for Bridget Jones' Diary. Hillary Swank put on the muscle for Million Dollar Baby, as did Christopher Reeve and Helen Slater for their Super-person roles. Morgan Spurlock added 25 pounds of french fries and Big Macs in Super Size Me.
And there are even more I've undoubtedly missed. List the ones that impressed you most in the comments section.