10 movies that got great performances from actors... by torturing them
As usual, this year's Academy Awards have nominated numerous actors who were voluntarily tortured, abused, and punished for their art.
It's a strategy that has worked in the past — most recently for Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables, who implied she had used dangerous weight-loss techniques to play a dying woman, and won an Oscar for her efforts. This year, more actors have mistreated themselves. Some have Oscar nominations, and some haven't even come close — but each one deserves at least a courtesy paragraph in tribute to their sacrifice.
Are you a director looking to earn your actor their first big win, or an actor who wants to take their craft to the next level? Learn from the best:
1. Blue is the Warmest Color makes it feel real by doing it for real.
Director Abdellatif Kechiche, and actresses Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos, were all kisses when they shared the Palm d'Or at Cannes for Blue is the Warmest Color. At Toronto, however, the stars said that working with Kechiche was "horrible." The problems? Let's start with the fight scene, for which he made Seydoux actually beat Exarchapoulos for a full hour, refusing to stop even when Exarchapoulos cut her hand on broken glass.
2. Rigor Mortis removes all joy from its star's life.
For his vampire flick Rigor Mortis, young director Juno Mak cast many Hong Kong film legends, including Chin Siu-ho. So how do you treat a legend and personal hero? "I wanted him to be really depressed," Mak said in an interview with The Week, "so we consulted a few doctors and came up with a plan that's really torturing." To achieve the desired effect, they disrupted Chin's sleep cycle by phoning him every two hours, 24/7 and forcing him to talk for at least five minutes — for three consecutive months. They also gave him a strict diet: nothing but black coffee, boiled vegetables, and water. For three consecutive months! Depression achieved.
3. Canopy messes with its would-be stars' minds.
You can start on the casting couch. Australian director Aaron Wilson, casting the lead role of his film Canopy, would begin each audition by describing a scenario. "I said, 'Now you've got to sit in a chair and just think about that,'" he explained in an interview with The Week. Wilson would then film them without any instruction or comment… for 12 minutes. Before long, some actors became very uncomfortable and "freaked out." (The role ultimately went to New Zealand actor Khan Chittenden, who somehow got through the audition without losing it.)
(Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
4. Gravity cuts Sandra Bullock off from the outside world.
To best mimic the light of space for Gravity, director Alfonso Cuaron strapped Sandra Bullock into a "light box," in which she could communicate only through a headset. As it was an arduous process to get her out, she stayed there, alone, for nine or 10 hours at a time, isolated from everyone else. But for once, you can't blame the director: Bullock chose to spend all that time in the box! Someone wants another Oscar…
5. Dallas Buyers Club starves Matthew McConaughey.
Well, duh. Stars seem to love doing this. To play a man with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey lost close to 50 pounds, which is twice what Anne Hathaway lost for Les Miserables. For his weight-loss regime, he sought advice from Tom Hanks, who has also gone ultra-slim for roles — and now blames this for his type 2 diabetes. When a friend of McConaughey's told him, "My God, we need to get you some help," he says he knew he had reached the "perfect spot." Co-star Jared Leto, playing another AIDS sufferer, lost 30 pounds for his role. Both actors are favorites to win Oscars.
You might think that suffering for a role is a relatively recent trend in Hollywood. What Oscar-hungry stars go through today is so different from the days when actors didn't even bother doing accents and Grace Kelly could win an Oscar for (gasp!) playing a role without make-up. But in truth, the stars of bygone years suffered for their art in ways that were probably against the Geneva Protocol. Among the techniques…
6. The Valley of the Giants pushed Wallace Reid into painkillers.
The handsome Wallace Reid, Hollywood's top box-office star of 1919 and 1920, was injured in a train accident en route to a location. To keep him working, the studio gave him frequent doses of morphine to ease the pain. He became an addict, which in turn led to heavy drinking. He died in a sanatorium at age 32.
7. The Passion of Joan of Arc tortured Renee Falconetti's career away.
The classic 1928 film The Passion of Joan of Arc is comprised mainly of close-ups of the star, French actress Renee Falconetti, looking truly tortured — and there's a good reason for that. Director Carl Dreyer ensured that the film was painful to watch by making Falconetti kneel on stone floors until her face showed the right degree of suffering. She was so drained by the experience that she never made another film.
(AP Photo/Universal Studios Home Entertainment, File)
8. Frankenstein gave Boris Karloff some real-life horrors.
Boris Karloff underwent four hours of make-up each day to play Dr. Frankenstein's monster. Make-up artist Jack Pierce recalled that over three Frankenstein films, Karloff "not only spent 864 shooting hours in three pictures with those big bolts plugged into his neck, but he carried a five-pound steel spine… to represent the rod which conveys the current up to the monster's brain."
9. Jungle Jim stressed Johnny Weissmuller down to size.
Weight loss was an issue with actors even 70 years ago. Johnny Weissmuller, fired from Tarzan movies after gaining too much weight, was paid $75,000 to make B-grade Jungle Jim movies. However, $5,000 was deducted from his salary for every pound over 190 pounds. Under such pressure, he was said to lose his weight through stress rather than exercise.
10. Rebecca made Joan Fontaine feel unloved.
Alfred Hitchcock was not exactly known for treating his actors humanely. For Rebecca (1940), he got the feisty Joan Fontaine to convey fear and insecurity by making her, well, scared and insecure. The cast and crew agreed to played along. On her 21st birthday party, he made sure that most of the cast didn't show up, making her feel dejected. Result: An Oscar nomination (and a huge career boost) for Fontaine — though the on-screen nerves and anxiety might not have been acting.