Matthew McConaughey was recently spotted looking bald and overweight on the set of his latest film, Gold, but this is hardly the first time a top Hollywood actor – including McConaughey himself – has remodelled his or her appearance for a meaty movie role. Here’s our pick of the greatest big screen transformations in recent memory.
Our gallery of actors’ incredible transformations begins with John Travolta’s memorable gender swap for 2007’s Hairspray remake. To play overweight housewife Edna Turnblad – a role originated by drag queen Divine in John Waters’ 1988 Hairspray film – Travolta was remodelled using prosthetic make-up and a fat suit in a process which took four hours a day.
Experimental 2007 Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There had six different actors depicting different aspects of the iconic muso’s public persona. Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw and Richard Gere all shone, but most striking was Cate Blanchett, who gave an Oscar-nominated performance as Jude Quinn, a male folk singer who enrages his fans by going electric at a folk festival.
The Legend actor is known for gaining and losing weight for his eclectic roles, but his most memorable transformation to date came in 2008’s Bronson. To play a man often dubbed “Britain’s most violent prisoner”, Hardy packed on 45lbs of muscle and fat by eating chicken and rice throughout the day, followed by pizza, ice cream and Coca-Cola at night.
An unflattering haircut and a pair of specs make Johnny Depp virtually unrecognisable in Black Mass, next month’s biopic of notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger. His commitment to the role is paying off, though, with Depp now among frontrunners for next year’s Best Actor Oscar.
In 2000’s Cast Away, Hanks played a FedEx employee called Chuck Noland who gets stranded on an uninhabited island in the Pacific. First the actor gained 50lbs to play Noland before his ordeal; then he grew out his hair and shed the excess weight so that Noland looked as though he’d been stuck on the island for years. He was duly rewarded with an Oscar nomination.
The South African actress won an Oscar for her jaw-dropping performance as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003’s Monster, and her physical transformation for the role remains shocking. Thanks to prosthetic teeth, a hefty weight gain and clever complexion-reddening make-up, Theron looks nothing like her usual glossy self.
The Batman actor famously rocked a comb-over and a potbelly in 2013’s American Hustle, but that pales in comparison to his transformation for 2004’s The Machinist, in which he shed 62lbs to play an emaciated factory worker. Bale actually planned to drop even more weight for the role, before the film’s producers intervened for the sake of his health.
The rocker/actor gained so much weight to play Mark David Chapman, the man who murdered John Lennon, that he ultimately contracted gout. Despite Leto’s efforts, the film itself, Chapter 27, opened to poor reviews in 2007 and has since been largely forgotten. The actor later said of his transformation: “I’d never do it again, it definitely gave me some problems”.
The Australian actress won an Oscar for her brilliant performance as feminist author Virginia Woolf in 2002’s The Hours. However, some critics claimed they were distracted by the prosthetic nose she adopted for the role, which was variously described as “striking”, “unfortunate” and “absurd”.
For his hilarious cameo in 2008’s Tropic Thunder, Hollywood’s golden boy disguised himself with a fat suit, a bald wig and even a pair of prosthetic hands. It’s been rumoured that the physical inspiration for his character, douchey Hollywood producer Les Grossman, was in fact a human penis – look closely and you can kind of see it.
Forget The Nutty Professor, Eddie Murphy’s greatest transformation came in 1988’s hit romcom Coming To America, in which he portrayed several characters including a middle-aged Jewish man called Saul. Murphy devised the role as a kind of payback for Jewish comedians adopting “blackface” in the early 20th century.
The singer and occasional actress shed her glitzy image to play a frumpy ’80s social worker in Lee Daniels’ acclaimed 2009 drama Precious. Carey later said of her transformation, “It wasn’t just de-glamourised – they added some hideousness on top of that too!” Meanwhile, Daniels admitted that Carey couldn’t stand to look at herself in the mirror during filming.
To play a cowboy diagnosed with AIDS in the mid-’80s, McConaughey dropped 47lbs from his usually muscular frame and reportedly stayed indoors for six months to make himself paler. It was part of an extraordinary performance in 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club that won him an Oscar for Best Actor, completing his so-called “McConaissance”.
Gyllenhaal got seriously skinny for last year’s Nightcrawler and super-ripped for this year’s Southpaw, but his most epic physical transformation came when he bulked up for 2010’s Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time. He worked out twice a day for the role, following a programme that included gruelling hour-long runs wearing a weighted vest.
Though best known as a rapper, Fiddy underlined his commitment to his acting career by losing 54lbs to play an emaciated cancer victim in 2011’s All Things Fall Apart. He dropped his usual bulk in just nine weeks – a dangerously short period of time – by restricting himself to a liquid diet and running on a treadmill for three hours a day.