Want an Oscar? Go to extremes!

In honor of Anne Hathaway's awards-baiting weight loss, we rank cinema's biggest transformations SLIDE SHOW

Topics: slideshow, 2013 academy awards, Les Miserables, Body Wars, The Help, Black Swan, Anne Hathaway, The Fighter, Bridget Jones, 2013 Awards Season, Editor's Picks, ,

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    Want an Oscar? Go to extremes!

    Hillary Swank, "Boys Don't Cry" and "Million Dollar Baby" (won twice)
    As the transgender Brandon Teena, she cut her hair, worked out to etch her cheekbones and brought her body fat down to 9 percent. ''It's absolutely amazing what happens when a woman chops her hair off,'' she said later. "I felt like I lost every ounce of my femininity.'' As a boxer for "Baby," she gained 19 pounds of sheer muscle. "My back, my arms, my legs — everything changed," she told NBC News. "My butt, my stomach, everything."

    Degree of difficulty: Untouchable. Swank is the reigning champ of going to extremes. It paid off, big time, in accolades.

    Want an Oscar? Go to extremes!

    Renée Zellweger, "Bridget Jones' Diary" (nominated)
    The actress, who'd later win for "Cold Mountain," gained 20 pounds to play the iconic British singleton. And though she shed the weight with lightning speed to become the lithe Roxie Hart in "Chicago," she said, "it wasn’t a negative experience in any respect. It contributed so much to the experience of bringing Bridget Jones to life."

    Degree of difficulty: As rough as eating a tin of Cadbury roses.

    Want an Oscar? Go to extremes!

    Charlize Theron, "Monster" (won)
    Sporting false teeth, shaved eyebrows and 30 extra pounds to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos, the former model took it in stride. "It wasn't about getting fat. Aileen wasn't fat," she said. "Aileen carried scars on her body from her lifestyle, and if I'd gone to make this movie with my body -- physically I'm very athletic -- I don't know that I would have felt the things Aileen felt with her body. It was about getting to a place where I felt closer to how Aileen was living."

    Degree of difficulty: Not bad. Theron confessed she prepared for the role by eating "a ton of potato chips."

    Want an Oscar? Go to extremes!

    George Clooney, "Syriana" (won)
    The most dapper man in the universe packed on more than 30 pounds for the film on a "pasta heavy" diet, but it was the spinal injury he suffered during a torture scene that proved most grueling. Co-star Matt Damon described his friend's experience of the movie as one in which he was "constantly depressed."

    Degree of difficulty: Intense. Navigating a new body likely didn't help with his recovery from his injury and subsequent surgeries.

    Want an Oscar? Go to extremes!

    Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men" (won)
    As a killer who instantly entered the pantheon of all-time greatest villains, the suave Spaniard had to sport the world's ugliest bowl cut.

    Degree of difficulty: Surprisingly serious. He later confirmed that his three months of bad hair days sparked a "full-blown depression."

    AP

    Want an Oscar? Go to extremes!

    Natalie Portman, Black Swan (won)
    To take on the role of a tortured dancer, Portman trained for a year – and lost 20 pounds. Director Darren Aronofsky said later, "At a certain point, I looked at [Natalie's] back, and she was so skinny and so cut ... I was like, 'Natalie, start eating.'"

    Degree of difficulty: Off the charts. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly two years ago, she admitted, "There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die."

    Want an Oscar? Go to extremes!

    Christian Bale, "The Fighter" (won)
    It was a banner year for weight loss. The same year that Portman won for "Black Swan," Bale took home the prize for dropping one-third of his body weight to play the jittery Dicky Eklund.

    Degree of difficulty: Life changing. After his win -- and previously dropping 70 pounds to star in "The Machinist" -- Bale decided to curtail his extreme roles, saying, "There's only so much a body can take."

    Want an Oscar? Go to extremes!

    Jessica Chastain, "The Help" (nominated)
    The vegan actress put on 15 pounds to flesh herself out as a Civil Rights–era Southern belle. She later described the experience, which included downing melted soy milk ice cream, as "torture."

    Degree of difficulty: Considerably easier than drinking wheatgrass.

    Want an Oscar? Go to extremes!

    Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables" (currently nominated)
    The svelte actress dropped 10 pounds on a cleanse before shooting her early scenes, then, "living off of two thin squares of dried oatmeal paste per day," dropped another 15 to play the starving Frenchwoman. "The idea was to look near death," she told Vogue. "It was definitely a break with reality, but I think that's who Fantine is anyway." She's also admitted her method wasn't popular, saying, "No one liked what I was doing."

    Degree of difficulty: Extreme. Living on anything with the word "paste" for any stretch of time is hardcore. And it seems to have guaranteed a shiny new man in her life.

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When the Academy Awards air on Sunday evening, there will surprises and flubs; there will be tears and ridiculous production numbers. And one thing that’s all but assured is that Anne Hathaway will walk away carrying a golden statue for her role as the doomed prostitute Fantine in “Les Miserables.” As Fantine, Hathaway was beautiful, heartbreaking — and really, really skinny. Oscar just loves a performance that includes a serious amount of transformation.

If you look at the Oscars before the 1990s, you won’t find too many of them handed out for massive physical change. Current nominee Robert DeNiro’s 1980 win for his metamorphosis from fighting-weight Jake LaMotta to fat, late-era, has-been Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull” was all but unprecedented in its day. And though the actor trained hard for his boxing scenes, it’s the weight gain that’s remembered — and it sounds like the easiest part of the performance. To achieve his gone-to-seed look, he spent four months on “an eating binge in Europe” to gain 66 pounds.

Not all Oscar-baiting work comes that pleasurably though. Herewith are our picks for the Oscar’s most dramatic physical evolutions of recent years and their relative degree of difficulty.

 

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

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