Actors love to test themselves to the limits, demonstrating their ability to transform into different people and live in that skin for however long it takes – months of preparation and then shooting a film.
Whether it’s a chance to bulk up and get shredded or slim down to frighteningly low weight, this is the physical side of method acting, and down the years it has yielded some amazing performances.
For example, Adrien Brody basically went homeless for a year in preparation to play a Holocaust victim in The Pianist, helping him to win an Oscar.
Sports movies are fertile ground for actors going to enormous lengths to inhabit the characters they are playing, and the boxing genre in particular seems to lend itself to these amazing transformations.
My two favourite performances come from two of my favourite actors.
Christian Bale, The Fighter (2008)
Bale plays Dicky Eklund, a former boxer who had great sucess in his younger days but is now a drug addict. Mark Wahlberg gives a strong showing in the lead role as Micky Ward, a promising fighter trying to find his feet.
The real showstopper, however, is Bale’s gripping performance in this thought-provoking film. The Fighter, won him his first Oscar nomination and win. The actor dramatically transformed himself from Batman vigilante to “stick thin” cornerman, shedding 30lbs in the process.
It was not the first time that the 6ft Welshman had gone to such extreme lengths. For The Machinist (2004), in which he played an intense insomniac, he dropped an incredible 63lb. For the 2019 movie Vice, in which he portrayed former US vice-president Dick Cheney, he added 40lbs.
Robert De Niro, Raging Bull (1980)
One of the very first instances of sacrificing body mass for art, De Niro added 60lbs to his already built frame to play an older version of boxer Jake LaMotta. No risk without reward, apparently, as he won his second Oscar for the role.
These performances and movies show that in order to tell authentic stories, authentic approaches all round must be taken to have the most organic response.
Audiences aren’t easy to fool and can tell when things aren’t ‘real’ enough. Method acting is a proven way of delivering ‘real’, and sports movies will continue to feature tremendous performances by dedicated craftspeople.