Actors Can Stop Transforming Themselves For Roles Now

By  · Published on November 24th, 2015

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

This week, Chris Hemsworth shared a photo of himself on Twitter showing his tremendous weight loss for his role in the movie In the Heart of the Sea., achieved through a 500-calorie-a-day diet. In the movie, he plays one of the crew members of the whaling ship Essex who were stranded at sea for three months in 1820, a true story that famously inspired the book “Moby Dick.” By the end of the Ron Howard-helmed picture, he had to look emaciated. But did he have to actually become so thin?

Just tried a new diet/training program called “Lost At Sea”. Wouldn’t recommend it.. #IntheHeartoftheSea

— Chris Hemsworth (@chrishemsworth) November 22, 2015

Transformations like the one above can be beneficial to many. For Hemsworth, it shows a commitment to the role and craft, proving he’s not just some hot guy who can look good in a cape and wield a magic hammer. And for many actors, significant weight loss (or gain) has seemed to help garner them major accolades, including Oscars. For the filmmakers, it’s an element they can tout as evidence that this is a serious production with genuine effort and sacrifice visible on screen.

And it also helps in marketing the movie, because now everyone is talking about In the Heart of the Sea (due in theaters December 11th) via the photo, and entertainment sites additionally gain by having another excuse to post a traffic-baiting slideshow of Christian Bale’s skin-and-bones appearance in The Machinist and other notable actor and actress transformations over the years. Maybe some other sites will post the obligatory address of how such severe and rapid weight change is a danger to the performer’s health.

Outside of the bodily harm, though, there’s also the matter of it not being enjoyable at all. “I don’t recommend it,” Hemsworth said of the experience. He could just be making a negative comment to not encourage fans to starve themselves, but it also does look and sound awful. (I once lost a lot of weight by decreasing my caloric intake to about 700–1000 calories a day, and I can attest it’s both difficult and unpleasant.) Yet he won’t likely discourage any of his peers from doing it. The practice of transformation is more and more common lately.

Meanwhile, there’s less and less reason why actual physical transformations are necessary. If you saw last year’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, you may have assumed Josh Hutcherson and Jena Malone lost weight for their roles, as they show up near the end of the movie looking like they’re suffering from hunger indeed. But it was all achieved by special effects. “I went on the CGI diet,” Hutcherson told Good Morning Britain at the time. “They just sucked my face down in post-production.”


That’s not surprising when you consider the effects done for realistically altered bodies in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which is seven years old) and Captain America: The First Avenger and for fantastically altered bodies in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (no, Helena Bonham Carter did not transform herself to look that way). Plus, digital touchups are done to just about everyone now, with procedures that are basically the cinematic equivalent to “Photoshopping” images for magazines.

It’s not just the unhealthy weight gain and loss that are no longer necessary, either. While promoting The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 this month, Malone revealed that she didn’t want to shave her head for the part and so she didn’t have to. “It was like a CGI experiment,” she told talk show host Jimmy Kimmel about the seamless effect. “We had little dots and trackers, and there was a woman who also had a bald head who was brought in to shoot some of my sequences.” That’s right, she had a head double.

Sorry, Karen Gillan and Charlize Theron and all the other actresses who’ve buzzed off all your hair for a movie. Actually, someone should let Gillan know the Hunger Games experiment was a success before she shaves again for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. And explain to Theron that it was probably something they could have done for Mad Max: Fury Road given that they digitally removed part of her arm. Of course, unlike Malone, some of these actresses actually do like going bald for the roles.

Also, shaving your head is not harmful to your health. The advances in computer effects today are primarily important to point out for those actors and actresses and stunt persons who used to have to risk their life to get the job done. Action performances are better achieved now because we can digitally erase safety cables. And playing people starving to death or weakened from disease is more easily achieved now because we can digitally erase the pounds.

For it to be an achievement for the movie as well as the actor, though, the work has to be put in by the effects artists, and maybe that’s not totally an easy job or a cheap one, but it’s certainly not as hazardous. Unfortunately, if there’s anything really making a case that computer effects are not ready to completely replace true physical transformation, it’s another new movie we got a peek at this week: Central Intelligence. Just look at Hemsworth above and Dwayne Johnson below and you’ll believe this entire post is invalid. But at the very least we’re getting closer.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.