Will Smith, Natalie Portman, Mickey Rourke and more body-altering actors on the big screen
Actors can’t rely on CGI and make-up to transform their bodies – they have to pump up or virtually starve themselves for their craft and Academy Award nominations. While we mere mortals watch these films in awe of the physiques on screen, the actors push their physical limits for the roles, taking on some of the toughest fitness regimes and training with the pros.
Will Smith Ali Will Smith went from being a lean Fresh Prince of Bel Air at 84kg to a whopping 100kg to take on the heavyweight role of Mohammad Ali in the movie Ali. Director Michael Mann called on Darrell Foster, a former middleweight boxer and long-time trainer of former champion Sugar Ray Leonard, to get skinny Smith to channel his inner champ. Foster drew up a professional training regime that included a three-mile run every morning, boxing practice and a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. The actor trained for two years to achieve a body that packed a punch on- and off-screen, teaching us all that there’s no substitute for hard work. Smith said, ‘You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be all of those things… But if we get on the treadmill together, there are two things: You’re getting off first or I’m gonna die. It’s really that simple.’
Natalie Portman Black Swan Ballerinas might look like their legs could snap on a pirouette, but their training regime is gruelling, and having to maintain a light weight, lean legs, strong toned arms and a rock-solid core is no easy feat. Feathers have been ruffled about Portman having a body double to do the technical pointe work in the film, but that doesn’t mean she was any less devoted to the intense ballet training. ‘We did all sorts of exercises that I would have never thought about, like toe exercises to strengthen my metatarsals – they’re muscles that you get that normal people don’t have after years of doing pointe,’ she said.
Gerard Butler 300 If there was ever a film to make you want to pass on the cheesy nachos, this is it. In the 2006 action epic, Butler plays King Leonidas, who leads his band of fearsome Spartans into a heroic battle. To look like a skilled warrior who can eat a thousand Persian soldiers for breakfast, the gym-shy actor had to train like one. Butler enlisted world-class mountain climber Mark Twight to help get those legendary abs. He trained six hours a day for four months in a creative fitness programme that included flipping truck tyres, sprinting while being tied to a bungee cord, Olympic ring exercises, and other drills that kept his muscles guessing. ‘With 300, the workouts, especially with Mark Twight, were so extreme. It was circuit training with a lot of different weights and after 13 minutes you were vomiting on the floor – we did that on a daily basis… By the time I’d finished I didn’t want to step into a gym again for a while,’ Butler said.
Mickey Rourke The Wrestler Mickey Rourke may have been a professional boxer as well as an actor, but his years in the ring didn’t help him when he played ageing wrestler Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson. ‘Wrestling and boxing are like Ping-Pong and rugby. There’s no connection,’ he said. Rourke’s performance won him an Academy Award nomination but he took a lot of punches to get there. ‘These guys get really hurt. You’ve got guys who are 265 pounds [120kg] throwing you across the ring. They take several years to learn how to land. Every bone in my body vibrated.’ Rourke showed that age is no barrier, and his director, Darren Aronofsky, wouldn’t go easy on him either. ‘Darren would go, “Let’s do it again!” I was like, “Give me five minutes to relax!” Here’s a guy whose only exercise he ever did was lift his fork to his mouth, and he’s going, “C’mon, Mickey, you’re only giving me 50 percent!”
Christian Bale Batman Begins and The Machinist In 2004 Bale had to achieve the emaciated skeletal look required to play Trevor Reznik in The Machinist, and reduced his weight by 27kg in just four months by living on coffee and apples and depriving himself of sleep. But straight off the back of filming, Bale was back on the protein shakes and building up bulk as he’d landed the part of Batman and had just six months to go from scrawny to brawny. ‘When it actually came to building muscle, I was useless. I couldn’t do one push-up the first day. All of the muscles were gone, so I had a real tough time rebuilding all of that,’ Bale explained.
Hilary Swank Million Dollar Baby Winning an Oscar in 2005 for her role as a boxer, Swank not only had to muscle up, but she had to learn how to box like a pro in 90 days. ‘My training was two-and-a-half hours of boxing and approximately an hour-and-a-half to two-hours lifting weights every day, six days a week,’ Swank said. Like Will Smith in Ali, Swank trained with professional boxers and found a new level of respect for the sport. ‘Boxing is the most intense workout you can ever experience. The first time I had a three-minute round, I thought, “Wow, I’m going to kick someone’s ass. Three minutes? That’s nothing.” In my second round, I was halfway through three minutes and I about threw up.’