We honor actors who took their parts—and their fitness—to the extreme.
Kristin Ambrosino, Mark Barroso, and Brittany Smith 1 / 13
Some actors play parts. Others become them. And the ones in the latter group are usually those whose performances are remembered for generations. When an actor dissolves into a character, a physical transformation is often in order—and these changes can either be subtle or taken to the extreme. To honor some of the most memorable body overhauls in silver screen history, we’ve created our very first Hollywood Fitness Hall of Fame. Find out who got inducted, and let their commitment compell you to make some Oscar-worthy changes of your own.
1. Christian Bale
What He Did: After dropping more than 60 pounds (mostly through a diet of coffee and apples) to play an insomniac in The Machinist, Bale had to bulk back up to superhero proportions. He proceeded to train and eat his way from 120 pounds to 220. Incredibly, director Christopher Nolan felt Bale had become too muscular for the role, and asked the long-suffering actor to lose 20 pounds again.Why He Did It: Bale landed the title character in Batman Begins, which began shooting a mere five months after he finished on The Machinist.What He Ate: Bale’s meals followed a ratio of one part fat, two parts protein, and three parts carbohydrate. A vegetarian, Bale avoided conventional protein sources such as chicken and beef and instead gorged on eggs, cottage cheese, and protein shakes. He ate every three hours throughout the day.His Workout: Compound movements made up the heart of Bale’s training, including power exercises such as cleans, snatches, and squat jumps so that he could be as explosive and agile as the Caped Crusader himself. Below is one of his workouts.Chinup Superset with Cable Row (4 sets of 10–12 reps each)Power Clean (4 sets of 12, 10, 8, 6)Snatch-Grip High Pull (4 sets of 12, 10, 8, 6)Plus: Bale reportedly wanted to take his weight down as low as 100 pounds for The Machinist, but the producers, fearing it would be too dangerous to his health, refused to let him.Bale says [On his role as Batman]: “ You just couldn’t pull it off unless you became a beast inside that suit.”Summer 2013's Biggest Blockbusters >>>
2. Michael Chiklis
What He Did: After playing the chubby, lovable Toni Scali on the TV drama series The Commish, Chiklis was reborn as a hard-boiled cop with an even harder body in series The Shield.Why He Did It: Chiklis was unsatisfied with his career, and the limitations that being overweight placed on it. He also got a lot of support from his wife, who was concerned about his health.What He Ate: Dieting was easier thanks to healthy, portion-controlled meals that Chiklis ordered from a delivery service.His Workout: Chiklis trained six days per week for six months to make the initial transformation. He also ran seven miles per day.Plus: Though The Shield ended its run in 2008, Chiklis still hikes with his wife almost daily.Chiklis says: “For years, I had to gain weight to play characters because that is where the work was for me. At this point…I think my look is matured enough that I can lose the weight and keep it off. Hopefully, the work will still be there.”
3. Daniel Craig
What He Did: A career-defining role forced Craig into the gym five days per week to cut body fat and build muscle.Why He Did It: Craig landed the part of superspy James Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale.What He Ate: Eating up to six times per day, Craig cut out carbs in the evenings and based his diet around fish, eggs, chicken, fruits, and vegetables.His Workout: The regimen consisted of weight training Monday through Friday and cardio on the weekends. Craig started and ended the week with a circuit of pullups, squats, triceps dips, and pushups.Plus: Craig quit smoking, but allowed himself a drink on Fridays and Saturdays—presumably martinis, shaken, not stirred.Craig says: “Look, I’ve got to look like I can kill somebody. If I take my shirt off, it’s not, ‘Oh, nice body.’ It’s got to be, ‘Oh, fucking hell, he could do somebody.’”
4. Russell Crowe
What He Did: In a bid that won him an Oscar, Crowe lost 40 pounds.Why He Did It: Crowe needed to chisel down to fighting form to play the Roman general Maximus in Gladiator. The feat was even more impressive given that he had played former tobacco executive Jeffrey Wigand in The Insider just prior—a role that required him to gain 50 pounds of blubber.What He Ate: Six to eight meals of lean protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats kept Crowe’s metabolism burning. He chose high-fiber fruits and vegetables to control his appetite and aimed for one gram of protein per pound of his body weight to maximize muscle gain.His Workout: Crowe weight trained, learned to use a sword, and worked on his farm in Australia.Plus: Due to on-set accidents, Crowe broke bones in his foot and hip, received stitches on his face, and lost feeling in his right forefinger (after a sword sliced into it).Crowe says: “I injured myself a lot on Gladiator.” Yes, but his performance echoes in eternity.
5. Robert De Niro
What He Did: At age 48, De Niro chiseled his body down to an incredible four percent body fat.Why He Did It: De Niro needed to look believable as ex-convict Max Cady, obsessed with vengeance, in 1991’s Cape Fear.What He Ate: Personal trainer Dan Harvey put De Niro on a high-carbohydrate diet to fuel his marathon workout sessions. Whole grains, brown rice, and green vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, and broccoli were the cornerstones.His Workout: De Niro trained the only way his character could, with endless reps of body-weight exercises such as dips, chinups, and pushups. De Niro reportedly performed up to 600 crunches a day—and it showed in his abs.Plus: De Niro had previously earned serious street cred for his physical dedication to a part with 1980’s Raging Bull. De Niro trained with Jake La Motta (the man he played in the movie), convincing the legendary boxer that De Niro could have fought professionally if he had a mind to. To look the part of La Motta in his later years, De Niro then gained 60 pounds—thanks to a trip to Europe and a four-month eating binge.De Niro says: “You’ll have time to rest when you’re dead.”
6. Robert Downey, Jr.
What He Did: Downey bulked up 20 pounds to weigh 170 at 5’8” tall.Why He Did It:Iron Man director Jon Favreau wanted Downey to have a physique that looked like “he had the power to forge iron”.What He Ate: Downey followed a diet of 3,500 calories, eating up to eight times daily. His staple foods included steak, legumes, broccoli, and even skim chocolate milk (for protein).His Workout: A typical upper-body workout for Downey was the following:Weighed Pullup (3 sets of 8–12 reps)Weighted Dip (3 sets of 8–12 reps)Swiss-Ball Bench Press (3 sets of 8–12 reps)Cable Row (3 sets of 8–12 reps)Continuous Tension Dumbbell Shoulder Press (3 sets of 8–12 reps)BOSU-Ball Pushup (3 sets of 15–20 reps)Suspension Pushup (3 sets to failure)Suspension Row (3 sets to failure)Lateral Raise (3 sets of 8–12)Kettlebell Swing (3 sets of 40 reps)Sand Bag Throw (3 sets of 12–15)Plus: Downey needed to be in shape for more than just looking the part. His Iron Man costume weighed 90 pounds.Downey says: “I prepared for the screen test [for Iron Man] so feverishly that I literally made it impossible for anybody to do a better job.”
7. Ryan Gosling
What He Did:The Notebook heartthrob turned his slim build into the “photoshopped” physique that had actress Emma Stone (and millions of other women—including your girlfriend) swooning.Why He Did It: Gosling pumped up to star in Crazy, Stupid, Love in 2011.What He Ate: Despite a raging sweet tooth, Gosling disciplined himself to bananas and protein shakes.His Workout: Gosling’s workouts stretched to two hours, four to five days per week. He focused on chest, shoulders, and core to create a consummate “player” physique.Plus: Preparing for an upcoming role as a Muay Thai kickboxer has Gosling eating a diet of fish, rice, and green vegetables.Gosling says: “After a while, they’re like pets because they [his muscles] don’t do anything useful. But you have to feed them and take care of them. Otherwise, they’ll go away.”
8. Hugh Jackman
What He Did: The actor’s physique has been in constant flux since playing Wolverine the first time in 2000’s X-Men. For his latest outing as the character in this summer’s The Wolverine, Jackman bulked up to 215 pounds—his biggest version yet.Why He Did It:The Wolverine director James Mangold wanted Jackman to be ultra-massive, both to offset his lanky, 6’2” frame, and serve notice that the character was back—bigger and badder than ever.What He Ate: Jackman crammed in 6,000 calories per day, cycling his carbs. On training days he’d eat more starches to support his workouts, and on off days, he’d eat fewer to allow his body to burn fat more freely. Jackman also jacked up his intake of healthy fats such as avocadoes and nuts so as not to drop his calories too low on days he cut back on carbs. These nutrient-dense choices minimized the risk of gaining body fat and kept his energy steady.His Workout: The key to looking like you have super-human strength is, in fact, getting super strong. Jackman did just that, with a regimen that had him deadlifting more than 500 pounds for reps . Below is an example of his lower-body day.Deadlift (4 sets of 5, 4, 3, and 10 reps)Romanian Deadlift (4 sets of 10 reps)Zercher Squat (4 sets of 12 reps)Weighted Incline Situp (4 sets of 10 reps)Barbell Landmine (4 sets of 20 reps)Plus: Ironically, Jackman used to work in a gym before he got famous but never touched a weight.Jackman says: “I landed the coolest comic book character there is. He’s badass, way cooler than me, and as an actor, his complexities, his tortured soul, make him endlessly interesting.”
9. Edward Norton
What He Did: The actor gained 30 pounds of muscle in just three months.Why He Did It: Norton needed to look intimidating for his role as a white supremacist in 1998’s American History X.What He Ate: Norton pounded protein all day long, squeezing in five total meals supplemented with protein shakes.His Workout: The routine Norton followed included compound lifts such as squats and presses done without rest between sets. The non-stop activity caused him to burn more calories during the workout and induce a greater level of exhaustion in his muscles that resulted in greater growth.Plus: It’s rumored that Arnold Schwarzenegger was so impressed by the speed of Norton’s muscle gains that he called the actor to ask if he had used steroids.Norton says: “I knew this guy was going to have to be really physically fearsome and defined by rage...arming himself against his own emotional pain, and this body he’s created is the physical manifestation of that.”
10. Brad Pitt
What He Did: Hard training and diet got Pitt down to 155 pounds and six percent body fat.Why He Did It: Pitt needed a fighter’s physique to play the nihilistic Tyler Durden in Fight Club (1999).Fittest Film Characters of All Time >>>What He Ate: A high-protein diet consisting of six small meals got Pitt lean and strong. He relied heavily on eggs, tuna, chicken, fish, oatmeal, and vegetables.His Workout: On Mondays, Pitt trained chest and back. Wednesday was shoulders, Thursday was arms, Friday was cardio, and Pitt took the weekends off. Pitt also took lessons in grappling, Tae Kwon Do, and boxing to help his fight scenes look more realistic.Plus: Pitt had his dentist remove chips from his front teeth to aid in his looking like a seasoned brawler.Pitt says: “I’m one of those people you hate because of genetics. It is the truth.”
11. Ryan Reynolds
What He Did: The former Two Guys, a Girl And a Pizza Place goofball gained 25 pounds of muscle while cutting his body fat to eight percent.Why He Did It: Reynolds played the vampire hunting Hannibal King in Blade: Trinity (2004).What He Ate: Eating meals every three hours, Reynolds consumed up to 3,200 calories per day, ending his carb intake at 8 p.m.His Workout: Reynolds’ workouts clocked in at three hours, six days per week. He performed 500–1,000 situps followed by lifting in the rep range of 8–12.Plus: Reynolds supplemented with creatine and L-glutamine to support muscle growth. He also took conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and a multivitamin.Reynolds says: “The whole reason I had to get in shape like that [was] if [his character] was just a wise-cracking guy, I think I would want to kill him. I’d want him to look like he could actually handle himself.”
12. Will Smith
What He Did: Smith built himself up from 185 pounds to a lean 220.Why He Did It: To play The Greatest in Ali (who was regarded as having one of the best athletic bodies of his day) Smith knew he’d need to do more than just take boxing lessons.What He Ate: Smith cut out junk food and followed a classic high-protein, high-carb, and moderate-fat diet.His Workout: To build his muscles and sharpen his pugilistic skills, Smith spent six hours per day boxing, lifting, and running—the last of which he did in the snow, wearing combat boots.Plus: Smith improved his bench press to a 365-pound max.Smith says: “[Audiences are going] to understand every second of Muhammad Ali’s life...what he ate..how he viewed the world...how his mother felt about him and how his father felt about him.”