Force-feeding oneself like a foie gras duck is standard practice in Hollywood: Directors suggest it, casting directors expect it and America fucking loves it. A quick Google search for “actors gaining weight” returns link after link of male Hollywood stars who have destroyed their abs in the name of a career-making role. And while that’s rarely the case — only two of the men listed below won Oscars, and one other was nominated—the weight gain is memorable enough that we can recite those who’ve done it (De Niro, Damon, Bale) as easily as the alphabet.
What’s less well-known, however, is how they got there. Until now. As a grand public service, and in honor of MEL’s Gluttony Week, we attempted to find out. Try to hold down your breakfast as you scroll through this parade of harrowing, Oscar-baiting overindulgence. You’ll never be able to look at a pint of ice cream the same way again.
1. Robert De Niro, as far as we can tell, did it first. That, of course, doesn’t count Marlon Brando and Orson Welles, two acting legends who simply grew larger (and larger and larger) with age and not for any specific role. De Niro’s 60-pound weight increase to depict aging boxer Jake LaMotta also seemed to spark the idea that such a weighty transformation would result in an Oscar—he took home the Best Actor statue for his performance in the film.
2. Another first: De Niro went from swole to plump in the middle of the shoot, with director Martin Scorsese giving him a few months off to pack on the pounds before resuming production on the film’s final scenes. De Niro did so mainly by fleeing to Italy Michael Corleone-style and gorging on pasta. Whatever he ate, it worked. The later scenes were shot with minimal takes because De Niro would tire so quickly. “His breathing was like mine when I have an asthma attack,” Scorsese once remarked.
3. The only other male actor to win an Oscar for a flab-heavy performance is George Clooney. He completely stopped exercising and put on 30 pounds in 30 days for the 2005 film Syriana, thanks to a steady stream of doughnuts and chips. “My job was just to eat as fast as I could, as much as I could,” Clooney told The Tech in 2005. “But mostly you just eat until you want to throw up, and make sure you don’t throw up.”
4. Wanting to throw up is the best way to describe the diet Jared Leto employed for the film Chapter 27, in which he played Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s assassin. He microwaved pints of ice cream and mixed the liquid with olive oil and soy sauce that he then shotgunned like a beer at a rush event. (Here’s Leto in 2006 telling an adoring crowd how he’s gonna go back to Hollywood and “make fat the new skinny.”) “It was a devastating process,” Leto shared in an interview with MTV at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007. “There wasn’t a single moment of joy for the months that I worked on it. We talked at the beginning about whether I should wear a fat suit or not, but it was really important to me to gain the weight for a few specific reasons. It changed every single thing about who I was as a human being. It changed the way that I walked, it changed the way that I talked, it changed the way I felt about myself and the way people looked at me and treated me.”
5. Equally devastating: The movie bombed. From the unkind half-star review at RogerEbert.com: “You wonder why Jared Leto put on more than 60 pounds to play a character who is nothing but a belly, a haircut and some tinted aviator glasses. Leto is known for being pretty (that’s why Ed Norton smashes his face in Fight Club), and he has since gotten another haircut, removed the glasses and the belly, and has reportedly returned to his former state of prettiness, only now with gout as a side effect from all that weight.”
6. It wasn’t as bad as what happened to Ryan Gosling, though. He put on 60 pounds for the 2009 Peter Jackson film The Lovely Bones only to be fired when he showed up on set roughly the size of Jackson. (He, too, chugged containers of microwaved ice cream whenever he was “thirsty.”) “Peter Jackson and I had a different idea of how the character should look,” Gosling shared in Hollywood Reporter’s annual actors roundtable discussion in 2010. “I was 150 pounds when he hired me and showed up to set 210 pounds. I really believed he should be 210 pounds. [But] I had gotten it wrong. They said, ‘You look terrible.’ And I said, ‘I know! Isn’t it great?’” It was not. Jackson swapped out Gosling in for human washboard Mark Wahlberg.
7. Yet another ice-cream microwaver? (Everyone’s doing it!) Colin Farrell, who gained 40 pounds for The Lobster by eating cheeseburgers, fries and chocolate cake at 10 a.m. “It’s not that fun — and I love cheeseburgers,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015. “Then I would microwave pints of Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream and drink it for breakfast. I was always a better drinker than an eater so I just applied that rule.”
8. RogerEbert.com liked Fat Farrell way more that Fat Leto. “Colin Farrell gives one of his funniest and (strangely enough, considering the humorlessness of the character) charming performances since In Bruges,” critic Sheila O’Malley wrote. “With his mustache and pot belly and nondescript glasses, Farrell is a completely believable everyman.”
9. Seriously — everyone is microwaving ice creaming now, including this toddler, this YouTube feeder darling and this misbegotten surfer dude (“I was hoping it would explode but instead all it did was melt and bubble everywhere. My final verdict is: super boring”).
10. Matthew McConaughey allegedly gained 45 pounds for his upcoming role in Gold. But when the trailer hit people were mostly struck by his allegedly fake bald head.
11. No one has gone more against type in the annals of supersizing themselves than Sylvester Stallone, who gained 40 pounds for 1997’s Copland via pancakes (lots and lots and lots of pancakes). As detailed in Chris Holmlund’s book The Ultimate Stallone Reader, Stallone’s marathon breakfasts included five pancakes smothered with peanut butter and whipped cream, a bowl of oatmeal, two bagels with more peanut butter, 10 fried eggs, French fries and cheesecake. “For me to gain even 10 pounds was a sacrilege,” Stallone told The Morning Call in 1997. “But I knew I had to get rid of the armament of the action star.”
12. In our opinion it worked. But the film didn’t really rescue his career — there were Rocky sequels and Rambo remakes for that. That’s too bad, as explained by internet commenter Matthew Finlayson: “I’ve read online that Stallone complained about the negative impact Copland had on his career. I love to see a well-known actor playing against type. All the more fun if you like action films, too. If only the critics and the public had been more generous, perhaps we’d have had more like Copland, and less dreck like The Expendables.”
13. The Rock kinda did the reverse — eating ridiculous amounts of breakfast and roughly the equivalent of a month’s worth of resort buffet offerings — to play the Greek God Hercules in, you guessed it, Hercules. In all, he ate about seven meals a day to layer on another 30 pounds of muscle onto his already-granite frame. His typical daily meal plan? Some combination of filet, egg whites, oatmeal, halibut, chicken, white rice, baked potatoes, broccoli, asparagus, peppers and mushrooms. He shared his despair with his Twitter followers: “As a kid I mixed Frosted Flakes & Golden Grahams every AM. Steak, eggs whites & Cream of Wheat just ain’t the same.”
14. He seemed to survive the experience. “A journalist asked me what mental and physical toll the role had on me, and would I do it again? Not only would I do it again. I’d do it fucking twice,” Johnson told Muscle & Fitness in 2014.
15. Matt Damon might have actually been able to compete with The Rock in terms of the volume of food options he used to gain 30 pounds for The Informant! — a menu that rivaled the Cheesecake Factory’s in size. A few sample items: Drive-through bacon cheeseburgers and fries, steaks drenched in béarnaise sauce, Doritos, sweet potato pancakes with crème fraîche, fried chicken Caesar salad with extra dressing topped with potato chips. “I definitely got doughy. I started eating like crazy and drinking dark beer,” Damon told the Daily Mail in 2009. “Between meals on set, I’d eat a №1 Value Meal at McDonald’s and then Doritos on top of it. It was very, very fun, probably the funnest time I had working.”
16. No matter how fun, it definitely wouldn’t have impressed Jennifer Lawrence, who was disappointed to learn that she would be working opposite paunchy, bald Christian Bale in David O. Russell’s American Hustle — as opposed to the super handsome Bruce Wayne/Batman version. “I finally get to make out with Christian Bale and he’s Fatman, not Batman,” she allegedly told Russell.
17. Not that Bale loved it either. “You do it for two months and your body starts to rebel against you, it’s just saying, ‘No, please,’ and your back is aching and there’s also some problems with that,” he told ABC’s On the Red Carpet in 2013.
18. Of course, all of this is just play-acting (and temporary). “Fat actor here,” commented Andy Pandini, responding to a Quora inquiry wondering how casting is handled for roles that call for unattractive or overweight people. “The thing is, being fat is an advantage. It’s a clear type, and it opens the door to lots of roles. I tend to play what I like to call ‘slightly failed’ people. The benefit of being a morbidly obese type is that my competition is dying off on a daily basis.”
19. He was joking—we think.