No wonder Austin Butler had to check himself into the hospital after filming — he went all-out.
For her upcoming role as Marilyn Monroe in Blonde, Ana de Armas spent a year preparing. “It was the most intense work I’ve ever done as an actress,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “It took me a year to prepare for that — research and accent and everything you can imagine. Reading material, and talking to Andrew Dominik for months, and getting ready to start. It was three months of shooting nonstop — like, a crazy schedule.”
In contrast, she wasn’t able to prepare much for her role in No Time to Die, as she got called in directly after filming for Blonde was pushed. “I went to London, and I only had, like, 10 days to two weeks of training, which is not much for everything I had to do, which made me very nervous,” she said. After Bond star Daniel Craig was injured, she left to go film Blonde, and by the time she was back on set of the Bond film, “All that training I did was kind of gone and forgotten!”
However, she said, “But it all worked out, and I was working with the best team possible, and they made it happen, so I’m happy with it.” As for Blonde, she called the film “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever done.”
In order to portray The Mighty Thor in Thor: Love and Thunder, Natalie Portman had to train for 10 months. She had five training sessions a week, and did not miss a single session.
“I was asked to get as big as possible. That’s an amazing challenge — and also state of mind as a woman,” Portman revealed to Variety. She also worked with the stunt team to develop how Jane moves in battle, calling it similar to dance.
Portman was obviously familiar with dance after training for over a year to portray a ballerina in Black Swan. For the first six months, she built up her strength with a few hours a day, then moved to practicing five hours a day, and later eight. She would spend 30 minutes a day just doing foot exercises.
This all caused her toenails to fall off, and she even dislocated a rib during a lift. “There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die,” Portman said of the experience. She won an Oscar for the role.
In preparing to play the king of rock ‘n’ roll in Elvis, it’s perhaps not a surprise that Austin Butler trained daily in singing and dance. What’s more irregular is that he also trained in karate, along with tap dancing, to find the way Elvis moved.
Butler prepared for a full year and a half to play the legend, listening to tapes of Presley’s voice as he fell asleep and studying every piece of footage of the late performer possible. He read every book about Elvis he could find, and isolated himself from his friends and family in order to completely envelop himself in the character.
In contrast, Taika Waititi did basically no preparation for his role as Hitler in his film Jojo Rabbit. “I didn’t have to do any research, and I didn’t do any research. I didn’t base him on anything I’d seen about Hitler before,” Waititi told Deadline, pointing out that he’s not really portraying Hitler, but a child’s imagined version of him.
“I just made him a version of myself that happened to have a bad haircut and a sh*tty little mustache. And a mediocre German accent,” Waititi said, saying it’d be “too weird to play the actual Hitler.”
For her role in I, Tonya, Margot Robbie spent six months studying the infamous skater’s life and backstory. “I watched for about six months every single thing, every bit of skating, every bit of interview, every documentary, I played it on my iPod at night. … I had her face, like, painted on the inside of my eyelids, and her voice just constantly in my head.” She also trained in skating for five months, to the point where much of the skating in the film — based on Harding’s actual routines — were really Robbie skating.
She even practiced the correct posture for Tonya. “We deal with a lot of class issues and the scrutiny from the media,” she said of the film. “I wanted it to feel like the world was bearing down on her. … I wanted her shoulders rounded, her head to be stooped. I wanted her to always be on the defense — and whenever she was sitting to be sitting forward, waiting for validation, like she was waiting for a skating score.”
To prepare for his role in The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio literally slept inside animal carcasses. He also camped out in the wilderness, went for swims in frozen rivers, and ate raw bison.
His preparation was worth it — his performance was lauded, and he ended up winning his first Oscar for the role.
Michael Gambon, who replaced Richard Harris’s beloved version of Dumbledore in the third Harry Potter film, didn’t even read any of the books prior to appearing in the series.
“No point in reading the books because you’re playing with [screenwriter] Steve Kloves’ words,” Gambon said. Many have criticized his version of Dumbledore as being too harsh, especially after an infamous scene in the fourth film where Dumbledore asks Harry whether he’s put his name in the goblet of fire.
Gambon brought up the fact that Ralph Fiennes and Alan Rickman didn’t read the books either. However, Fiennes actually did — he just hadn’t read them yet when he was offered the part. And considering the arguments he had about his character, his conversations with JKR, and his acclaimed performance, I don’t think it’s fair to say Rickman didn’t prepare for his role.
Unlike Gambon, Christopher Lee was probably one of the MOST prepared actors for a fantasy series. He was a massive Lord of the Rings fan who reread the books annually when he was cast as Saruman in the films.
Lee was the only actor in the series to have actually met Tolkien. He had always wanted to star in the films, and even took wizard acting roles to prove he would be a good pick. In addition, he sent photos of himself dressed as a wizard to Peter Jackson.
This one isn’t entirely his fault, but Christopher Plummer was barely able to do any preparation for his role as real-life figure J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World. The film was basically complete in early November when it was announced that Plummer would replace Kevin Spacey in the role after Spacey was accused of sexual assault.
Plummer filmed his part in nine days, starting November 20, just weeks after he nabbed the role. He knew very little about the Getty family, and didn’t really research him. “I really followed the script and Ridley’s suggestions, which weren’t many because there wasn’t much time,” Plummer told the Hollywood Reporter.
Despite his lack of preparation, Plummer’s performance was critically acclaimed, and he became the oldest person ever nominated for an Oscar when he received a nod for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.
Similarly, Viggo Mortensen was unable to do much preparation for his role in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. This was because he was cast days after filming had already begun.
“I felt unprepared,” he revealed to Yahoo Entertainment. “The other actors had been there for weeks and months in some cases preparing for the arduous task of shooting the whole trilogy.” The first thing he did upon landing in New Zealand was to learn how to sword fight, after which he quickly started shooting. “It was nice to do something physical first. And then, the second thing I did was sitting in the corner of the pub in Bree smoking the pipe in the shadows. So those were both physical things that established the way the character moves and [his] physical presence. I was grateful that I wasn’t thrown right into a dialogue scene!”
To prepare for her role as a captive young mother in Room, Brie Larson spent a month inside her house. She met with psychologists to learn about the trauma of captivity, wrote diary entries for her character, and made collages in character.
Larson hung out with onscreen son Jacob Tremblay in the weeks prior to filming, making the toys that appeared onscreen, improvising on the set, and playing Legos with him before bed.
Her hard work paid off — she won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2016.
Ewan McGregor didn’t read Jane Austen’s book Emma before starring in the film version as Frank Churchill.
He called the film the worst thing he’d done work-wise, saying he wasn’t very good in it, and admitted he only took the role because he “thought [he] should be seen to be doing something different from Trainspotting.“
One rather infamous preparation for a role comes from Jared Leto in Suicide Squad. To prepare to play the Joker, Leto sent strange gifts to other cast members (like a live rat), and avoided interacting with them. He brought a dead hog to set to “create a dynamic, to create an element of surprise, of spontaneity, and to really break down any kind of walls that may be there” because the Joker, in his opinion, didn’t respect people’s boundaries.
He stalked drug lords on Instagram to get inspiration for the part, and met with “people who had committed horrendous crimes…people who have been institutionalized for great periods of time.” He even practiced his Joker laugh around Manhattan.
Another actor who never read the books for the films they starred in is Billy Burke, who portrayed Bella’s dad, Charlie, in the Twilight films.
Burke says he doesn’t “have the attention span” to finish a book, and that as most of the info in the books wouldn’t be useful to him, he’d “rather not know” it. He’d actually never even heard of the books until he had a meeting with Catherine Hardwicke.
Daniel Day-Lewis is famous for method acting and going all out in preparing for his roles, but perhaps one of the most extreme examples is his preparation for Gangs of New York. He would literally walk around Rome in character and fight strangers.
In addition, he became an actual apprentice butcher. It must’ve worked, because he ended up getting nominated for an Oscar for his work.
While Hugh Jackman has certainly done plenty of prep work to play Wolverine in subsequent films, he wasn’t able to do so for X-Men, the first X-Men film. This was because he was cast, replacing Dougray Scott, weeks into shooting. He had only three weeks to get in shape for the role. He had apparently never lifted a weight before.
Jackman was not a comic fan and had never read the X-Men comics or even heard of Wolverine. In fact, he didn’t know a wolverine was a real animal.
Conversely, one actor who REALLY prepared for their role was Lady Gaga in House of Gucci. First of all, she stayed in character for 18 months, even when the camera wasn’t rolling, using the accent for nine of those months.
Gaga watched videos of foxes and panthers in order to channel them for the role, and began to “live in a way whereby anything that [she] looked at, [she] started to take notice and where and when [she] could see money.”
Novelist Anne Rice was pretty famously unhappy with Tom Cruise’s casting as Lestat in the film adaptation of her novel Interview with the Vampire. Cruise was apparently hurt by this criticism, and decided to not only carefully read the book, but to read all of Rice’s books, learn piano, lose weight, and travel in Paris to try out a hedonistic lifestyle like Lestat’s.
In comparison, Rafe Spall didn’t read the War of the Worlds book before appearing in the BBC’s TV version, though he did admit it was “another avenue that could aid” in his portrayal of the character. Even after filming, Spall still hasn’t read the book.
Jennifer Hudson was handpicked by Aretha Franklin to play her in a biopic years before her death. In fact, they met weekly for many years to talk about her past and the role.
Hudson studied old videos and historical footage of Aretha performing, and worked with vocal and movement coaches to capture Aretha perfectly in preparation for the film Respect.
And finally, Sabrina Carpenter played a teenager learning to dance in the Netflix teen movie Work It — and purposely didn’t learn the choreography.
However, this was actually for a reason. Her character was supposed to be struggling to learn to dance, so not knowing all the choreography helped make her look bad.