Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=216525
Story Retrieval Date: 6/19/2013 7:24:10 PM CST
DreamWorks Studios/Universal Pictures
Twenty-five pounds is the amount of weight Sally Field had to lose for
her Oscar-nominated role in "Lincoln." It is the same amount that Anne
Hathaway had to lose for her Oscar-nominated role in "Les Misérables."
Worth their weight in Oscar gold
From Robert De Niro packing on 60 pounds of muscle to play boxer Jake La Motta in “Raging Bull” in 1980 to Natalie Portman shedding 20 pounds off her already petite frame to play a disturbed ballerina in 2010’s “Black Swan,” severe weight fluctuations have become synonymous with Oscar gold.
The Oscars that will be held Sunday showcases two nominated actresses that have created as much buzz for their body transformations as they did the movies in which they starred. Anne Hathaway and Sally Field are both nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
Anne Hathaway’s 25-pound weight loss and performance as Fantine, a working-class woman turned prostitute, in “Les Misérables.” has already earned her a Golden Globe win. Hathaway told Vogue magazine she lost 10 pounds during a cleanse before shooting and then took two weeks to lose 15 more by nearly starving herself with a diet consisting of “oatmeal paste.”
Hathaway’s fellow nominee Sally Field, inversely packed 25 pounds on to her small frame with a diet of brown rice and protein shakes to play the legendary Mary Todd Lincoln in “Lincoln.” It took Field a year to shed the pounds.
“It wasn’t as much fun as you would think,” Field said on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” “First of all, it was horrifying because I’m of a certain age and I kept thinking, ‘If I don’t do it right I will drop dead halfway through this and someone else will get the role!’”
Actors often immerse themselves in their roles, but how far is too far when your health is concerned? Method acting, a technique influenced by Constantin Stanislavski, is often used to describe this kind of character immersion. Cindy Gold, an associate professor and head of acting and Northwestern University’s Department of Theatre, said the term “method” is controversial in itself.
“It’s certainly not a requirement,” she said. “I think actors who consider themselves to be working the Stanislavski technique don't feel they have to do drastic things like that, but some people feel that it is an imperative.”
Gold said that we don’t know whether the weight changes were a part of the directors’ requirements, or if they were something that the actors chose to do to prepare.
“Generally speaking, today everybody knows it’s really unhealthy,” Gold said, but it is still unfortunately looked as as a sign of some kind of greatness if you can transform yourself physically. As a teacher I disagree with it completely…but I understand the impulse from the actor.”
Holly Herrington, a registered dietitian at Northwestern University’s Center for Lifestyle Medicine, said 1-2 pounds a week is considered safe weight loss. She explained that when you lose weight very rapidly your body goes into starvation mode and you start to lose muscle. In the long run rapid weight loss may lead to osteoporosis or cardiac issues.
Herrington questions how actors can perform after a rapid weight loss because of the effect it has on their memory and mood.
Hathaway said on the late night show “Chelsea Lately” that she was a “witch” to her husband while filming “Les Misérables.”
“I was dealing with a lot of darkness and I was starving, so I wasn't that much fun to be around,” Hathaway said. “And there was one day when - I kid you not - I picked a fight with him because he wouldn't watch a sunset with me."
Ashley Solomon, psychologist and director of eating disorder treatment at Insight Behavioral Health Centers, said, “Something that we often seen emotionally is just a lot of fatigue and irritability, so there can certainly be personality shifts and changes that can happen as a result.”
She referred to the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, a clinical study performed at the University of Minnesota from 1944-1945, which looked at the effects of semi-starvation after participants lost an average of 25 percent of their pre-starvation body weight.
“What is so interesting about a study like that is that even if someone doesn’t necessarily start out with the sort of mental things that we think of associated with eating disorders,” Solomon said, “they can adapt with a picture that looks very much like an eating disorder, being very preoccupied with their weight, body and food.”
Charlize Theron used unflattering makeup, harsh lighting and a 30 pounds weight gain to make herself virtually unrecognizable to play a real-life serial killer in the 2003 film “Monster.” The Academy awarded her performance with an Oscar for Best Actress.
Gaining weight for a role can also have negative health implications. Herrington said actors often gorge on junk food to gain weight for roles, a practice that can lead to long-term health implications including susceptibility to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. She said she advises her patients that want to gain weight to incorporate healthy fats to their diets. Just one cup of nuts or one avocado a day will add 1,000-1,200 calories to your daily intake.
Weight manipulation isn’t just for actresses. Men have done some of the most dramatic on screen body transformations yet. Christian Bale won an Academy Award for Best Actor in Supporting Role in 2011 for his role as a drug addict and former boxer in “The Fighter.” Bale’s body transformation was nothing new.
For the 2004 film, “The Machinist” Bale lost a shocking 63 pounds. He weighed just 122 pounds while he played an industrial worker who hadn’t slept in a year. He gained all the weight back plus another 30 pounds to beef up for his role in “Batman Begins,” released in 2005.
“I think there is a certain amount of true and real need to do something drastic so that that the actor feels that they are becoming or transforming into someone else, Gold said, “but I think there is also a certain amount of crazy thinking when it comes to that kind of transformation. “
She said she does not pass judgment.
“It’s not anyone’s right to say this is the way it should be done or the way it shouldn't be done,” she said. “It is a personal choice for an actor.”