Bodies Of Work

Article by Andrew Sullivan /
Dish /
December 18, 2013 /
Click here to view original /

Lauren Rosewarne reflects on Christian Bale’s latest transformation – gaining 43 pounds for his role in American Hustle:

“Bale’s fattening prompted the same question one might ask of Robert De Niro’s weight gain in Raging Bull (1980), Toni Colette’s in Muriel’s Wedding (1994), Renée Zellweger’s in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), Charlize Theron’s in Monster (2003), Jared Leto’s in Chapter 27 (2007) and Chris Pratt’s in Delivery Man (2013): Why? Couldn’t producers find plumper actors?

The obvious answer is that big budget films only get green-lit if big names are attached. The biggest names are invariably the thinnest. Yadda yadda, insert doughnut consumption. There are, of course, other explanations worth pondering. … In a world where fatsuits – as witnessed in the deplorable Shallow Hal (2001) – or special effects could offer weight gain far quicker than a junk-tastic diet, going the distance and actually fattening-up apparently separates the artistes from the poseurs. And time and time again, such gimmicky madness gets validated. Theron took home an Oscar for her fattening; Collette snared an AFI. Cinemas inevitably get filled because audiences have an unquenchable curiosity for make-overs and bodily transformation.”

Update from a rant-filled reader:

“Theron took home an Oscar for her fattening; Collette snared an AFI.” Um. What? Has Ms. Rosewarne SEEN Monster?

Charlize Theron didn’t take home an Oscar for her fattening, for fuck’s sake! She took it home by portraying one of the most despicable, loathsome and vicious women ever born – in a tragic, human and sympathetic way, all while distinctly not looking like Charlize Theron! In fact, I constantly had to remind myself, while watching the film, that it even WAS Charlize Theron in there somewhere. Is the author seriously suggesting that the Academy voters watched this grueling, emotionally punishing, heartbreaking film and said, “Well. I was going to vote for Naomi Watts, but LORD did Theron pack on those pounds! I’m voting for the fat!”

And wasn’t Muriel’s Wedding Toni Colette’s first feature film EVER? I’d never heard of her before that delightful little film, and the LAST thing I thought after thoroughly enjoying it was, “God I hope that Toni Colette, whom I’ve never seen before, can drop all those pounds I didn’t know she put on!” Ugh.

I’m not discounting or belittling the massive Method madness inherent in these transformations – quite the opposite; these are actors so committed to Craft and Character that they are willing to put themselves through hell in order to wear their own bodies like alien costumes. (I am, however, put in mind of Sir Laurence Olivier’s advice to Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man, when the latter was complaining about his Method-inspired sleep deprivation and exhaustion: “My dear boy, why don’t you try acting?”) But it seems to me that if you have the time, the medical advice and the cash necessary to treat your body like an inflatable/deflatable costume, why wouldn’t you do absolutely everything you could to become the thing you portray?