This blog, brought to you by UPP Studios, discusses transmutation as it relates to an actor's embodiment of a role. Many outside of the entertainment industry look at acting as an easy profession. I suppose, however, that everything is relative to one's perspective. I wouldn't call any good performance easy, but some performances are certainly easier to accomplish than others. True transmutation involves effort and sacrifice.
When Bradley Cooper was set to play U.S. Marine Chris Kyle, director Clint Eastwood didn't require Cooper to do any work on his body in preparation for the role. Cooper, feeling that adding muscle would change the way he carried himself and walked which, in turn, would dramatically influence the way he played the role, took it upon himself to get in shape. He worked out to the point of adding 40 pounds of muscle and being able to dead lift 400 pounds. He then had to drop a lot of that muscle, in a short period of time, to star in "The Elephant Man" on Broadway.
Christian Bale is another actor who is truly dedicated to the craft. When he takes on a role, he becomes a completely different person. His most notable transmutation was for the film "The Machinist." Bale dropped an extraordinary amount of weight to portray Trevor Reznik, a 112 pound insomniac, who is clearly a tortured soul. To drop the weight, Bale ate nothing but an apple and a can of tuna fish every day for 3 months. The result was a true transmutation of his body, becoming a shell of his former self, with visibly protruding ribs.
Jared Leto and Matthew McConnahay immersed themselves in their respective roles for the film "Dallas Buyers Club." Both had to drop significant amounts of weight to portray individuals infected with the HIV virus. Furthermore, Leto, who was playing a transvestite, shaved a lot of his body hair, and took on a feminine persona. His transmutation was not only physical, but it was also psychological. Psychological transmutation is potentially even more dangerous than rapid weight gain and loss on an actor's body. Playing with one's mental health can drive them over the edge.
In researching the role of the Joker in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight," Heath Ledger locked himself away in a hotel room in London. He experimented with strange voices and created a psychopath's journal. Ledger's father released the journal to the public after his death. The journal suggests that Heath wrestled with his mental health as the character he was creating began to wear on him. The Joker seems to be a precarious character for any actor to envelop. Jared Leto, who stayed in character as the Joker throughout the entire duration of the filming of "Suicide Squad," sent a box with a live rat to his co-star Margo Robbie, as a sick token of his affection.
Many actors dive deep into their roles, and the story of their journeys, is truly astonishing.