A Recent History Of Actors Who Went Through Drastic Physical Transformations To Win An Oscar

Sometimes to take home that coveted golden statue, you've got to change yourself completely.

Anyone who’s seen Alejandro González Iñárritu’s bleak biographical western The Revenant can attest, Leonardo DiCaprio is a far cry from the Hollywood playboy he is IRL. To prepare to play real-life frontiersman Hugh Glass, the actor not only grew his hair out and rubbed some dirt on his pretty face, but he actually camped out in the wilderness, where he slept in an animal carcass and swam in frozen rivers. Will 2016 finally be the year DiCaprio takes home the Oscar that’s eluded him for decades? If recent Academy Award history is any indication, there’s an extremely good chance. Over the past 20 years, these 14 actors have taken home the golden statue for their own physically transformative roles.

  • 1 Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love (1998)
    Miramax/Universal Pictures

    In this Best Picture-winning rom-com, Paltrow plays a cross-dressing actress who falls in love with her playwright, William Shakespeare. The story may be fictional, but the Best Actress statue Paltrow took home for it is definitely not.

  • 2 Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
    Fox Searchlight
    No one deserved the Oscar in 2000 more than Best Actress winner Hilary Swank. More than just cutting her hair and losing weight, Swank lived as a man for a month to prepare for her career-defining role as the late Brandon Teena, a trans man who was raped and beaten to death by his male acquaintances.

  • 3 Nicole Kidman, The Hours (2002)
    Paramount Pictures/Miramax
    If no one told you, you wouldn’t even be able to guess Virginia Woolf is played by Nicole Kidman. Hence the reason why the Aussie took home Best Actress for her impressive portrayal of the troubled writer in 2003.

  • 4 Charlize Theron, Monster (2003)
    Newmarket Films
    Now this you can’t scrub from your memory. One viewing of Charlize Theron as serial killer Aileen Wuornos will leave you with nightmares for months. For the Best Actress Oscar-winning role, Theron packed on 30 pounds, shaved her eyebrows, and wore prosthetic teeth to lose herself in the part.

  • 5 George Clooney, Syriana (2005)
    Warner Bros. Pictures
    On the reg, Clooney is a modern day Clark Gable. But don’t let his good looks distract you from his talent. As a reminder of that, the actor packed on over 30 pounds and let the facial hair grow for his portrayal of Bob Barnes in the geopolitical thriller. It earned him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

  • 6 Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men (2007)
    Walt Disney Pictures/Paramount Pictures
    In the Coen Brothers’ Best Picture-winning neo-Western thriller, Best Actor winner Javier Bardem fully embraced his breakout role as sociopathic hired hitman Anton Chigurh. That meant agreeing to dull down his natural charm (see: Eat Pray Love and Vicky Cristina Barcelona) for decidedly muted costuming and an unflattering haircut.

  • 7 Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight (2008)
    Warner Bros. Pictures
    There were no traces of Heath Ledger in the Joker. That’s what made him so chilling as the Dark Knight’s archnemesis. In fact, Ledger dove so deep into the character that he kept a journal as the villain himself, filled with twisted notes and scribbled drawings. He died on January 22, 2008, and won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar posthumously.

  • 8 Christian Bale, The Fighter (2010)
    Paramount Pictures/The Weinstein Company
    Bale’s level of dedication to a role is something all actors should (cautiously) aspire to. To play boxer Micky Ward’s drug-abusing brother Dicky, which he won the Best Supporting Actor statue for, Bale dropped 30 pounds. But this isn’t the first time Bale’s gone to extremes for a part. For The Machinist, the actor lost over 60 pounds to achieve a skeletal frame, and for American Hustle, he gained a whopping 43 pounds.

  • 9 Melissa Leo, The Fighter (2010)
    Paramount Pictures/The Weinstein Company
    Like Christian Bale, Melissa Leo is another actress to come out of the David O. Russell picture with a Best Supporting Actress statue. In her case, Leo perfected a Boston accent, got her blonde hair perfectly permed, and went nuts with a make-up brush to play Micky Ward’s mother Alice.

  • 10 Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady (2011)
    20th Century Fox/The Weinstein Company
    There’s a reason why 2012’s Best Actress winner Meryl Streep has tallied 19 Oscar nominations: she’s a pro. Prosthetics aside–namely neck pieces, noses, and sets of cheeks–Streep admitted that she didn’t prepare much for her role as Margaret Thatcher. Of course, her talent is simply intuitive.

  • 11 Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables (2012)
    Universal Pictures
    Anne Hathaway caught a lot of flack for her seemingly self-absorbed awards campaign for Les Miserables, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that she actually did nail the part as Fantine. To play a factory worker forced into prostitution, Hathaway went on a starvation diet and chopped her hair off for an extremely frail look.

  • 12 Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
    Focus Features
    A gaunt McConaughey isn’t the McConaughey we’re used to seeing. Usually, he’s the carefree beach bum in your favorite rom-com. However, for his Best Actor-winning role as AIDS-stricken Ron Woodroof, McConaughey dropped 47 pounds. He even has weight-loss journal, which he kept during pre-production, to show for it.

  • 13 Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
    Focus Features
    Ladies and gentleman, Oscar-winner Jared Leto. Nope, still weird. The same dude who played My So-Called Life’s Jordan Catalano, the same dude in 30 Seconds to Mars, won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing an AIDS-stricken transgender. While many people boycotted Leto’s role, saying the part should’ve been played by an actual trans woman, the actor dedicated his statue to those who lost their lives to AIDS and everyone who’s ever been discriminated against for who they choose to love.

  • 14 Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything (2014)
    Focus Features/Universal Pictures
    He may not actually be Stephen Hawking, but Eddie Redmayne is still absolutely brilliant. Not only did the Best Actor winner meet with the famed theoretical physicist for the part, but he studied countless photos of Hawking to track his physical transformation over time, all the way to his decline in a wheelchair.

Tara Aquino is an entertainment writer based out of L.A. She likes people, places, and things.