Most of us can only imagine what it takes to be an actor – to put yourself into the body and head of another person, imaginary or historical, and refuse to come out for weeks on end.
I’m sure there are some roles where that process is delightful, and others where the character’s head is an immensely tough space to occupy.
These 16 actors took on notoriously difficult roles, and they’ve not been afraid to talk about the struggles that resulted.
16. Dakota Johnson in Suspiria.
Dakota Johnson, like many actors and actresses, is a bit of an empath – and she said filming this horror movie “f**cked me up so much that I had to go to therapy.”
“I find sometimes when I work on a project and – I don’t have any shame in this – I’m a very porous person and I absorb a lot of people’s feelings. When you’re working sometimes with dark subject matter, it can stay with you and then to talk to somebody really nice about it afterwards is a really nice way to move on from the project.”
15. Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker.
This one probably comes as no surprise, but after losing 52 pounds and getting into the mind of a manic, Phoenix took some time to feel like his old self again.
“Once you reach the target weight, everything changes. Like so much of what’s difficult is waking up every day and being obsessed over like 0.3 pounds. Right? And you really develop like a disorder.”
14. Mandy Patinkin in Criminal Minds.
Patinkin was once excited about the role, but quickly realized the content wasn’t going to work for him long term.
“I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality.”
13. Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger.
Jordan has said he regrets not having an “exit plan” after immersing himself in the role and realized afterward, when trying to return to normal life, that he’d made a mistake.
“Readjusting to people caring about me, getting that love that I shut out. I shut out love, I didn’t want to love. I wanted to be in this lonely place as long as I could.”
He ended up in therapy, which he said helped him unpack and talk about the experience.
12. Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Hoskins described acting alongside cartoons as training yourself to hallucinate, and said it had effects he never imagined.
“In the end, it screwed up my brain. I would be sitting, talking normally and suddenly a weasel would creep out of the wall at me.”
Doctors suggested he quit acting for awhile, which he did for quite a few months before getting back to work.
11. Kate Winslet in The Reader.
The film, about a woman who worked at a Nazi camp, was an entirely other experience for star Kate Winslet.
“I am still coming to terms with the whole experience of having played Hannah. I really genuinely am. We wrapped on July 12th, and I sort of walked away like some car crash victim who somehow hadn’t been hurt on the outside, but I felt like I couldn’t speak about it. It was truly overwhelming. I really went somewhere. Iwas in some kind of trance. And I’m still coming to terms with all of it. I’m so blown away by the movie.”
10. Penn Badgely in You.
We all know the character of Joe is totally irredeemable, but what’s it like to live inside skin like that?
“It takes a huge toll on my psyche, but is an interesting deep psychological exploration.”
9. Natalie Portman in Black Swan.
When you watch the movie, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to think it might have affected its leading lady, right?
“It was the first time I understood how you could get so wrapped up in a role that it could sort of take you down. There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die.”
In the end, she didn’t go to therapy or rehab but thinks she probably should have.
8. Lakeith Stanfield in Judas and the Black Messiah.
Stanfield admits that he had trouble separating his emotions from those of his character – especially in the scene where the character poisoned Fred Hampton.
“Sometimes your body thinks that’s real, everything you’re putting it through. It’s no wonder I’ve been feeling so stressed out and having panic attacks. I realized going forward before I step into something like that again, maybe have a therapist.”
7. Janet Leigh in Psycho.
That famous scene in the shower? Turns out audiences weren’t the only ones scarred for life – Leigh herself stopped taking showers for a long time, opting for baths instead, and has a protocol for when a bath isn’t an option.
“I make sure the doors and windows of the house are locked. I also leave the bathroom door open and shower curtain open. I’m always facing the door, watching, no matter where the shower head is.”
6. Adrien Brody in The Pianist.
To prepare for the role, Brody practiced piano for hours a day, sold all of his belongings, starved himself, and read Holocaust memoirs from dawn until dusk – a process that took more than 6 months to reverse.
“There were times when I was concerned that I might not be able to get out of it sane, because I didn’t realize how far it had taken me.”
I’m guessing there were actual Holocaust victims who felt the same way.
5. Anne Hathaway as Fantine.
The role and the associated weight loss took a huge toll on the young actress, causing what she called a “break with reality.”
“I was in such a state of deprivation – physical and emotional. When I got home, I couldn’t react to the chaos of the world without being overwhelmed. It took me weeks till I felt like myself again.”
4. Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler.
Another role that required extreme weight loss, and I think we’re starting to see a bit of a trend in these answers.
“Physically, it showed itself, but chemically and mentally, I think it was even a more fascinating journey. It became a struggle for me.”
He describes still seeing the character in his nightmares years later, and feels it still has something to communicate with him.
3. Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise.
Skarsgard compared playing Pennywise as being in a destructive relationship, and was happy when the film wrapped.
He, too, was followed into sleep by his own character, which must be more than a little unsettling.
2. Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman.
Carrey went so far into the mind of Andy Kaufman with his method approach that he famously struggled to get back into his own mind and body after the film wrapped.
“I was looking back at myself and going, ‘What the hell do I believe?’ That was a process.”
1. Christina Applegate in Dead to Me.
The show, which deals with grief and murder, can be a lot to handle for everyone involved – and it sent Applegate to therapy to re-examine her own experiences with loss.
“It tapped into some stuff that I had to face. It was cathartic. I don’t know it it was therapeutic. Did I start therapy after the show? Yes, absolutely.”
Making movies is definitely not all fun and games (though it definitely has its upsides, I’m sure).
Did any of these comments surprise you? What’s your favorite role of your favorite actor’s? Let us know in the comments!