Jared Leto terrorised his co-stars during production of Suicide Squad
Getting cast as the Joker has become one of the most prestigious honours in Hollywood and is seen as an opportunity for actors to show off the true depths of their talent. When Jared Leto landed the role in 2016’s Suicide Squad, the actor clearly saw it as his ticket to an Oscar and spent months in the headlines for his excessive method acting antics. His behaviour towards his co-stars was both bizarre and downright inappropriate, and included sending ‘gifts’ to their trailers such as bullets, dead animals, and used condoms, which is almost certainly against the law.
Jim Carrey bullied everyone on set when filming Man on the Moon
Andy Kaufman was known for his relentless, confrontational approach to comedy, and when Jim Carrey was cast as the comedian in biopic Man on the Moon, he decided to stay in character for the entire production. Things stopped being funny pretty quickly, as Carrey’s behaviour deteriorated to the point where it was unclear if it would even be possible to complete the film. In one particularly explosive incident, Jerry Lawler – a wrestler who was involved in an altercation with Kaufman in real life – lost his cool and physically attacked Carrey after his relentless taunting went too far.
Jeremy Strong kept playing a kazoo on set while filming The Trial of the Chicago 7
Jeremy Strong is infamous for the extreme lengths he goes to for his roles (such as tearing up one of the only photos he had of his dead mother in order to get emotional for a scene) and his antics on set have raised more than a few eyebrows. An article in the New Yorker revealed that many of Strong’s colleagues on TV’s Succession find him incredibly difficult to work with, but it was an incident from the production of The Trial of the Chicago 7 that sounds most annoying. According to Aaron Sorkin, the film’s director, Strong kept incessantly playing a kazoo on set whilst his costar Frank Langella was trying to deliver his lines, which must have got old incredibly fast.
Daniel Day-Lewis treated the crew like slaves during production for My Left Foot
The poster boy for method acting, Daniel Day-Lewis’ intense commitment to immersing himself in his characters has earned him a slew of awards and critical acclaim. However, the actor’s refusal to break character made everyone else’s life a nightmare during production for My Left Foot. The fact-based film stars Day-Lewis as wheelchair-bound quadriplegic Christy Brown, and the actor insisted on being carried around and spoon-fed, even when the cameras weren’t rolling.
Jamie Dornan stalked a woman to get into character for The Fall
Actors will often get into the right headspace for their roles by spending some time ‘living’ as their character, adopting their routines and behaviours. For obvious reasons, most actors won’t take this approach when they’re playing a serial killer, but Jamie Dornan still gave it a go for his role in The Fall. The Irish actor impulsively decided to follow a woman off a train and followed her for several streets to understand what it feels like to be a murderer, an incredibly unethical act that could have led to serious trauma.
Benedict Cumberbatch bullied Jesse Plemons about his weight whilst filming The Power of the Dog
The Power of the Dog, which was released on Netflix in 2021, stars Benedict Cumberbatch as abusive rancher Phil Burbank. Cumberbatch resolved to stay in character for the duration of production, which inevitably led to him behaving unpleasantly to everyone on set. Cumberbatch’s co-star Jesse Plemons was singled out for particular torment, with the Sherlock actor exclusively referring to him as ‘big boy.’ Plemons later confessed that the relentless abuse got got under his skin, which is pretty understandable considering Cumberbatch’s behaviour amounted to little more than workplace bullying.
Shia LaBeouf showed up to set drunk every day making Lawless
Shia LaBouef has built up a reputation for going full method, and when he was cast as a moonshiner in 2012’s Lawless the actor decided the best way to make his performance authentic was to show up to set sloshed every day. His constant inebriation led to what he later admitted was some pretty “aggressive” behaviour, causing his costar Mia Wasikowska to call her attorneys in an attempt to bail from the project.
Denzel Washington made another actor waterboard him for Safe House
It feels obligatory for every movie about the CIA to contain at least one waterboarding scene, and 2012’s Safe House is no exception. To make the film’s torture sequence as realistic as possible, Denzel Washington insisted that he be waterboarded for real. Whilst his devotion to his craft is commendable, torturing someone – whether they’ve volunteered or not – is likely to lead to have a lasting psychological impact, and it isn’t fair to put someone in that position.
Halle Berry refused to wash during production for Jungle Forever
Halle Berry got her break in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, and was determined not to let the opportunity go to waste. Lee had been reluctant to cast the aspiring actress, feeling that she was too pretty and clean-cut to convincingly play a street prostitute. Berry spent weeks hanging out in some seriously unsavoury places to develop the grit that Lee was looking for, and he eventually relented and awarded her the role. However, everyone on set probably wished he hadn’t, as Berry proceeded to stay in character by refusing to wash for the entirety of production.
Forrest Whittaker’s behaviour filming The Last King of Scotland made his family stop speaking to him
Successful acting involves becoming your character, at least temporarily, but when your character is a genocidal monster this can pose problems. To prepare for his role as Idi Amin, Forrest Whitaker immersed himself in the Ugandan dictator’s life to the point that he started bringing the character home with him. Unsurprisingly, Whittaker’s family weren’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of spending time with a murderous tyrant, and stopped talking to the actor until he’d finished the film.
Edward Norton sucker-punched Brad Pitt filming Fight Club
Whilst filming the first fight in 1999’s Fight Club, Edward Norton decided to enhance the realism of the scene by hitting Brad Pitt for real. Pitt was completely caught off guard when Norton punched him in the ear, and his reaction is completely genuine. Whilst it made for one of the most iconic sequences in the film, as well as a great piece of pop culture trivia, sucker punching your colleague is never acceptable behaviour.
Klaus Kinski was extremely confrontational on the set of Fitzcarraldo
Klaus Kinski was infamous for his unhinged approach to getting into character, often unnerving everyone on set with his volatile behaviour. Whilst making Fitzcarraldo, Kinski became so antagonistic – endlessly starting fights with the crew over trivial matters – that one of the Peruvian natives who had been hired by Werner Herzog offered to kill him. Herzog refused, but only because he needed him to finish the film.
Al Pacino impersonated an NYPD officer and threatened a trucker
1973’s Serpico saw Al Pacino take on the role of the eponymous detective, and the actor’s commitment to the part led him to cross some ethical and legal boundaries. While driving home from set one night, Pacino pulled over a trucker, pretended to be an undercover NYPD officer, and threatened to bust him for exhaust pollution. Aside from the moral issues with terrorising an innocent trucker, impersonating a police officer is a federal crime that carries a hefty prison sentence.
Harrison Ford jeopardised a dangerous operation for The Fugitive
For his role as a heart surgeon falsely accused of murder in 1993’s The Fugitive, Harrison Ford managed to convince a real surgeon to let him sit in on an operation. Heart surgery is extremely risky, with a tiny slip of the scalpel potentially resulting in death, and it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where having one of the world’s most famous actors peering over your shoulder could lead to a nervous mistake. The whole incident was all the more egregious because of how pointless it was: there is a single surgery scene in The Fugitive, and it barely lasts a minute.
Dennis Hopper took so many drugs for Apocalypse Now he couldn’t remember his lines
For his role as a photojournalist in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece Apocalypse Now, Dennis Hopper spent months getting into his character’s headspace by ingesting copious quantities of drugs. By the time production started, Hopper had developed a full-blown addiction and could hardly remember his lines, much to Coppola’s frustration. Ultimately though, Hopper’s manic, drug-addled performance ended up being one of the most intriguing elements of the entire film.
Sean Penn would only respond to his character’s name during production of Bad Boys
Sean Penn has a reputation for being difficult to work with, and it seems like it’s at least partially deserved. During production of 1983’s Bad Boys, Penn insisted that everybody on set exclusively refer to him by his character’s name, even between takes. Naturally, this got confusing extremely fast, but Penn refused to abandon the idea and would flatly ignore anyone unless they addressed him as Mick.
Jake Gyllenhaal ignored his girlfriend whilst training for Southpaw
To prepare for his role as a boxer in 2015’s Southpaw, Jake Gyllenhaal spent hours on end in the gym every day for a period of roughly six months. The actor’s Herculean efforts saw him pack on an astonishing 18 pounds of muscle, but they also caused him to completely ignore Alyssa Miller, his girlfriend at the time. In an interview after the film’s release, Southpaw director Antoine Fuqua directly attributed the couple’s eventual breakup to Gyllenhaal’s extraordinary commitment to getting into shape for the role.
Klaus Kinski got so into character making Crawlspace that he started multiple fights
In hindsight, hiring an actor as mercurial as Klaus Kinski to play the insane son of a Nazi doctor probably wasn’t the best idea. Unfortunately, director David Schmoeller had to learn this hard way. Kinski got so immersed in his character that he began displaying his psychopathic traits even when the cameras weren’t rolling, picking fights at every opportunity and assaulting multiple crew members and co-stars. It has been claimed that tensions got so high that producer Roberto Bessi tried to have Kinski murdered.
Sylvester Stallone made Dolph Lundgren seriously injure him filming Rocky IV
Sylvester Stallone‘s dedication to realism nearly ended in tragedy during the production of Rocky IV. The actor, who is known for putting his body on the line for his roles, instructed his co-star Dolph Lundgren to hit him for real when they were filming the climactic final fight scene. Lundgren reluctantly obliged, catching Stallone with an uppercut that sent the actor straight to the ICU. Stallone was eventually medically cleared, but only after a few days that must have been agonising for Lundgren.
Ashton Kutcher put himself in hospital preparing for Jobs
When Ashton Kutcher was cast as Steve Jobs in 2013’s Jobs, the actor decided to get into character by adopting the fruitarian diet that the Apple co-founder famously followed. Unfortunately for Kutcher, his body didn’t take well to the extremely restrictive diet, and he soon ended up in hospital with pancreatitis. Clearly not one to learn from his mistakes, the actor tried to return to fruitarianism upon his release and promptly ended up back in hospital. Whilst Kutcher’s efforts could be seen as admirable, they could equally be seen as a completely unnecessary waste of medical resources.
Tom Hanks freaked out Stephen King by staying in character for The Green Mile
Unsettling the king of horror is no easy feat, but that’s exactly what Tom Hanks managed to do. One of the most gifted actors of his generation, Hanks has been known to go method from time to time and during production of The Green Mile he refused to break character, even when the cameras weren’t rolling. His dedication was so intense that it freaked out Stephen King, the author of the book the film is based on, who was on set as a consultant during production.
Sean Penn assaulted John Leguizamo whilst sh0oting Casualties of War
1989’s Casualties of War stars Sean Penn as an American soldier in Vietnam who is involved in the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young Vietnamese woman. It’s incredibly dark, and Penn – who is known for immersing himself in his characters – clearly let the subject matter get to his head. John Leguizamo, who also starred in the film, later revealed that Penn tormented him throughout production, repeatedly slapping him and at one point outright assaulting him on camera.
Austin Butler ignored his family preparing for Elvis
Austin Butler spent three years preparing to play The King of Rock’n’Roll in Baz Lurhman’s 2022 biopic Elvis, and – whilst his commitment is beyond dispute – whether he needed to go to such extreme lengths is up for debate. Butler spoke in Elvis’ distinctive drawl for so long that his vocal coach believes the accent may now be permanent, and the actor later confessed that he barely thought about anything other than the role. He also completely ignored his family, barely seeing them for the entire three year process and often going months on end without even speaking to them.
Leonardo DiCaprio smeared his blood on Kerry Washington filming a scene for Django Unchained
Calvin Candie is one of the most memorable villains in recent cinema history, thanks to a captivating performance by Leonardi DiCaprio. Whilst filming an impassioned monologue, the actor slammed his hand into a table, accidentally hitting a glass and cutting himself for real. Though this was unplanned, DiCaprio plowed on without breaking character, blood now gushing from his hand. The level of commitment is undeniably impressive, but the actor took things way too far by smearing his blood on the face of a horrified Kerry Washington.
Johnny Depp smoked next to barrels of gunpowder preparing for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Johnny Depp isn’t particularly known for his method acting, but when he was cast as Hunter S. Thompson he spent months immersing himself in the character. As well as hanging out with the father of Gonzo journalism, Depp also embraced the author’s reckless lifestyle. This included sleeping in the basement of Thompson’s house and smoking cigarettes next to barrels of gunpowder. Needless to say, this could have easily resulted in the senseless deaths of Depp and anyone in the blast radius.
Jonah Hill wanted to swallow a live goldfish on The Wolf of Wall Street
Jonah Hill is known as one of the more sensitive stars in Hollywood, but the actor displayed a surprisingly callous streak during production for The Wolf of Wall Street. Danny Porush (the real-life figure on whom Hill’s character Donnie Azoff was based) reportedly once swallowed a goldfish live, and Hill wanted to recreate this incident on camera. Fortunately for the goldfish, PETA intervened, and the Superbad star was ultimately talked out of inflicting an extremely unpleasant death on a defenceless creature.
Adrien Brody’s girlfriend broke up with him over his prep for The Pianist
To prepare for his role as Jewish musician Władysław Szpilman in 2002’s The Pianist, Adrien Brody starved himself to near the point of death, sold most of his worldly possessions, and moved out of his apartment. His efforts paid off, with the actor scooping the Best Actor Academy Award for his harrowing performance. However, the abrupt change in lifestyle put a serious strain on his relationship, with Brody later revealing that his girlfriend broke up with him over the depths of his commitment to the film.
Will Smith fell in love with his co-star filming Six Degrees of Separation
After starring in Six Degrees of Separation, Will Smith publicly swore never to dabble in method acting again. Smith immersed himself so deeply in his role that he ended up falling in love with Stockard Channing, who plays his romantic interest in the film. The whole ordeal must have been hard on Sheree Zampino, Smith’s wife at the time, who had just given birth to the couple’s first child.
Christian Bale worried everyone with his weight loss for The Machinist
Christian Bale’s extraordinary dedication to his roles might have won him unanimous critical acclaim, but it’s also given those close to him plenty to worry about. When he was preparing for The Machinist, Bale dropped a terrifying amount of weight by essentially starving himself, eventually forcing his doctors to intervene after he got perilously close to death. The haunting end result was undeniably worth it artistically, but it’s hard not to feel sympathy for the actor’s loved ones who had to watch him waste away.
Nicolas Cage ate a cockroach for Vampire’s Kiss
Nicolas Cage is known for his gruesome approach to method acting, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that the actor ate a live cockroach for a scene in Vampire’s Kiss. The film’s director wanted to use a fake roach and had even had the prop made, but Cage insisted on using a real bug. Cockroaches rank fairly low on most people’s lists of favourite animals, but eating one alive to prove your commitment to your craft seems unnecessarily cruel, not to mention seriously unsanitary.
Jamie Foxx kept forcing production to shut down when working on Ray
When Jamie Foxx was cast as the legendary musician Ray Charles in 2004’s Ray, the actor had prosthetic eyelids designed that rendered him temporarily blind. The prosthetics enhanced the authenticity of Foxx’s performance, but they also caused the actor to suffer debilitating panic attacks that kept shutting down production. Foxx eventually sought the help of a therapist who was able to teach him techniques to keep the panic attacks at bay, allowing him to finish making the film.
Shia LaBouef was a living nightmare whilst shooting Fury
Shia LaBoeuf cemented his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most committed method actors with his borderline unhinged behaviour during production of 2014’s Fury. Aside from getting his character’s tattoos in real life, LaBouef also sliced his face open with a knife in front of horrified co-stars and refused to wash for weeks. Eventually, Brad Pitt was forced to have words when LaBouef’s personal hygiene got so bad that it was difficult to be in the same room as him.
Choi-min Sik ate a live octopus for Oldboy
The octopus eating scene in Old Boy is tough enough to watch as it is, but it gets even more stomach-churning once you learn that it’s completely real. Choi-min Sik rejected the use of props and insisted on devouring a live cephalopod for the scene, eventually having to eat four due to takes going wrong. It’s hard to feel okay about any living creature being eaten alive, but octopuses are highly intelligent animals that have been observed decorating their layers and playing with humans.
Daniel Day-Lewis confused his friends during production of Lincoln by refusing to break character
Daniel Day-Lewis once again proved his unwavering dedication to his roles when he was cast as Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s biopic of the American president. For a full year, Day-Lewis refused to break character, even employing Lincoln’s distinctive style of writing when texting his friends, many of whom later reported being incredibly confused by the whole thing. It’s hard to imagine that this didn’t get old quickly.
Jack Nicholson joined group therapy sessions in a mental institute for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Based on Ken Kesey’s novel of the same name, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest saw Jack Nicholson snag the coveted Academy Award for Best Actor. To prepare for his role, Nicholson spent time in an actual mental asylum and participated in group therapy sessions with patients. Whilst the insights he gained might have allowed him to deliver an Oscar-worthy performance, the presence of one of the world’s most famous actors is likely to have had quite a destabilising effect on some of the patients in the facility.
Dustin Hoffman assaulted Meryl Streep during the making of Kramer vs. Kramer
The fact that both actors ended up walking away with Oscars does nothing to justify Dustin Hoffman’s behaviour towards Meryl Streep during production of Kramer vs. Kramer. The 27-year-old actress had just lost her partner, John Cazale, to lung cancer, and Hoffman would whisper Cazale’s name in her ear just before her a scene to make her visibly emotional. The nadir of Streep’s ordeal came when Hoffman slapped her hard in the face during a scene, entirely without warning.
Lady Gaga put on an Italian accent for nine months to get into character for House of Gucci
To prepare for her role as Patrizia Reggiani in 2021’s House of Gucci, Lady Gaga spent nine entire months speaking in an Italian accent. The dedication paid off, with Gaga’s “note perfect” performance singled out for praise by critics, but the musician-turned-actress later revealed that she had an extremely hard time getting her voice to return to normal after production wrapped. The accent also apparently got on the nerves of Gaga’s close friends and family, who had to listen to it day in and day out.
Daniel Day-Lewis gave himself pneumonia because he wouldn’t wear a jacket filming Gangs of New York
Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York is an icon of its genre, but the project was very nearly derailed after Daniel Day-Lewis contracted pneumonia due to refusing to wear a modern coat. As if that wasn’t ludicrous enough, the actor then refused to treat the disease with modern medicine, although he eventually relented when confronted with the very real possibility of dying. Whilst Day-Lewis’ commitment to authenticity undoubtedly has made him one of the finest actors of his generation, jeopardising an entire production out of stubbornness is overly indulgent and selfish.
Margot Robbie nearly drowned herself preparing for The Suicide Squad
2021’s The Suicide Squad required Margot Robbie to hold her breath for a one minute underwater sequence, and it’s safe to say that the actress went overboard in her preparation. Robbie began diligently practising for the scene, even meditating underwater, and eventually got to the point where she could remain submerged for five minutes at a time. The actress later revealed that she wanted to push it even further, requiring her trainers to talk her out of it over concerns for her safety.
Fears for Robert De Niro’s health stalled production on Raging Bull
Robert De Niro approached the role of real-life boxer Jake LaMotta with his usual level of extreme dedication, undergoing two dramatic body transformations for the film. After bulking up to embody LaMotta in his prime, the actor spent months in Italy gorging himself on pasta and moving as little as possible to portray the boxer in the latter half of his life. When he returned he had put on so much weight that his breathing was audibly laboured, causing director Martin Scorsese to temporarily shut down production out of concern for the actor’s health.