Sunday 13 July 2014

Roles of flesh can't be too healthy

Ian Morris looks at the weighty issue of extreme dieting by Hollywood actors for their movies

Renee Zellweger

Matthew McConaughey is one of the most famous faces in Hollywood, a household name, known the world over for his charming laidback manner, muscular physique and boyish good looks.

When he first caught the world's attention in the mid- Nineties, it was in serious dramatic roles in films like A Time to Kill and Amistad (and, in 2001, Frailty) which earned him acclaim with audiences and critics alike. However, he has spent the last decade or so starring in lukewarm rom-coms like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The Wedding Planner, and the aptly named Failure to Launch.

Reportedly fed up with the 'Himbo' status he has cultivated, the 44-year-old actor has spent the last couple of years attaching himself to more serious projects. The most notable of these is his upcoming film, Dallas Buyers Club, in which he plays Ron Woodroof -- a Texan who has been stricken with Aids and given 30 days to live. For the part of the ailing Woodroof, Matthew dropped 50lb from his 185lb frame.

To lose the weight, McConaughey says, "I ate a lot of fish, but only five ounces of it, and then a cup of vegetables ... that would be twice a day ... I started off doing a lot of exercise, burning 1,800 calories a day. My goal was to lose 4lb a week. So I was doing that for the first two weeks, lost 8lb, and then I had a week where I had an injury and I couldn't exercise and I stayed on the same diet but I lost the same amount of weight. I was like, 'Oh, well hang on. Let me see if I can do this without exercise!' And I lost the same amount of weight."

Photos of McConaughey's dramatic weight loss began appearing several months ago, generating substantial buzz for the upcoming film. People can see how seriously he's taking the part and, considering his past success in dramatic roles, this could be his year for Oscar glory.

We've seen it happen before -- with films like Philadelphia, for which Tom Hanks lost 30lb and gained an Oscar; and Raging Bull, which saw Robert De Niro put on 60lb before taking away an Academy Award for his turn as ageing boxer Jake LaMotta. According to an article in Vanity Fair, McConaughey actually called Hanks to ask for weight loss tips before beginning his diet.

Extreme weight loss or gain seems to have a strong effect on the audience.

We've seen actors like Renee Zellweger and Christian Bale using this principle to great effect as well.

It's so visual, showing the audience a real dedication to becoming a character, as well as helping to break down people's preconceived ideas about who the actors actually are.

But is it safe? Surely this kind of large fluctuation in weight can't be healthy.

Since shooting wrapped on Dallas Buyers Club, McConaughey has struggled to undo the damage of his starvation diet. Despite reports that he has regained most of the weight he lost, his face still looks gaunt. His skin appears pale and tired and even his hair looks thinner. The truth is that he looks years older than he did just 12 months ago. Despite being in his mid-40s he had, till now, been blessed with a youthful glow that seems to have vanished.

Dr Ciara Kelly, medical expert for the hugely popular Operation Transformation on RTE (which starts again in January), said that rapid weight loss or gain in these kind of extremes isn't good.

If you lose weight too quickly, she said, "initially it leads to poor concentration and feeling generally unwell. If you go into starvation mode, the body goes into crisis and begins breaking itself down."

In the long term, this kind of extreme dieting can result in physical fatigue, malnutrition, dehydration, constipation, muscle atrophy, depression, and a decreased sex drive and can be a contributor to future ailments.

Putting on large amounts of weight quickly can be just as dangerous. Dr Kelly said, "If you are forcing your body to gain weight like this, you're likely to be consuming 3,000-4,000 calories a day, with a lot of fat and sugar. It puts strain on the heart and kidneys and leads to high cholesterol." Over time this kind of diet can cause serious damage to a person's cardiovascular system.

Despite piling on the pounds for the first two installments of the Bridget Jones franchise, Renee Zellweger is refusing to do it again. The actress said, "I had a panic attack with all the specialists talking about how bad this is for you long term, putting on that much weight in short periods of time, and they're all saying, 'You must stop this now or you're going to die.'"

Also in the news recently, Tom Hanks revealed, in an interview with David Letterman, that he has been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Medical experts have suggested that this may be the result of his huge swings in weight for movies like Philadelphia and Cast Away.

McConaughey has said that he wasn't concerned about

the potential risk to his health and that he felt energetic throughout the whole experience. He is likely to be more concerned with the eagerly anticipated Oscars nominations, which will be announced on January 16. If he receives the critical acclaim he is hoping to get for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club, then he may not care about looking older. He's tired of being a pin-up and is eager to show the world that he is more than just a pretty face.

Irish Independent

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