Hollywood's Extreme Transformations: Shape shifters
Actress Mila Kunis has revealed that the 1,200-calorie- a-day diet for 'Black Swan' changed her body forever. Ed Power looks at Hollywood's extreme transformations
The bonkers ballet movie 'Black Swan' was one of 2010's surprise hits. But if director Darren Aronofsky is considering a sequel, he'll have a job cajoling actress Mila Kunis into reprising her role as a super-bitchy dancer.
Speaking recently, Mila revealed that the nose-bleed weight loss required by the part has left a permanent mark on her body.
"My shape is different," she complained. "When I got down to [6.7 stone] I was muscles, like a little brick house, but skin and bones.
"When I gained it back, it went to completely different areas. I'd be happy if my ass got bigger. All the weight that left my chest went to my side hip, my stomach."
Mila is not the first A-lister to drastically transform her appearance for a film.
She is, on the other hand, one of the few to break Hollywood's culture of omerta by admitting crash dieting isn't exactly a romp through the bluebells.
Her frankness over the issue has raised fresh questions about the industry's attitude to physical appearance and the extremes to which actors are expected to go to earn their (admittedly whopping) pay cheques.
She lost weight in the traditional Tinseltown fashion, by virtually renouncing eating and embarking on a punishing fitness regime to shed the near two stone the 'Black Swan' part demanded.
For virtually six months she lived on almost nothing but fruit and vegetables, restricting herself to 1,200 calories a day (the average recommended daily calorie intake is 2000-2,500 a day, depending on age, weight and gender).
"I could eat anything that fit into the palm of my hand -- that was it," she said.
"I'm a huge foodie, I love food," Mila added. "But when people say, 'I can't lose weight', no no no, you can. Your body can do everything and anything, you just have to want to do it."
She observed an excruciating exercise schedule, attending four-hour ballet sessions Monday to Friday. In addition, she worked with a a personal trainer five hours a day for seven days a week.
"It was the most intense training I've ever had in my life, and probably will have for anything," she reflected. "I looked like Gollum."
However, Mila's efforts paled compared to the star of 'Black Swan' Natalie Portman.
Waifish to begin with, in the months before shooting, Natalie spent eight hours a day swimming, cross training and practising ballet, in addition to radically condensing her meal sizes.
So quickly did the pounds evaporate that, even in a Hollywood context, the extent of her emaciation started to cause concern.
Darren Aronofsky went so far as to fill her trailer with food in order to encourage her to put some weight back on.
"I would look in the mirror and I was like, 'Oh my God!'... I had no shape, no boobs, no ass," Natalie later confessed.
"All you saw was bone... In real life, I looked disgusting."
Professional vanity, as well as pressure to be skinny, may explain stars' readiness to change the way they look in order to more convincingly inhabit a character.
The gold standard is Robert De Niro, who slimmed down and then bulked up while making the 1980 boxing biopic 'Raging Bull'.
Ever since, it has been received wisdom that the mark of a world-class -- and Oscar-worthy -- leading man or lady is their willingness to go to extremes for their craft.
The modern exemplar of this belief is Christian Bale, whose weight yo-yos so dramatically between parts it is sometimes difficult to believe you are watching the same actor.
He gained pecs and a six pack to play the titular superhero in 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight', then reduced himself almost literally to skin and bones for 'The Machinist' and last year's 'The Fighter'.
The lengths he is prepared to go are astonishing. For 'The Fighter', he ran 13 miles each day, with the aim of racking up a 4,000-calorie deficit for every 24-hour period.
By the end, he had rid himself of four stone -- one-third of his start weight. "I was just running like crazy," he reported.
"I could run four hours on and I felt really healthy."
Nearly as striking was rapper 50 Cent's dramatic weight loss for 'Things Fall Apart', in which he was cast as an American football star with terminal with cancer.
Famed for his ripped physique -- and his love of getting his top off -- Fiddy, aka Curtis Jackson, was unrecognisable after a nine-week 'liquid diet' regime that saw him downsize from 15 stone to 11.
So jarring was the change that pictures of the underfed Curtis were assumed to be an internet hoax.
Another fan of the no-solids regime is Beyonce who, not exactly plus-size to begin with, rid herself of several stone by subsisting on maple syrup and lemon juice in order to play singer Deena Jones in 2006 Motown movie 'Dreamgirls'.
"The director actually kept telling me to 'eat, eat, eat' for continuity, but I wanted to go all the way," she reflected later.
"I was inspired by Tom Hanks. He did it all the way [in 'Castaway'], so I said, I can do it all the way."
Sometimes a part can require an actor to gain weight. Portraying Bill Clinton in TV movie 'The Special Relationship', Dennis Quaid binged on fast food.
"I could have worn a suit to enhance my weight, but I didn't want to go that route. I did it the way he [Clinton] did: I went to McDonald's every day ... You feel like a baby on a feeding schedule."
For 2009's 'The Informant!', Matt Damon had to ditch his movie-hunk physique and pass for a schlubby office worker.
As with Dennis Quaid, his solution was beautifully simple: he spent all his spare time chomping on Big Macs.
"I started eating like crazy and drinking dark beer," he said. "Between meals on set, I'd eat a No 1 Value Meal at McDonald's and then Doritos on top of it. It was absolute heaven.
"It was very, very fun, probably the funnest time I had working because I didn't have to go to the gym after work and I just ate everything I could see," he added.
Matt Damon makes pigging out sound a hoot. However, rapid weight gain or loss can have a serious impact on your health.
This is one the reasons Renee Zellweger is believed to be reluctant to make a third Bridget Jones film.
Having gone from a size four to 14 -- and back again -- for the first two instalments, she has wondered if she has it in her to start all over again.
You can only sympathise. To fill Bridget Jones's plus-sized jeans, she gobbled six pizzas, fistfuls of sweets and lashings of junk food, in addition to giving up her exercise regime.
Afterwards, she returned to super-skinny by subsisting on tuna, salads and vegetables and spending four hours with a personal trainer every day.
Somewhere along the way, it dawned on her that all of this might not be good for her.
"Crash dieting is never a good idea physically or emotionally," agrees nutritionist Aveen Bannon.
"Our bodies are basically made up of bone, water, fat and muscle," Aveen explains. "If you drastically reduce your calorie intake, you can lose all of these and it is never a good idea to lose muscle or bone mass.
"Likewise, when someone is re-feeding after a drastic weight loss, they need to ensure that they are rebuilding all of these stores too. Any type of weight loss/gain plan should always be done with a balanced diet," she adds.
By shattering the code of silence over the issue, Mila Kunis has arguably articulated a deepening sense among the thespian community that going to extremes to prepare for a role might defeat the purpose of acting in the first place.
"Sometimes it's much easier to try acting," says Patrick Sutton, director of the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin.
"I always tell people, you aren't required to burn your arm in order to make your arm look burned -- or to bruise your soul to make your soul look bruised."