The Darkest Ways Actors Prepared For Roles

For dementedly devoted actors like Daniel Day-Lewis, roles must be explored, understood, and emulated to the utmost, even if that means living like their character prior to filming. Such performers aren't just professional pretenders; they're psychological proctologists plumbing the deepest, dirtiest recesses of whatever part they play. In certain circumstances, that seems pretty harmless. Preparing to play Santa in a movie would probably be a blast for an actor who doesn't mind chimney burns or cookie-induced obesity.

Things get much trickier when a role involves disturbing or dastardly behavior. Heath Ledger, for instance, holed himself up in a hotel room for weeks so he could access his inner psychopath while preparing to play the Joker in The Dark Knight. It was easily the darkest thing about that movie. Similarly, these actors went to unsettling lengths to capture the essence of a character, irrefutably proving that sometimes the method to acting is madness.

Joel Kinnaman watched videos of torture and beheadings

During the making of Suicide Squad, Jared Leto hogged headlines by sending his co-stars a dead pig, a live rat, butt beads, and (perhaps most disturbingly) used condoms. It was an obvious attempt to craft an engaging and original post-Ledger Joker. Predictably, the media ate it up. However, in their haste to talk about animals and booty balls, reporters underemphasized the over-the-top efforts of Leto's co-star Joel Kinnaman.

While Leto took the easy route of freaking others out, Joel Kinnaman –- who plays field leader Rick Flag –- subjected himself to a grueling exercise regimen and gruesome videos to please director David Ayer. Per his interview with Variety as well as the above YouTube clip, Kinnaman trained arduously alongside several ex-service members: "We'd go out in the woods and backpack with 50 pounds. They wanted to drain me physically and deprive me of sleep. For 60 hours we'd be doing these workouts."

When the Seals weren't breaking his body, they were brutalizing his brain. Kinnaman explained: "They'd show me videos of cartel beheadings and torture. The most awful things I've ever seen." Somehow, the lunacy didn't end there. Kinnaman also had to brave an underground maze as part of a six-hour exercise that included staged hostage situations. All for the sake of make-believe battle. How this outrageous undertaking got overshadowed by a few gross gag gifts remains a mystery.

Jared Leto lived on the streets with heroin addicts

Long before Jared Leto morphed into butt bead Joker, he portrayed spindly smack addict Harry Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream. In what's arguably the world's second most traumatic anti-drug PSA (first place goes to co-star Jennifer Connelly's character Marion Silver), Goldfarb eventually loses an arm because of chronic heroin use. The story bares all the subtlety of Mr. Mackey's "drugs are bad" speech from South Park but none of the humor. In short, it's a near-perfect antidote to happiness. The only thing more depressing is how Leto researched his role.

Obviously, Leto didn't prepare for this role by mailing his castmates heroin. He did something even more drastic. As Rolling Stone recounted, Leto lived on the streets of New York for weeks so he could witness the desolation of drug dependency. He lived among and mimicked actual heroin addicts, even injecting his arm with water to fit in. That's way more horrifying than anything he did for Suicide Squad.

The bleakness of Leto's endeavor can't be overstated. He surrounded himself with desperate, downtrodden individuals who were systematically killing themselves. In fact, one person seemingly did die, which the star heart-wrenchingly revealed during an ABC interview: "There was one night when a girl overdosed and a few days later, the guy she was with said, 'Remember that girl that OD'd? Well, she died at the hospital.'" No amount of acting, no matter how inspired, could ever truly capture such a tragedy.

Jamie Dornan briefly stalked a woman

Most people know Jamie Dornan for his portrayal of sexual sadist Christian Grey in the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. But Dornan is good for more than whipping women on screen; in the U.K. TV drama The Fall, Dornan also strangles them to death. Per The Telegraph, in the series Dornan plays the role of Paul Spector, a walking nightmare with a dreamy smile. A former model, Spector gets a carnal kick out of killing and as the BBC detailed, "stalks his victims in and around Belfast" as part of his M.O.

Thankfully, hunky insanity didn't come naturally to Dornan. To get into the headspace of a homicidal head case, he went on a short stalking expedition. In an interview with the LA Times, Dornan hesitantly recounted his outing after half-joking about its potential illegality: "Can we get arrested for this? Hold on ... this is a really bad reveal: I, like, followed a woman off the train one day to see what it felt like to pursue someone like that."

An obviously ashamed Dornan downplayed his behavior as "kind of half-hearted," noting that he only trailed his target "around a couple of street corners" before wondering what the [expletive] he was doing. Despite Dornan's own misgivings, he also derived a degree of satisfaction. "It felt kind of exciting, in a really sort of dirty way," he admitted. Wow, what an uncomfortable takeaway.

Tom Hiddleston sat in on an autopsy

Tom Hiddleston has tackled some pretty memorable roles over the years. He was Loki in Thor, Loki in The Avengers, Loki in sequels to both of those movies, and the voice of Loki in the video game Thor: God of Thunder. He also did voice work for an animated movie called The Pirate Fairy, which sounds fun. Markedly less fun was how Hiddleston prepped to play physiologist Robert Laing in High-Rise.

A cinematic retelling of the eponymous 1975 novel, High-Rise is a dystopian take on class conflict that takes place in a behemoth apartment complex. Between the upper and lower echelons of the building sits Robert Laing. The Telegraph described Laing as a "sleek bachelor hero" whose suaveness subsides as the complex falls into disrepair and the tenants below revolt in riotous fashion. As the contained society around him crumbles, the physiologist becomes increasingly unhinged.

That sounds pretty surreal, but weirdest scene happened off-screen. To research his role, Hiddleston shadowed a forensic pathologist and sat in on an autopsy. As he explained to The Hollywood Reporter, "It's unlike anything I've ever done, to see a human body cut open." Unfortunately, Hiddleston's stomach wasn't very gung-ho about the idea. The actor would later tell The Telegraph: "I couldn't handle it. What overwhelmed me was the smell. I had to go outside and vomit." But Hiddleston bucked up after upchucking and continued watching the corpse carving, which he ultimately found "fascinating."

Scott Haze lived in caves and carried around a rifle

James Franco loves him some Scott Haze. The men are such close friends and collaborators that Gawker once salaciously suggested they were sleeping together. That's a steep leap, which Franco rightfully mocked in 2014 before plugging the film Child of God, which stars Haze and was directed by Franco.

Adapted from the 1973 novel by Cormac McCarthy, Child of God tracks the hellish transformation of backwoods recluse Lester Ballard (played by Haze) as he grapples with solitude and his own failing sanity. During his psychological disintegration, Ballard inhabits underground caves which he decorates with stuffed animals and the corpses of people he's shot. And in case that doesn't trip the crazy alarm, he's also into necrophilia.

After reading McCarthy's book, it dawned on Haze that becoming Ballard onscreen would take some work. As he explained to The Daily Beast, everything from Ballard's background to his accent (and presumably the murder) felt foreign. So he packed up and relocated to Tennessee for a crash course on craziness. As Haze disconcertingly put it, "I did everything Lester did in the novel."

That statement probably warrants some clarification. Haze didn't start love-hugging corpses or shooting people. Rather, he got to know Ballard's living situation "on an intimate level" by spending almost four months living alone in caves and a cabin with nothing but a rifle and an iPod as entertainment. He also subsisted exclusively on a diet of fish, apples, and hopefully not humans.

Scott Glenn listened to teens getting tortured

Silence of the Lambs boasted two of cinema's most chilling villains: avowed lotion lover Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) and classy cannibal Hannibal Lecter (Sir Anthony Hopkins). Surprisingly, we aren't going to talk about either of them. Instead, we'll spotlight the psychological sacrifices of actor Scott Glenn, who played FBI agent Jack Crawford.

Crawford's an astute but unassuming figure who's seen scenes that exceed your wildest nightmares. In the film he enlists his mentee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to convince the cannibal to help catch the Buffalo. Although not the main protagonist, Crawford's character was crucial to the tone and believability of the film. Luckily, real-life Special Agent John Douglas was there to share his wisdom on the ways of serial killers.

Glenn, along with film director Jonathan Demme and Silence of the Lambs author Thomas Harris, basically attended serial killer school at an FBI training center in Quantico, Virginia. In addition to learning about guns and gumshoes, Glenn and Co. became versed in perversion. According to People, Glenn got the worst of it. Douglas felt the actor needed to hear "tapes of teenage girls being tortured in the backseat of a Los Angeles van by a pair of rapist-thrill killers" for the sake of onscreen authenticity. The recordings gave Glenn recurring nightmares and made him rethink his opposition to the death penalty. In his words, "The experience in Quantico changed my mind about that for all time."

Adrian Brody drove himself to depression

If Mel Brooks had directed The Pianist, it might have included ice skating and other wry hijinks. But this movie was Roman Polanski's baby, and that baby made the world cry. Based on the life of Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman, the film features Adrien as Szpilman, who lost people and possessions under Nazi rule. Brody's performance heartache on celluloid, but to pull it off, he had to suffer tremendously off-screen.

Per the BBC, Brody subjected himself to abject deprivation. He sold his car, ditched his apartment, and ceased all communication with friends and loved ones. He then distanced himself from his erstwhile earthly comforts by moving to Europe. All he took with him were two bags and a keyboard. While there, he denied himself food to feel the agony of hunger. At one point the 6-foot-5 Brody weighed a startling 130 pounds.

Brody's severe asceticism affected him before and after the movie. The Daily Beast noted that his girlfriend left him for leaving his life behind. Once the filming ended, the actor was stuck sleeping on friends' furniture while tried to regain normalcy. According to Indie Wire, Brody fell into a year-long depression. He told reporters at a 2017 film festival: "It wasn't just a depression; it was a mourning. I was very disturbed by what I embraced [in making that film], and of the awareness that it opened up in me." Fifteen years after playing the pianist, Brody still bore mental scars. 

Emile Hirsch viewed hundreds of corpses and watched multiple autopsies

Contrary to what the name implies, The Autopsy of Jane Doe doesn't feature a dead female deer named Jane getting turned into coroner's venison. Don't be too disappointed, though. The movie contains plenty of cadaver-carving. Starring Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch (whose last name means "deer" in German), the film focuses on a pair of coroners who are also father and son. Their duo's already macabre line of work takes a turn for the preternaturally terrifying when they try to dissect a deceased damsel on a stormy night.

Hirsch, who plays the son in that pairing, spoke with about how he readied himself for pretend-corpse cutting. According to the actor, he visited the LA County morgue, where he saw "hundreds of bodies." Disconcertingly, he had to waive his right to sue in the event he contracted Ebola or some other ungodly ailment.

The risk of becoming a blood fountain didn't deter Hirsch from sticking around for about a half-dozen autopsies, which he recalled in fairly graphic detail: "I saw an overweight African American woman be chopped into tiny pieces and I saw a homeless white dude be completely gutted and have his brain stem clipped off, stuff where even to this day you know, almost two years later, is still super fresh in my mind." Hirsch further hailed the experience as "strangely life affirming," which makes sense. How could you not appreciate being alive after seeing bodies become literal table scraps?

Marton Csokas visited grisly crime scenes

Marton Csokas' name might not immediately ring bells, but there's a good chance you've seen him on screens big and small. He most notably played Celeborn in the billion-hour-long Lord of the Rings series. He also starred opposite a hairy Jim Carrey in True Crime as a bondage fetishist and book-writer named Kozlow. In a perfect world the next sentence would reference an anecdote about Csokas spending months chained up in a BDSM dungeon to better understand Kozlow. In this world you're going to read about something much worse.

No, Csokas didn't shock Jim Carrey with electric nipple clamps. But he did get a shocking dose of reality while researching his role as the problem-plagued protagonist in a TV miniseries. Per the Sun Star-Times (via Press Reader), the actor portrays the divorced and drug-dependent detective Javier Falcon in Falcon. As he struggles to exorcise his personal demons, Falcon solves crimes that conveniently shed light on his troubled life. (It's like the perfectly timed breakup song that plays when someone gets dumped, but with murder.)

Falcon seems like an easy character to emulate. Just talk to a few cops, do a few drugs, and get a divorce. But Csokas shadowed real homicide detectives who showed him real dead people, including one who "had their head blown off" during a robbery. The actor also witnessed the professionalism it takes to dispassionately study such a scene. The key: seeing bodies as pieces of meat.

Jason Clarke had himself waterboarded

Zero Dark Thirty is the unflinchingly dark account of how Navy Seal Team Six capped Osama bin Laden in the eye. The movie's unapologetic displays of torture became drew copious scorn from critics, who essentially seemed to argue that showing bad things is the same as celebrating them. Maybe that's accurate, maybe it's Maybelline. Either way, those scenes are an aesthetic punch to your un-shot eyes. Those sequences seem even more impactful when you discover that actor Jason Clark got a taste of the torture himself.

In the film, Clarke portrays Dan, a CIA operative who does unspeakable things in the name of national security. As The Guardian elaborated, Dan oversees a detainee "being beaten, waterboarded, sexually humiliated, and, finally, locked in a tiny box." His character exemplifies the concept of kindness-driven cruelty. He harms the few believing it'll help his many countrymen.

Even though Clarke plays the torturer instead of the tortured, he voluntarily underwent waterboarding so he could comprehend what his victim was enduring. In the above clip, he glibly acknowledges giving it "a go." Clarke likened the process to "getting dumped by a big wave" while surfing. But he also admitted that a simulation of simulated drowning can't compare to real simulated drowning. Nonetheless, the fear he felt was very real.

Ben Foster took performance-enhancing drugs

Reductively speaking, Lance Armstrong's life can be summed up with three C's: championships, cancer, and cheating. He may have lived strong, but he biked wrong and made winning into a weakness. In The Program, leading man Ben Foster tries to recreate Armstrong's triumphs and treachery. However, the depicting the price of fame came at a cost.

Foster figured that the only way to give an honest performance was to take performance enhancing drugs. Per the Washington Post, the actor declined to go into detail, but he claimed that the unnamed substances were legal and administered with help from a doctor. Legal or not, that dopey decision "definitely damaged" him, Foster admitted. In an interview with The Guardian's Ryan Gilbey, he further specified that the drugs had mind-altering effects and threw his body out of whack. He also tried to discourage other actors from following in his tire tracks. Unfortunately, he undermines that message in the above video clip by admitting he would dope again if given the chance.

USA Today pointed out that Foster's conduct was strikingly similar to Armstrong's. Rather than advertising his drug use, he hid it from the cast and crew before and during filming. So while Armstrong simply pretended not to take drugs, Foster pretended that he was pretending to take them. That's basically method acting in a nutshell, a nutty attempt to act like someone else while not really acting at all.