In the Heart of the Sea features less of Chris Hemsworth than we’ve seen on screen before. He’s in virtually every scene, but for much of the film the usually bulked up Thor star is set adrift in a raft, starving and physically much less imposing than usual.
The movie is an old-fashioned whale of a tale. Literally.
Based on the true story said to have inspired Moby Dick, it’s about whalers battling not only repeated assaults from the one whale who fought back, but also malnourishment and dehydration.
At sea for three months in tiny whaleboats the men are pushed to the edge of sanity, taking drastic steps to survive.
To convincingly play a starving sailor Hemsworth trimmed 33 pounds off his already toned 6’2 3/4” frame.
“My crazy diet would make you pass out from exhaustion,” he said. At certain points he was eating just 500 or 600 calories — that’s less than a combo lunch meal at most fast-food places — in the form of a boiled egg, two crackers and a celery stick a day.
Hemsworth and his underfed cast mates passed away the time with conversations “about our favourite foods and what we would eat when we finished the film.”
The actor says losing that amount of weight isn’t something he’d like to do again, but adds, “by those final sequences when we were supposed to be exhausted and emotional. We were feeling that way off screen too, so it helped.”
Dramatic weight loss isn’t new — actors have been yo-yo dieting for roles for years — but doctors say rapid body mass reduction can lead to malnutrition, maladies like gallstones and worse. In other words, as Christian Bale who dumped 60 pounds for his role in The Machinist says, “It ain’t great for your health.”
Still, actors take on dramatic diets to aid in their dramatic work. Anne Hathaway dropped 25 pounds by food deprivation and exercise to make Les Miserables while Matthew McConaughey survived eating only Diet Coke, egg whites and a piece of chicken a day to play AIDS patient Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club. According to The Playlist he stopped dieting when “people stopped asking if he was all right and started suggesting he seek help.”
Just as common are actors who gain weight. Russell Crowe gained 63 pounds to play a CIA bigwig in Body of Lies, George Clooney gained 35 pounds for Syriana and Renee Zellweger gained 30 pounds for Bridget Jones’s Diary, lost it, only to regain it for the sequel.
Jared Leto who lost 40 pounds to play Rayon in Dallas Buyer’s Club, gained 67 pounds for the film Chapter 27 by drinking melted pints of chocolate Haagen Dazs ice cream mixed with olive oil and soy sauce “to get me bloated even more.”
Why do actors alter their bodies? Some call it dedication while cynics suggest it’s an easy Oscar. Physical transformations (plus acting talent) brought Robert DeNiro, Charlize Theron and McConaughey to the winner’s circle.
But some actors have sworn off manipulating their weight. Jim Carrey turned down a role in the Three Stooges biopic that would have required him to gain 40 to 50 pounds and Tom Hanks blames gaining and losing weight for roles with him developing Type 2 diabetes.
“I’ve talked to a number of actors who have gained weight for roles and — just out of the sheer physical toll on one’s knees and shoulders — no-one wants to do it again,” he told the BBC.
When looking back at great director – actor relationships it’s safe to comment that most often directors typecast their favorite stars time and time again. For example in the twenty or so films John Ford and John Wayne collaborated on the actor was never required to stray too far from his heroic cowboy persona. Martin Scorese and Robert De Niro have shaken things up a bit more in their eight movies together, but their most successful outings have usually involved wise guys and crime. The same can’t be said of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe. Since their first teaming, the sword and sandal epic Gladiator, the pair have made three more films, a romantic comedy called A Good Year, American Gangster, a true life crime drama, and their latest, a contemporary spy thriller titled Body of Lies. It’s a diverse body of work that defies the usual typecasting of actors by directors.
Crowe plays Ed Hoffman, a manipulative CIA puppet master, who sends his top field operative Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) to Jordan to locate a high-ranking terrorist named Al-Saleem. On the ground in the Middle East Ferris is helped in his mission by Hani Salaam (Mark Strong) the head of Jordan’s secret service leading to a cultural, moral and operational battle between the three powerful men.
Based on Washington Post columnist David Ignatius’s 2007 novel Body of Lies the film is an echo of the great political intrigue movies of the Nixon-era like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor. It is essentially a convoluted Cold War story of dishonesty, game playing and loyalty filtered through a post 9/11 global reality. Its plot and deceit machinations are as twisted as a winding mountain road, so step out for a quick trip to the bathroom or to reload on popcorn at your own risk. You could have trouble catching up when you come back. Those willing to follow along, however, will find much here to like.
Key to the film’s success is the performance of Leonardo DiCaprio, the former child star who in recent years has gone from strength to strength. His work here and in movies like Catch Me If You Can and The Aviator is almost enough to make me forgive him for his brief, but indelibly stamped time as Hollywood’s ubiquitous teen matinee idol. As Roger Ferris he convincingly speaks Arabic and has the grit to make the character believable.
Crowe also fares well, although his role is less showy. As the CIA mastermind he is stationed in the US and as such, his role is mostly comprised of barking orders into a cell phone. It’s a challenging part to pull off convincingly and keep entertaining, but Crowe adds some unexpected humor into the generally grim proceedings. In the two or three brief scenes the two actors share they display great chemistry, suggesting that they would make a great pairing in film that gives them more of a chance to play off one another.
Body of Lies features director Scott’s trademarked high visual style, has edge-of-your-seat action scenes and a smarter-than-usual take on the culture of disinformation and ever-shifting alliances that characterizes Middle Eastern covert operations. More interesting than that—and perhaps more surprising, given that it is an American film about the Middle East—it avoids making moral judgments or taking sides, preferring to allow the audience to come to their own conclusions.