In the best of cases, shooting a film is a breeze for actors. But a lot of times — especially for heavy roles — acting can take its toll.
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Here's what 27 different actors have said about some of their most difficult roles and the effects these roles had on them. WARNING: Spoilers ahead!
There are also mentions of sexual assault, eating disorders, and PTSD.
1.One of the most recent examples is Sophie Turner in Game of Thrones. In an interview earlier this year, Turner talked about developing coping mechanisms of having fun between takes so she wouldn't be traumatized.
However, she also said, “I’m sure I’ll exhibit some symptoms of trauma down the road. At that age, I don’t think I could comprehend a lot of the scene matter.” Turner was 15 when she was cast in the series. She ended up having to film some of the most traumatic scenes of the series, including her character being assaulted.
2.An older example is Tom Hanks in Cast Away. In the film, Hanks played a man stuck on a deserted island. The character gets so desperate for companionship that he names a volleyball "Wilson" and speaks to him.
In a recent interview with Graham Bensinger, Hanks agreed that he went "nuts" by the end of filming. "When Wilson was born, I had dialogue with him, and I heard his dialogue in my head. I did go crazy 'cause I never had a day off. I never had a shot off; I was never off camera for anything. It was...the whole movie was like, point and shoot. I don't even recall hearing 'Action' and 'Cut.'"
3.Daniel Day-Lewis shocked the world when he announced his retirement from acting in 2017. His final film, Phantom Thread, had reportedly engulfed him in "such a depression that he would be prompted to publicly announce his retirement from acting," according to W Magazine.
"Paul [the film's director] and I laughed a lot before we made the movie. And then we stopped laughing because we were both overwhelmed by a sense of sadness," Day-Lewis told the magazine. "That took us by surprise: We didn’t realize what we had given birth to. It was hard to live with. And still is.”
4.Leonardo DiCaprio called filming Shutter Island "traumatic," calling it "one of the most intense, hardcore filming experiences I’ve ever had as we explored what the mentally ill had to face in the days when mental hospitals were called insane asylums. ... I went to places and unearthed some things that I didn’t think I was capable of. It was like an emotional layer cake that just kept getting deeper and deeper.”
DiCaprio continued, “It took me back to the one time I really remembered my dreams, because I usually don’t. But when I used a nicotine patch when I was trying to quit smoking, I did have bloodcurdling nightmares of mass murders, and I woke up in the middle of the night and had to take the patches off. I guess I had moments like that in the film.”
5.For her role in House of Gucci, Lady Gaga stayed in character for nine months. She also used her own history of trauma in the role, to a point where her own experiences began to blur with her character's. “I was falling apart as [Patrizia] fell apart. When I say that I didn’t break character, some of it was not by choice.”
Director Ridley Scott was concerned she was "traumatizing herself," but Gaga replied, "I already have. I’ve already been through this anyway. I might as well give it to you." She said she had to have a psychiatric nurse with her for the end of filming, saying that was "safer" for her and that she "brought the darkness with me home because [Patrizia's] life was dark.”
6.Although Hannah Montana was a family-friendly show, starring in it gave Miley Cyrus an "identity crisis," she said. "I had gone from being a character almost as often as I was myself. And actually, the concept of the show is that when you're this character, when you have this alter ego, you're valuable. You've got millions of fans, you're the biggest star in the world. And then the concept was that when I looked like myself, when I didn't have the wig on anymore, no one cared about me, I wasn't a star anymore. So that was drilled into my head," Cyrus explained.
"I really had to break that. And I think that's maybe why I almost created a characterized version of myself at times, in the way of being aware of how other people see me. I never created a character where it wasn't me, but I was aware of how people saw me, and I maybe played into it a little bit," Cyrus continued, speaking of her persona after completing the show.
7.When Zac Efron played serial killer Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, he had difficulty separating himself from the role when he would go home after filming. "It was almost impossible. I’d like to say that I did it successfully, but I couldn't," he told the Daily Mail.
8.Costar Lily Collins also had difficulty with her role in the film as Bundy's girlfriend Elizabeth, but mostly during preparation for the movie rather than during filming. "I actually had an awful time in prep for it," she said. "I woke up every single night at 3 or 4 a.m. for a month. I was woken up with visions of destruction around rooms, logs, and broken glass."
9.Joaquin Phoenix had to lose 52 pounds to appear emaciated in order to play Arthur Fleck in the film Joker, and said the concentration on his weight caused him to develop disordered thinking.
"Once you reach the target weight, everything changes. Like, so much of what's difficult is waking up every day and being obsessed over like 0.3 pounds. Right? And you really develop, like, a disorder." He also said losing that much weight "affects your psychology. You start to go mad."
10.When Michael B. Jordan played the villain Killmonger in Black Panther, he said he isolated himself and "did whatever [he] felt [he] needed to do" to prepare for the role, but didn't have an exit plan.
Afterward, he said it caught up with him and he found it hard to go back to his normal life and self. "Readjusting to people caring about me, getting that love that I shut out," he said. "I shut out love, I didn't want love. I wanted to be in this lonely place as long as I could." He decided to go to therapy, which he said helped immensely. "Everyone needs to unpack and talk.”
11.Kate Winslet won an Oscar for her portrayal of a former Nazi camp worker in The Reader. "I am still coming to terms with the whole experience of having played Hannah. I really, genuinely am," Winslet told HuffPost of playing the role.
"We wrapped on July 12, and I sort of walked away like some car crash victim who somehow hadn't been hurt on the outside, but I felt like I couldn't speak [about it]. It was truly overwhelming. I really went somewhere. I was in some kind of a trance. And I'm still coming to terms with all of it. I'm so blown away by the movie."
12.After filming Black Swan, Natalie Portman said she was physically and emotionally drained: "It was the first time I understood how you could get so wrapped up in a role that it could sort of take you down."
She also said of her weight loss and preparation for the role, "There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die." Later, she'd admit that she "probably should have gone into rehab" after filming, because when she began filming Thor, she was "spent."
13.Alex Wolff told Vice that starring in Hereditary stuck with him. "When I started talking about it, all these flashes with all this disturbing shit I went through sort of came back in a flood. It kept me up at night, to where I got into a habit of emotional masochism to the point of just trying to take in every negative feeling I could draw from. I forced it upon myself rather than the opposite of what you’d usually do in life, which is sit on the heater until it starts to burn, and you jump up immediately," he said.
"I had to do the exact opposite of that and absorb the pain and let it burn," Wolff continued. "It’s a reverse emotional thing. It’s hard to describe eloquently; it’s just a feeling. I don’t think you can go through something like this and not have some sort of PTSD afterward."
14.The infamous sexual assault scene of Ned Beatty's character, Bobby, in Deliverance, in which one of the perpetrators says, "Squeal like a pig," haunted Beatty for many years just from people continually shouting the phrase at him.
Afterward, Chris Dickey, the son of the film's writer, James Dickey, said that "Ned [Beatty] tried to snap back out of character, to relax. But it wasn’t working. And that day, and for the rest of the time he was in north Georgia, he seemed to have changed, as if whatever sadness or insecurity he’d covered up before as a man, as Ned Beatty, just couldn’t be contained anymore.” However, Beatty wrote that he was "proud" of being a part of the story — he even wrote an op-ed about the experience and men's reactions to rape victims.
15.Janet Leigh remained forever scarred by the famous Psycho scene in which her character, Marion, is stabbed to death in the shower. In fact, she stopped taking showers entirely, opting for baths instead.
And if that wasn't possible, "I make sure the doors and windows of the house are locked. I also leave the bathroom door open and shower curtain open. I’m always facing the door, watching, no matter where the showerhead is," Leigh said.
16.Anne Hathaway, who starred as Fantine in Les Misérables — a role for which she won an Oscar — called filming the role (and the extreme weight loss for it) "a break with reality."
"I was in such a state of deprivation — physical and emotional. When I got home, I couldn't react to the chaos of the world without being overwhelmed. It took me weeks till I felt like myself again," she continued.
17.Bill Skarsgård compared played horror villain Pennywise in It (chapters One and Two) to being in a destructive relationship. He was happy to let go of the character after filming, but also described being home afterward and having "strange and vivid Pennywise dreams" every night.
18.After first appearing as Jen on Dead to Me, Christina Applegate revealed that the show, which deals with grief and murder, caused her to start going to therapy, especially as it brought up her own experiences with loss.
“It tapped into some stuff that I had to face. It was cathartic. I don’t know if [it was] therapeutic. ... Did I start therapy after the show? Yes, absolutely," Applegate said.
19.Dakota Johnson said starring as Suzy in Suspiria "fucked me up so much that I had to go to therapy," describing harsh shooting conditions in a mountaintop abandoned hotel.
She later said, “I find sometimes when I work on a project and — I don’t have any shame in this — I’m a very porous person and I absorb a lot of people’s feelings. When you’re working sometimes with dark subject matter, it can stay with you, and then to talk to somebody really nice about it afterwards is a really nice way to move on from the project."
20.Mandy Patinkin memorably left his role as Jason Gideon on Criminal Minds because he didn't like the content of the show. He said, "I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality.”
21.Bob Hoskins starred as Eddie in the hybrid live-action–animated film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Acting alongside cartoon characters had a dangerous effect, as he had "trained" himself to hallucinate in order to act off of the imaginary creatures.
"In the end, it screwed up my brain,” he said. “I would be sitting, talking normally, and suddenly a weasel would creep out of the wall at me.” He ended up not acting for a year afterward, after doctors told him to quit acting for a few months.
22.Kyle Richards was only 8 when she appeared as Lindsey in Halloween. For Richards, it wasn't filming the movie but, rather, seeing herself in it that had an adverse effect: “I had no idea what I was in for. Seeing it for the first time all pieced together was a very, very different movie. It was just really scary, and I really did sleep with my mom until I was 15 years old after that. I was terrified," she said.
“I think that’s what sealed the deal for me to get out of horror films. After seeing myself in that, I was always thinking there was someone hiding behind the drapes or outside my windows or under my bed, so I would just sleep holding my mom’s arm the entire night,” Richards said.
23.LaKeith Stanfield said he had trouble separating his emotions from his character's when he played Bill in Judas and the Black Messiah, pointing out a poisoning scene in which he felt as if he was actually poisoning Fred Hampton.
“Sometimes your body thinks that’s real, everything you’re putting it through. It’s no wonder I’ve been feeling so stressed out and having panic attacks. I realized going forward, before I step into something like that again, maybe have a therapist," he said.
24.Adrien Brody played Holocaust survivor Władysław Szpilman in The Pianist. After spending months preparing by practicing piano four hours a day, selling all of his belongings, starving himself, and reading Szpilman's memoirs to immerse himself in the Holocaust, Brody said it took him over six months after the film to "settle back into things."
He even said that "there were times when I was concerned that I might not be able to get out of it sane, because I didn't realize how far it had taken me."
25.Jake Gyllenhaal had to lose 30 pounds to play Lou in Nightcrawler. He said, "Physically, it showed itself, but chemically and mentally, I think it was even a more fascinating journey. It became a struggle for me.” He also said that the character still appears in his nightmares, though he later said that he didn't believe in nightmares, and dreams are just ways to communicate with yourself.
26.Jim Carrey went full Method for his role as eccentric comedian Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, so much so that he struggled to get back to himself after filming.
“I was looking back at myself and going, What the hell do I believe?” he said. “That was a process.” However, he said it also helped him shed expectations of who he was supposed to be in a sort of "death."
27.And finally, Penn Badgley said that he was "not psyched" to be playing the "irredeemable" character Joe on You, calling it "routinely exhausting" and something he struggles with. However, he also called it a "deep psychological exploration" for him.
What actors can you think of who struggled to shake certain characters or found that the characters affected them long after they were done playing them? Let us know in the comments!
The National Eating Disorders Association helpline is 1-800-931-2237; for 24/7 crisis support, text “NEDA” to 741741. The National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline is 1-888-950-6264 (NAMI) and provides information and referral services; GoodTherapy.org is an association of mental health professionals from more than 25 countries who support efforts to reduce harm in therapy. And finally, if you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE, which routes the caller to their nearest sexual assault service provider. You can also search for your local center here.