Broken Ribs, Exploded Discs and Gunshot Wounds: Actors on How Much They’ve Suffered for the Craft
The Hollywood Reporter discovered that Colin Farrell put up with heart palpitations, David Arquette got shot in the leg, Joshua Jackson's disc exploded, Charlie Hunnam battled dengue fever and Betty Gilpin got a concussion, to name but a few.
Fame is far from the only occupational hazard in Hollywood.
Lately, it seems there’s a new headline every week detailing the varying degrees actors have suffered for the craft — everything from the psychological torture of getting in character to broken limbs or back injuries while filming and even the mental gymnastics required to decompress from a difficult role. Or, simply fainting while watching another actor suffer.
After the first public showing in New York of A24’s Beau Is Afraid, auteur Ari Aster admitted during a Q&A that Joaquin Phoenix passed out during a scene in which his title character was not in front of cameras but rather just present to help co-star Patti LuPone through her own intense scene. “All of a sudden, he fell out of frame,” Aster recalled. “I knew it was bad because he was letting people touch him and people were tending to him.”
Aster’s films seem to be particularly intense. Florence Pugh recently said she “most definitely” abused herself while filming Midsommar by landing in “really shitty situations” mentally as a way to get into character playing an American psychology student who accompanies a toxic boyfriend to Sweden. “I’ve been lucky to have actors who are that committed and who take the work that seriously. It’s always a question of how deep do you want to go,” Aster explained to THR at the L.A. premiere of Beau Is Afraid. “I want to go deep, and it’s been fortuitous that they wanted to go deep.”
The list of examples is also quite long.
After Austin Butler wrapped Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, he went straight to the hospital with excruciating pain. “My body just started shutting down,” the Oscar-nominated actor told British GQ last year of a virus that left him bedridden for a week. Lady Gaga suffered “psychological difficulties” and battled a swarm of bees to play Patrizia Reggiani for Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci. Her co-star Jared Leto got the prosthetic treatment to play designer Paolo Gucci, but years ago, he literally packed on the pounds to play Mark David Chapman in 2007’s Chapter 27. The decision, which led to gaining 67 pounds, resulted in a gout diagnosis.
During a SXSW premiere event, Beef stars Ali Wong and Steven Yeun confirmed that the road rage-inspired series inspired identical health woes. “Steven and I both broke out in hives after the show,” Wong revealed. “Mine was on my face. His was all over his body because he’s weak like that.” Getting strong and über-ripped for 2017’s Baywatch had harmful consequences for Zac Efron. “I started to develop insomnia and I fell into a pretty bad depression, for a long time,” Efron told Men’s Health. “I had a really hard time recentering. Ultimately, they chalked it up to taking way too many diuretics for way too long, and it messed something up.” And Oscar winner Jessica Chastain got so roughed up while filming the female-led action thriller 355 that she ended up taking a trip to the hospital to check out a head injury. Oscar nominee Ana de Armas also recently recounted her aches and pains from filming the John Wick spinoff Ballerina: “My body, my back, everything hurts. I’m sore, I’m bruised.”
Ouch! They’re not the only ones with battle scars from the acting biz. The Hollywood Reporter has been polling actors for months at red carpet events, searching for more examples by asking the same question: What’s the most you’ve ever suffered — physically, emotionally or spiritually — to get in character? Below are those answers.
“Absolutely the most I’ve ever suffered was for What’s Love Got to Do With It. It was all those things — physically, emotionally, spiritually. I was thinking about it earlier today because it’s been 30 years and nothing has been as difficult. I would work out for two hours, dance for 10, and I literally could not sit down to leisurely eat a meal because there was always more work to do, more to learn, more to accomplish, all in a short period of time. It called on my strength, perseverance, patience to go, go, go, go, go. I had to remember that it wasn’t about winning every battle, it was about winning the war.”
“I did a thing called The North Water that I think aired on AMC+. Nobody saw it, but it was directed by an extraordinary writer and filmmaker Andrew Haigh, who did an extraordinary job with it. It had Jack O’Connell in it, and he’s brilliant, and Sam Spruell, Stephen Graham, Tom Courtenay, just a bunch of great actors. Real legends. I put on a pile of weight for it — which I won’t be doing ever again. That was the hardest I’ve ever pushed myself physically. It gave me all sorts of heart palpitations, swollen feet, all fucking weird stuff. I really won’t be doing that again, to be honest with you. But I never lose sight of what a fortunate position I’m in to be able to make a living telling stories. You know, that’s it. It’s an incredible job that I get to share with other people. In a world that’s as fractured as it is, we share a sense of common purpose on a film set. You don’t walk on set and hear ‘The hills are alive with the sound of music’; they can be very tense places. But there’s a sense of togetherness that’s awesome to experience.”
“A disc in my back exploded after finishing Dr. Death. I think it’s because I was so stressed out for so long, living in that ugly place. I couldn’t walk for six weeks. I also went from 160 pounds to 190 pounds over the course of that show to gain some of the weight as the character does on his journey, and that’s really not very good for your body. But also carrying that kind of stress and anxiety around all the time is also not good for you. When I was doing Children of a Lesser God, I lost a lot of weight and got down to 155 pounds because the performance was so physically intense and demanding. I used to not recognize this as much as I do now, but the emotional tax can be even higher than the physical tax. My life is different now because I have a child, but I used to be able to go away some place and be off the beaten path for a while to help purge myself of an experience and that helped.”
“When I was in India [filming Shantaram], I got a bacterial gut infection, a viral gut infection, an acute respiratory infection. I had conjunctivitis in both eyes, an ear infection and dengue fever from a mosquito bite. I finished doing the Zack Snyder film [Rebel Moon] and got injured again. I have a totally exploded S1 and S2 that are torn wide open, a hundred percent dehydrated. It’s going to take two years to heal and I have a 40 percent tear on the ligament on the right side that holds my spinal column in place. [The injury] happened during prep because I was training really hard because the part has some big, physical requirements. I had lost a lot of weight and not been training for a few years during COVID. So when I started really getting back into an aggressive regimen, I wasn’t listening to my body and giving myself enough time to rest while trying to get as big as I could as quickly as I could. That ended up destroying my back. But, the show must go on. I am getting to a point where I’m less tolerant of getting injured and more eager to try and figure out ways to avoid that and mitigate that moving forward. But the intrepid nature of these experiences go hand in hand with the stories that I’m drawn to, so it kind of goes with the territory.”
“I found out about Everything Everywhere All at Once in 2019, and we filmed early 2020. That whole year, I went from doing eight shows a week in a musical called Be More Chill while shooting The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Mondays straight into working on the movie. That year was probably one that I pushed myself the most. I really had to bend over backwards over and over again to universe jump into these different characters. I was so exhausted and this is TMI — I don’t even know if I should be saying this — but I was so physically active on Broadway doing eight shows a week that I stopped having my period. It was kind of insane. I would skip my period and then on the day after I filmed Maisel, I would start again. My body was holding on to the stress and fatigue in a real way, and I was not taking care of myself in the way that I should have been.”
“Jesus, to play [David Koresh], a cult leader, in Waco, that was fucking brutal. That ended with me in counseling. It was just the darkest of days. I think it was six months of prep to get into a mindset that you’re not too pumped to be in. It all ends up taking a toll on you after nine months of doing that. I also did therapy after The Bang Bang Club, which is the true story of war photographers. The older you get and the more you know yourself, your craft and your process, it’s not like it is at the beginning when it’s no joke. You don’t really have a way out where you can figure it all out. It requires that you be smart about it and talk it out.”
“I’ve done crazy, extreme things. One time, I was auditioning for a movie where my character was going to be stuck in a prison cell in another country, getting tortured all the time. To prepare, I slept in my shed for four days. I asked my wife at the time to just bring food out at certain times. I wanted to feel that sense of loneliness and complete isolation. I had nothing in there with me, no phone, no TV, nothing at all. I was going insane. I didn’t know if it was day or night because it was a tool shed. I probably could have just ‘acted’ the part but I really wanted to know what it felt like to experience that so I could bring it to the audition because it was a character who was going mad. I went straight from the shed to the audition and I didn’t get the part but I do feel like it helped inform the performance. It would’ve been nice to get that part but I don’t regret doing that. It’s all part of the process.”
“I did a movie years ago where I played a transsexual. Entering that world was very strange because I really became somebody else for two months. I stayed in the part the entire time. Physically, it was very hard because I had a posture that I was holding every single day for 15 hours a day for two months and there were times when I couldn’t even walk because I was hurting myself just to be as beautiful as I could.”
“My very first feature was an indie that never came out that starred Gina Rodriguez and all these great actors. I played a dancer and I had three weeks of 10-hour rehearsal days. It was the strongest I’ve ever been. The day we shot a big dance number was a 12-hour day, and I had to keep my body warm the whole day. That was the hardest thing I’ve physically ever done. It was so empowering and I was so proud of myself after finishing the movie, but by the end, I fainted. I was just pushing myself too hard and and completely exhausted that I just took a drink of water and went down. The doctor told me, ‘You’re just exhausted.’ I was like, wow, like a real Hollywood actress.”
“Those two years [featured in You Cannot Kill David Arquette] were so painful. I was wrestling with two broken ribs and that’s one of the most painful things I have ever experienced. I also got shot in the leg while filming 3000 Miles to Graceland. A wall exploded and took out a chunk of my leg while we were shooting up a casino. It’s a big chunk and it never healed very nicely. It’s crazy but also battle wounds like that happen. You have to put up with a lot of stuff. It’s all still part of an amazing adventure and it’s like a lot of things, you have to have patience and find the calm and safety and remember to always keep it light and find the humor, you know what I mean?”
“When I did Hedda Gabler, I broke three ribs, I lost a tooth. And when I played Blanche DuBois [in A Streetcar Named Desire], I broke a finger. Also, when I did Julius Caesar, I lost a tooth. Theater takes my bones. It’s just the price you pay. Acting is a full contact sport and a full-body experience.”
“I went to lengths to play Moe in The Three Stooges. It took six months to get that job. I auditioned more than 14 times, and every time I went, I never went out of character. To make me look like Moe, I hired Christien Tinsley’s team, they did The Passion of the Christ. I wanted to get the part so badly that I paid for every single solitary time that I got into that makeup. Then, when we were actually performing in Stooges, I dislocated my shoulder during a scene. I also broke two fingers during another scene. I just kept going. When I did The Full Monty on Broadway, I played Ethan Girard, the guy who thought he could run up the wall like Donald O’Connor, every night for eight shows a week. I would land on my wrist and I’ve broken fingers and broken wrists. But, you know, I had to keep doing the show because I loved it and needed to get paid.”
“I mean, I got a concussion on GLOW, but I think that just hearing actors talk about how hard the job is or how much they have suffered is suffering in itself. So I won’t make you suffer.”