Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Billy Hope in Southpaw, now on DVD.
Southpaw stars Jake Gyllenhaal, but it would be entirely reasonable if audiences did not recognize the actor, who gained a massive amount of muscle so that he would be convincing as a brutish boxer. It is a particularly noteworthy feat, considering Gyllenhaal’s previous film, Nightcrawler, showed the often-muscular actor with a wiry frame that made the heartthrob appear as creepy and untrustworthy as the character could actually be.
With these physical alterations, Gyllenhaal joins a long line of actors who make drastic changes to their bodies in order to inhabit new roles. As shocking as Gyllenhaal’s transformation seems, even it pales in comparison to the drastic modifications some actors do to their body for their craft.
The godfather of this is, quite appropriately, Robert De Niro. For his Martin Scorsese classic Raging Bull, De Niro had to go from fighting shape as a boxer to a flabby, overweight appearance so that he could portray Jake LaMotta in his retirement years. He was rewarded an Oscar for his efforts.
Charlize Theron was also awarded an Academy Award for a similar feat in Monster. To play serial killer and prostitute Aileen Wuornos, the former model gained 30 pounds.
More recently, both Natalie Portman and Jared Leto lost extreme amounts of weight off of their already slender frames in order to play a ballet dancer and an AIDS patient, respectively, and both were awarded Oscars. Not every transformation gains similar acclaim, however. Leto gained 50 pounds to play John Lennon’s killer, but given that his co-star in Chapter 27 was Lindsay Lohan, the film was panned.
The reigning king of altering his physical appearance to portray various characters remains Christian Bale, who may have gained and lost more weight than every member of Weight Watchers combined. Before taking over the role of Batman, which required him to have the physique of an Olympic athlete, Bale dieted down to a near skeleton in The Machinist. Between his second and third portrayals of the Caped Crusader, he once again lost weight to play a meth addict in The Fighter. Then after his last turn as Bruce Wayne, he played a tubby con man in American Hustle. None of these roles were as extreme as The Machinist, but they were more rewarding, earning Bale an Oscar for the first and a nomination for the second.
Gyllenhaal thus finds himself in good company with his well-received performance in Southpaw. This is the type of hard work that pays off with acclaim and little gold statues. Even if Gyllenhaal gets passed over as he was last year for Nightcrawler, he will still be able to have something that the actor may have not had in years: carbohydrates.
Southpaw is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.