Play a real person + disability/illness + change in physical appearance = OSCAR SUCCESS
Almost one in five Oscar wins for Best-Actor/Actress have been awarded to those playing a character based on a real person. Colin Firth as stammering George VI (2011), Forest Whitaker as dictator Idi Amin (2007), Marion Cotillard as troubled singer Edith Piaf (2007), and Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II (2006).
If you can’t bag a biopic role, how about a bit of method acting and heart-wrenching reality? A total of 16% of winners, both male and female, were awarded for portrayals of physical disability or mental illness. Dustin Hoffman won Best Actor in 1988 for his role in 'Rain Man', having reportedly spent a year hanging out with young autistic men and their families. Daniel Day-Lewis won Best Actor in 1989 as cerebral palsy sufferer and artist Christy Brown in 'My Left Foot'. Supposedly Day-Lewis formed lasting friendships with several disabled people prior to filming; when on set he’d refuse to come out of character between takes, remaining in his wheelchair to understand the permanence of the illness.
The all-seeing and all-knowing Tom Hanks figured out the key to Oscar success early in his career. His role as HIV-positive attorney in ‘Philadelphia’ (1994) and his depiction of slow-witted ‘Forrest Gump’ won him back-to-back Best Actor awards.
Al Pacino was nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor seven times before finally figuring out the winning formula and taking a role as a blind army lieutenant colonel in ‘Scent of a Woman’; the film behind his 1992 Best Actor award. This year was no exception with a flurry of talent losing their Oscar win virginity. Julianne Moore won Best Actress for her Alzheimer-stricken character 'Still Alice' and Eddie Redmayne won Best Actor for his portrayal of Stephen Hawkings and his battle with progressive Motor Neuron disease in the 'Theory of Everything'.
If you REALLY want to go that step further, put yourself through grueling physical regimes to really drive home your commitment and dedication as a serious actor. Drastically lose or gain weight, make yourself as ‘ugly’ as you can, deprive yourself of sleep for days, or if you're Shia LaBeouf wear the same pants for weeks – whatever it takes. Robert De Niro is a notable example, gaining an impressive 60 pounds to play Jake La Motta in 'Raging Bull'. His prolific binge-eating bagged him the Best Actor gong in 1981. Charlize Theron, known for her trim figure and good looks, drastically changed her appearance to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003 'Monster'; gaining 30lb and donning either a bare-face or heavy, unflattering make up.
Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos In 'Monster'
94 year-old seasoned actress Maureen O’Hara received an honoury Oscar at this year’s ceremony. From her experience she claims "Hollywood is obsessed with being beautiful and slim, and is inordinately impressed by people who are prepared to look ugly. It is seen as courageous for art. This is particularly true for women."
Piling on the pounds is all very well, but the real Oscar catnip is starving yourself to achieve a gaunt and ghostly look, a process that will also gain you huge press attention. Natalie Portman, though already slim, supposedly danced for EIGHT hours a day to lose 20 pounds for 'Black Swan', a brutal regime that landed her a Best Actress gong in 2011.
As conclusive proof of the Oscar winning formula I present to you, Matthew McConaughey:
McConaughey was the king of the RomCom. No-one would have given him credit for any particularly notable acting skills or definitive character depictions, he was a pretty face with some pretty impressive muscles to match. He needed a role that allowed him to hit his ‘go-to hunk’ label out the park. Cue Dallas Buyers Club. A character based on a real person – check. Blighted by illness – check. Drastic change in physical appearance – check. It’s got it all, how could he not win an Oscar?
The film was based on Texan rodeo-riding electrician Ron Woodruff who was diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and given 30 days to live. McConaughey shed his muscle down to the bone with a weight loss of 3st 7lbs, supposedly through ‘chewing a lot of ice’. Both he and Jared Leto (who also shed weight for his role as a HIV-positive transvestite) won Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively at the 2014 Oscars.
The formula is real.