Method acting isn’t uncommon in cinema. Indeed, many actors hurl themselves into roles with such aplomb that they almost disappear into them. For the most part, however, they come out the other side unscathed. Still, every now and again, either because of their dedication to their craft or the conditions on set, some lasting damage is done to stars when they embark upon certain movie roles. Whether they change psychologically or physically, they are never the same again afterward. And in the case of these ten actors, some of their parts ended up shaping who they became as people afterwards – for better or worse…
10. Shelley Duvall – The Shining
There are many ways by which to coax an actor into looking convincingly terrified on screen – from strong motivation to an intense shooting environment. But Shelley Duvall was genuinely terrified as Wendy Torrance in The Shining because Stanley Kubrick put her through hell.
You see, Kubrick not only kept Duvall away from the rest of the cast, but he also told the crew not to sympathize with her. The legendary director even shot one take featuring Duvall an infamous 127 times. And it seems as if Kubrick’s demands may have had a lasting effect on the actress. Apparently, as neighbors in her home town of Blanco, Texas, told the Globe in 2009, she can still be seen walking around “looking disheveled, strange and totally crazy.”
9. Val Kilmer – The Doors
To play an iconic real-life character like Jim Morrison, a certain amount of mental recalculating needs to be done. You need to really get into the head of the person you’re playing if you’re going to be convincing, after all. And that’s exactly what Val Kilmer did when he played Jim Morrison in The Doors – only Kilmer took it much further.
That’s because the actor spent months living, moving and talking like Morrison, learning his music and even having people on set call him Jim instead of Val. Allegedly, even members of the Doors couldn’t tell his and Morrison’s voices apart by the end. By then, though, Kilmer was in therapy just to bring himself back to reality again.
8. Janet Leigh – Psycho
Janet Leigh was one of the first iconic horror movie actresses, meeting a grisly fate at the hands of Norman Bates in the infamous shower scene in Psycho. The scene freaks people out to this day, in fact, and even Leigh herself had her own issues getting over it.
Indeed, after making Psycho, Leigh stopped taking showers at home. And when she found herself in a situation where there was no other option – like, say, a hotel – she would take precautions. “I make sure the doors and windows of the house are locked,” she told The New York Times in 1995, “and I leave the bathroom door open and shower curtain open. I’m always facing the door, watching, no matter where the shower head is.”
7. Bob Hoskins – Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
These days, acting opposite a character who isn’t really there is pretty standard fare for Hollywood stars. But Bob Hoskins was one of the first to do it, playing as he did against a litany of cartoons in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? As it turns out, however, the process of filming the 1988 crime fantasy did somewhat of a number on him.
How? Well, Hoskins trained himself to see characters who weren’t there in order to sell his part on camera. And this method worked too well: he started to hallucinate, even when he wasn’t shooting. Doctors therefore advised him to take some time off after the film; and in the end, he took a whole year out.
6. Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight
If you ask people who played the Joker best, you may get a few different answers. Some might say Mark Hamill, others Cesar Romero. Hell, some might even argue the case for Jared Leto. It’s a safe bet, however, that many – if not most – will opt for Heath Ledger.
And the late, great actor embodied the role of the crazy clown – so much so, in fact, that he barely slept and became reliant on prescription drugs like Ambien. Tragically, Ledger ultimately died of a drug overdose, and while the role certainly didn’t kill him, his rigorous work ethic may have been a factor in his untimely passing.
5. Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables
Many actors change their weight for films; in a few cases, though, weight loss or gain is taken to major extremes. Such is the case with Anne Hathaway, who dropped 25 pounds to play the starving, destitute Fantine in the cinematic adaptation of Les Misérables.
And Hathaway commitment’s to the role meant that she was too physically and emotionally drained to properly deal with the real world by the time that all was said and done. In fact, in 2012 Hathaway told Vogue that it was weeks before she felt anything close to normal again afterward.
4. Johnny Depp – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Johnny Depp isn’t known for being the most stable actor in the world. But even he has limits, and playing madcap writer Hunter S. Thompson certainly pushed them. His turn as Thompson in Terry Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is still one of Depp’s most memorable roles – and the part certainly stuck with him too.
Depp was already friends with Thompson when he took the role, and the actor had spent time learning all his quirks and mannerisms. But by the end of the shoot, Depp was so deeply embedded in the character that he told Rolling Stone that he had to “detox” afterward. What’s more, if the star chose to do anything remotely Thompson-esque, it would snap him right back into behaving like the gonzo journalist.
3. Buddy Ebsen – The Wizard of Oz
Most of the actors on this list walked off set with some kind of lasting psychological effects, but in Buddy Ebsen’s case, the effects were very much physical. Ebsen played the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz; he eventually had to be replaced with Jack Haley, however, when the role nearly killed him.
You see, during the shoot, Ebsen wore a special kind of makeup that contained aluminum dust. Furthermore, he ended up breathing in so much of the substance that he ended up in hospital. Sadly, the actor went on to suffer from respiratory issues for the rest of his life and ultimately died from lung failure in 2003.
2. Bill Murray – Where the Buffalo Roam
Johnny Depp wasn’t the only person to sink too deep into playing Hunter S. Thompson. In fact, while he was working on Fear and Loathing, he got a phone call from Bill Murray. Murray subsequently warned him to be careful – and he was most certainly speaking from experience.
Murray had played Thompson in Where the Buffalo Roam, after all, and like Depp had spent time with the late writer prior to filming. At one point, though, Thompson tied Murray to a chair and threw him in a pool, where Murray almost drowned. In addition, by the time that Murray moved back to Saturday Night Live, he was still very much ensconced in his character – and he maintains even now that Hunter is still in himself somewhere.
1. Isabella Adjani – Possession
There are plenty of stories of actors getting legitimately freaked out during horror movie shoots, but most of them don’t hold a candle to what happened to Isabella Adjani. The actress starred in Possession and featured in one of the most infamously gruesome body horror scenes in movie history.
And as a result of her role, Adjani was in therapy for years after the performance; she may have even flirted with genuine psychosis. Suffice to say, she never took another horror part again in her career, despite the massive acclaim she received for her now iconic performance in the 1981 film.