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15 Times Stars Took Method Acting Too Far

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For some actors, just looking the part isn't always enough. Here are several who took method acting to the extreme.

1. Adrien Brody // The Pianist (2002)

Brody dropped 30 pounds in order to portray Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist, and actually learned to play piano, practicing four hours a day. After that, most actors would have called it a day. Instead, Brody decided he needed to feel as lost as Szpilman did after he was forced out of the life he knew: "I gave up my apartment, I sold my car, I disconnected the phones, and I left," Brody told the BBC. "I took two bags and my keyboard and moved to Europe." (Not surprisingly, his frustrated girlfriend at the time dumped him.) His sacrifices paid off in the form of a 2003 Oscar for Best Actor.

2. The cast of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)


The cast of the Best Picture-winning film, including Jack Nicholson, lived at the psychiatric ward where the movie was shot, interacting with real patients and undergoing group therapy sessions—some of which director Milos Forman filmed without their knowledge.

3. Sylvester Stallone // Rocky IV (1985)


While filming Rocky IV, Stallone asked co-star Dolph Lundgren—a.k.a. Ivan Drago—to try and "really" knock him out. "Bad idea," Stallone later recalled. "Later that night my blood pressure goes up to 260, I go to the hospital, they put me in an emergency jet, and fly me back to America. Next thing I know I’m in intensive care for five days with nuns walking around. He hit my heart so hard that it banged against my ribs and started to swell, and that usually happens in car accidents. So I was hit by a truck!”

4. Christian Bale // The Machinist (2004)

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The six-foot-tall Bale famously dropped 60 pounds to play a severe insomniac in this psychological thriller—and, within six weeks, gained it all back for his role in Batman Begins. His Machinist co-star Michael Ironside has suggested that Bale might not have gone to such extreme lengths had screenwriter Scott Kosar taken the time to alter his script. "The writer is only about five-foot-six, and he put his own weights in," Ironside said. "And then Chris did the film and Chris said, ‘No, don’t change the weights. I want to see if I make them.’ ... So those weights he writes on the bathroom wall in the film are his actual weights in the film."

5. Billy Bob Thornton // Sling Blade (1996)


Thornton depended on an unusual—and painful—method to nail his character Karl's signature shuffle: The actor placed crushed glass inside his shoes, forcing him to limp around. He earned an Oscar nomination for the role.

6. Val Kilmer // The Doors (1991)


To score the part of Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's The Doors, Kilmer spent thousands of dollars producing an eight-minute music video of him singing the rocker's songs. Once he booked the gig, Kilmer memorized 50 Doors songs, and even (allegedly) wore Morrison's clothes and frequented his favorite Hollywood hangouts. The actor also spent hundreds of hours interrogating Paul Rothchild, a producer for the iconic rock band and a consultant on the film. At the end of production, Rothchild said that Kilmer "knows Jim Morrison better than Jim ever knew himself. He's nailed—to the extent that The Doors themselves had difficulty telling whether it was Val singing or Jim singing. Early on, I'd bring them into a recording studio and I randomly switched Val and Jim and they guessed wrong 80 percent of the time.''

7. Nicolas Cage // Birdy (1984)


In order to physically feel the pain his Vietnam vet character might have, Cage had a few teeth pulled—without anesthesia. He also spent five weeks with his face wrapped in bandages. "The reactions on the street were brutal," Cage told The Telegraph. "Men and women laughing, kids staring. And when I took the bandages off, my skin was all infected because of acne and ingrowing hairs."

8. Robert De Niro // Taxi Driver (1976)


De Niro actually got his cab driver's license while prepping for his role in the Martin Scorsese classic. The Oscar winner worked 12-hour shifts, and would reportedly pick up passengers around New York City during breaks from shooting.

9. Halle Berry // Jungle Fever (1991)

Berry was set on getting inside the head of the drug addict she played in Spike Lee's 1991 film. The actress visited a crack den as part of her research, and didn't bathe for two weeks. ''It's true,'' she told Wendy Williams in 2012. ''Ask Sam Jackson! He had to get a whiff of it.''

10. Jamie Dornan // The Fall (2013)

Dornan, who plays a serial killer on the chilling Netflix series, wanted to experience the thrill of the chase. So, "On the tube … I, like, followed a woman off the train one day to see what it felt like to pursue someone like that," Dornan has said. Keeping his distance, the actor followed her for several blocks.

11. & 12. Shia LaBeouf //The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman (2013) & Fury (2014)

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When LaBeouf heard that his Charlie Countryman character dropped acid during a scene, he wanted to make his big-screen portrayal of the act as realistic as possible. In order to prep, LaBeouf took LSD, filmed his trip, and sent the video off to co-star Evan Rachel Wood for feedback.

The day after he got his role as a WWII soldier in Fury, "I joined the U.S. National Guard," LaBeouf told Dazed magazine. "I was baptized—accepted Christ in my heart—tattooed my surrender and became a chaplain’s assistant to Captain Yates for the 41st infantry. I spent a month living on a forward operating base. Then I linked up with my cast and went to Fort Irwin. I pulled my tooth out, knifed my face up, and spent days watching horses die. I didn’t bathe for four months.”

13., 14. & 15. Daniel Day-Lewis // The Crucible (1996), Gangs of New York (2002) & Lincoln (2012)

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For his role in The Crucible, Day-Lewis committed to living on the set, which was a replica of a colonial village—meaning there was no electricity or running water. He also built his own 17th-century house, using only the tools America's settlers would have had available to them at the time.

The three-time Oscar-winner's devotion to his craft nearly cost him his health on Scorsese's Gangs of New York, when Day-Lewis refused to wear a modern-day winter coat on set during filming and caught pneumonia. (To portray Bill the Butcher, he also flew in a British butcher to teach him how to cut up carcasses. No big deal.)

For Lincoln, he refused to break character—period. Day-Lewis walked, talked, and even texted as Honest Abe, according to his co-star Sally Field. "I never met him. Never. I met him as Mr. Lincoln. He met me as Molly, as he called her," Field said. "After I got the role, there were seven months before we began to shoot and he would text me all the time, in character. I would have to then answer back in the language of the time, which was really hard to figure out, but great fun."

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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