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For Some Actors, Success Is All About the Pre-Shoot Prep

When you watch a movie and you manage to forget whoever the big name is who’s playing the role, then you know that the actor has achieved their goal. Of course, it’s not just down to the acting; a lot depends on the script, the rest of the cast, the cinematography and how the film is directed but certain actors are renowned for going the extra mile to prepare for the roles they play, and extreme preparation usually shows.

Matt Damon has always been prepared to go the extra mile in preparing for a role. When cast for The Martian he knew that his character would need to lose a lot of weight during his time waiting to be rescued from Mars and told director Ridley Scott that he could shed 30 or 40 pounds. He’d done it before when playing Andrew Ilario in Courage Under Fire. However, Scott forbade Damon from extreme dieting for The Martian and used CGI to make the weight disappear from the actor instead.


Back in the 90s, when playing the character Mike McDermott in the cult poker movie Rounders, Damon obviously had to know how to play poker and he reportedly spent hours developing his skills at the game. The fact that he’s a big fan of the game must have meant that this kind of preparation didn’t feel too onerous – he and his friend Ben Affleck have long been known to enjoy holding big-stakes poker games at their homes.


There have long been rumors suggesting a Rounders sequel is on the cards, but the way the game is played has moved on unimaginably since 1998. As Damon said himself in an interview last year, any sequel to Rounders would have to take this seismic shift in the game into account. Today’s players have seen plenty of hands of poker by the time they’re 21, simply because they have the facility to play online for real money through poker websites and pay by phone casino games. With people playing multiple hands at once, the playing tactics and strategies are very different. Of course, there’s an added advantage for any actor cast in a poker-playing role today – they can get as much practice as they want online without actually needing to physically attend a game of poker. At a site like mFortune for example several variants are available to play, from the classic Texas Holdem to the modern twist of Hi-Lo.

Daniel Day Lewis is perhaps the actor best-known for his extreme preparations. He often stays in character throughout the whole shoot, even when he’s not in front of the camera. For the role of writer, Christy Brown, in My Left Foot, he was wheelchair-bound and was spoon-fed for the whole of the shoot. As part of his preparation for The Crucible, not only did he build his character’s house himself using 17th-century tools, he lived in it for the duration of filming. When playing Lincoln, he insisted that everyone on the set addressed him as Mr. President at all times, and that everyone used their character’s accent so he could stay in the zone.

Many an actor has had to take dancing, singing or music lessons to look credible in a role, but Natalie Portman’s preparations for Black Swan stand out. She trained in ballet dancing six days out of seven, for up to eight hours each day, for an entire year preceding filming. She complemented the ballet training with swimming and endurance exercise classes, in order to be able to do the difficult dance scenes in the movie herself. Still, it was all worthwhile – Portman got an Oscar for her portrayal of her character, Nina Sayers.

These are just a few examples of the lengths some of the biggest names in Hollywood will go to in order to create the perfect character in their movie, which allows us in the audience to become totally absorbed in the magic of cinema.

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