1.Let's start with one of the most extreme examples. To prepare for his role in The Revenant, Leonardo DiCaprio literally slept inside animal carcasses.
His preparation was worth it — his performance was lauded, and he ended up winning his first Oscar for the role.
2.In contrast, Michael Gambon, who replaced Richard Harris's beloved version of Dumbledore in the third Harry Potter film, didn't even read any of the books prior to appearing in the series.
"No point in reading the books because you're playing with [screenwriter] Steve Kloves' words," Gambon said. Many have criticized his version of Dumbledore as being too harsh, especially after an infamous scene in the fourth film where Dumbledore asks Harry whether he's put his name in the goblet of fire.
Gambon brought up the fact that Ralph Fiennes and Alan Rickman didn't read the books either. However, Fiennes actually did — he just hadn't read them yet when he was offered the part. And considering the arguments he had about his character, his conversations with JKR, and his acclaimed performance, I don't think it's fair to say Rickman didn't prepare for his role.
3.In contrast, Christopher Lee was probably one of the MOST prepared actors for a fantasy series. He was a massive Lord of the Rings fan who reread the books annually when he was cast as Saruman in the films.
Lee was the only actor in the series to have actually met Tolkien. He had always wanted to star in the films, and even took wizard acting roles to prove he would be a good pick. In addition, he sent photos of himself dressed as a wizard to Peter Jackson.
4.This one isn't entirely his fault, but Chistopher Plummer was barely able to do any preparation for his role as real-life figure J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World. The film was basically complete in early November when it was announced that Plummer would replace Kevin Spacey in the role after Spacey was accused of sexual assault.
Plummer filmed his part in nine days, starting November 20, just weeks after he nabbed the role. He knew very little about the Getty family, and didn't really research him. "I really followed the script and Ridley’s suggestions, which weren’t many because there wasn’t much time," Plummer told the Hollywood Reporter.
Despite his lack of preparation, Plummer's performance was critically acclaimed, and he became the oldest person ever nominated for an Oscar when he received a nod for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.
5.To prepare for her role as a captive young mother in Room, Brie Larson spent a month inside her house. She met with psychologists to learn about the trauma of captivity, wrote diary entries for her character, and made collages in character.
Larson hung out with onscreen son Jacob Tremblay in the weeks prior to filming, making the toys that appeared onscreen, improvising on the set, and playing Legos with him before bed.
Her hard work paid off – she won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2016.
6.Ewan McGregor didn't read Jane Austen's book Emma before starring in the film version as Frank Churchill.
He called the film the worst thing he'd done work-wise, saying he wasn't very good in it, and admitted he only took the role because he "thought [he] should be seen to be doing something different from Trainspotting."
7.One rather infamous preparation for a role comes from Jared Leto in Suicide Squad. To prepare to play the Joker, Leto sent strange gifts to other cast members (like a live rat), and avoided interacting with them. He brought a dead hog to set to "create a dynamic, to create an element of surprise, of spontaneity, and to really break down any kind of walls that may be there" because the Joker, in his opinion, didn't respect people's boundaries.
He stalked drug lords on Instagram to get inspiration for the part, and met with “people who had committed horrendous crimes…people who have been institutionalized for great periods of time.” He even practiced his Joker laugh around Manhattan.
8.Another actor who never read the books for the films they starred in is Billy Burke, who portrayed Bella's dad, Charlie, in the Twilight films.
Burke says he doesn't "have the attention span" to finish a book, and that as most of the info in the books wouldn't be useful to him, he'd "rather not know" it. He'd actually never even heard of the books until he had a meeting with Catherine Hardwicke.
9.Daniel Day-Lewis is famous for method acting and going all out in preparing for his roles, but perhaps one of the most extreme examples is his preparation for Gangs of New York. He would literally walk around Rome in character and fight strangers.
In addition, he became an actual apprentice butcher. It must've worked, because he ended up getting nominated for an Oscar for his work.
10.While Hugh Jackman has certainly done plenty of prep work to play Wolverine in subsequent films, he wasn't able to do so for X-Men, the first X-Men film. This was because he was cast, replacing Dougray Scott, weeks into shooting. He had only three weeks to get in shape for the role. He had apparently never lifted a weight before.
Jackman was not a comic fan and had never read the X-Men comics or even heard of Wolverine. In fact, he didn't know a wolverine was a real animal.
11.One more recent example of an actor who REALLY prepared for their role is Lady Gaga in House of Gucci. First of all, she stayed in character for 18 months, even when the camera wasn't rolling, using the accent for nine of those months.
Gaga watched videos of foxes and panthers in order to channel them for the role, and began to "live in a way whereby anything that [she] looked at, [she] started to take notice and where and when [she] could see money."
12.In contrast, Taika Waititi did basically no preparation for his role as Hitler in his film Jojo Rabbit. "I didn’t have to do any research, and I didn’t do any research. I didn’t base him on anything I’d seen about Hitler before," Waititi told Deadline, pointing out that he's not really portraying Hitler, but a child's imagined version of him.
"I just made him a version of myself that happened to have a bad haircut and a sh*tty little mustache. And a mediocre German accent," Waititi said, saying it'd be "too weird to play the actual Hitler."
13.Novelist Anne Rice was pretty famously unhappy with Tom Cruise's casting as Lestat in the film adaptation of her novel Interview With the Vampire. Cruise was apparently hurt by this critcism, and decided to not only carefully read the book, but to read all of Rice's books, learn piano, lose weight, and travel in Paris to try out a hedonistic lifestyle like Lestat's.
14.In comparison, Rafe Spall didn't read the War of the Worlds book before appearing in the BBC's TV version, though he did admit it was "another avenue that could aid" in his portrayal of the character. Even after filming, Spall still hasn't read the book.
15.Jennifer Hudson was handpicked by Aretha Franklin to play her in a biopic years before her death. In fact, they met weekly for many years to talk about her past and the role.
Hudson studied old videos and historical footage of Aretha performing, and worked with vocal and movement coaches to capture Aretha perfectly.
16.Sabrina Carpenter played a teenager learning to dance in the Netflix teen movie Work It — and didn't learn the choreography.
However, this was actually for a reason. Her character was supposed to be struggling to learn to dance, so not knowing all the choreography helped make her look bad.
17.And finally, Natalie Portman trained for over a year to portray a ballerina in Black Swan. For the first six months, she built up her strength with a few hours a day, then moved to practicing five hours a day, and later eight. She would spend 30 minutes a day just doing foot exercises.
This all caused her toenails to fall off, and she even dislocated a rib while during a lift. "There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die," Portman said of the experience. This all paid off – she won an Oscar for the role.