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"In The End, It Screwed Up My Brain,” And 18 Other Things Actors Have Said About Their Most Difficult Roles

"I don’t think you can go through something like this and not have some sort of PTSD afterward."

WARNING: Spoilers ahead!

There are also mentions of sexual assault, eating disorders, and PTSD.

1. Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck in Joker

Phoenix as the Joker pulling his face into a smile with clown makeup
Niko Tavernise / Warner Bros. / courtesy Everett Collection

For the role of Arthur Fleck in the film, Phoenix had to lose 52 pounds to appear emaciated, and said the concentration on his weight caused him to develop disordered thinking. "Once you reach the target weight, everything changes. Like so much of what's difficult is waking up every day and being obsessed over like 0.3 pounds. Right? And you really develop like a disorder." He also said losing that much weight "affects your psychology. You start to go mad."

2. Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger in Black Panther

Jordan as Killmonger
Marvel / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures /Courtesy Everett Collection

Jordan said he isolated himself and "did whatever I felt I needed to do" to prepare for the role, but didn't have an exit plan. Afterward, he said it caught up with him, and that he found it hard to go back to his normal life and self. "Readjusting to people caring about me, getting that love that I shut out," he said. "I shut out love, I didn't want love. I wanted to be in this lonely place as long as I could." He decided to go to therapy, which he said helped immensely. "Everyone needs to unpack and talk.”

3. Kate Winslet as Hannah in The Reader

Winslet as Hannah riding a bike
Weinstein Company/Courtesy Everett Collection

"I am still coming to terms with the whole experience of having played Hannah, I really genuinely am," Winslet told HuffPost of playing the role of a former Nazi camp worker. "We wrapped on July 12th, and I sort of walked away like some car crash victim who somehow hadn't been hurt on the outside, but I felt like I couldn't speak [about it]. It was truly overwhelming. I really went somewhere. I was in some kind of a trance. And I'm still coming to terms with all of it. I'm so blown away by the movie." 

4. Natalie Portman as Nina in Black Swan

Natalie as Nina onstage dancing
Fox Searchlight Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Portman said she was physically and emotionally drained after filming: "It was the first time I understood how you could get so wrapped up in a role that it could sort of take you down." She also said of her weight loss and preparation for the role: "There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die." Later, she'd admit that she "probably should have gone into rehab" after filming, as when she began filming Thor, she was "spent."

5. Alex Wolff as Peter in Hereditary

Alex as Peter
A24 /Courtesy Everett Collection

Wolff told Vice the film stuck with him: "When I started talking about it, all these flashes with all this disturbing shit I went through sort of came back in a flood. It kept me up at night to where I got into a habit of emotional masochism to the point of just trying to take in every negative feeling I could draw from. I forced it upon myself rather than the opposite of what you’d usually do in life, which is sit on the heater until it starts to burn and you jump up immediately. I had to do the exact opposite of that and absorb the pain and let it burn. It’s a reverse emotional thing. It’s hard to describe eloquently, it’s just a feeling. I don’t think you can go through something like this and not have some sort of PTSD afterward."

6. Ned Beatty as Bobby in Deliverance

Ned as Bobby
Warner Bros. Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

The infamous sexual assault scene of Beatty's character, in which one of the perpetrators says, "Squeal like a pig," haunted Beatty for many years just through people continuously shouting the phrase at him. The scene seemed to take a toll on all those involved, with costar Burt Reynolds saying that it was actually he who called out to stop the scene, not the director John Boorman, after "Boorman had pushed the assault as far as an audience could possibly tolerate." Afterward, Chris Dickey, the son of the film's writer James Dickey, said that "Ned [Beatty] tried to snap back out of character, to relax. But it wasn’t working. And that day, and for the rest of the time he was in North Georgia, he seemed to have changed, as if whatever sadness or insecurity he’d covered up before as a man, as Ned Beatty, just couldn’t be contained any more.” 

However, Beatty wrote that he's "proud" of being a part of the story — he even wrote an op-ed about the experience and men's reaction to rape victims. 

7. Janet Leigh as Marion in Psycho

Leigh as Marion in the shower dying
Courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection / Everett Collection

Leigh remained forever scarred by the famous scene in which her character Marion is brutally stabbed to death in the shower. In fact, she stopped taking showers entirely, opting for baths instead. And if this isn't possible..."I make sure the doors and windows of the house are locked. I also leave the bathroom door open and shower curtain open. I’m always facing the door, watching, no matter where the shower head is.”

8. Anne Hathaway as Fantine in Les Misérables

Anne as Fantine looking emaciated and sad
Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Describing filming the role (and the extreme weight loss for it) as "a break with reality," Hathaway said, "I was in such a state of deprivation — physical and emotional. When I got home, I couldn't react to the chaos of the world without being overwhelmed. It took me weeks till I felt like myself again."

9. Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise in It

Bill as Pennywise with a balloon
Brooke Palmer/Warner Bros. /Courtesy Everett Collection

Skarsgård compared playing Pennywise as being in a destructive relationship. He was happy to let go of the character after filming, but also described being home afterward and having "strange and vivid Pennywise dreams" every night. 

10. Christina Applegate as Jen on Dead to Me

Jen with a casserole in the dead to me pilot
Saeed Adyani / Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

Applegate revealed that the show, which deals with grief and murder, caused her to start going to therapy, especially as it brought up her experiences with loss. “It tapped into some stuff that I had to face. It was cathartic. I don’t know if [it was] therapeutic. ... Did I start therapy after the show? Yes, absolutely.”

11. Dakota Johnson as Suzy in Suspiria

Dakota as Suzy
Amazon Studios / courtesy Everett Collection

Johnson said that the horror film "fucked me up so much that I had to go to therapy," describing harsh shooting conditions in a mountaintop abandoned hotel. She later said, “I find sometimes when I work on a project and — I don’t have any shame in this — I’m a very porous person and I absorb a lot of people’s feelings. When you’re working sometimes with dark subject matter, it can stay with you and then to talk to somebody really nice about it afterwards is a really nice way to move on from the project."

12. Mandy Patinkin as Jason Gideon in Criminal Minds

Mandy as Jason
Cliff Lipson / CBS / courtesy Everett Collection

Patinkin left the show after its second season because he didn't like the content of the show. He said, "I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality.”

13. Bob Hoskins as Eddie in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Bob Hoskins as Eddie with a toon coming from his chest
Buena Vista / courtesy Everett Collection

Acting alongside cartoon characters had a dangerous effect, as he had "trained" himself to hallucinate in order to act off of the imaginary creatures. "In the end, it screwed up my brain,” he said. “I would be sitting, talking normally and suddenly a weasel would creep out of the wall at me.” He ended up not acting for a year afterward, after doctors told him to quit acting for a few months.

14. Kyle Richards as Lindsey in Halloween

Kyle as Lindsey answering the phone
Compass International Pictures / Aquarius Releasing

For Richards, it wasn't filming the movie, but rather seeing herself in it that had an adverse effect: “I had no idea what I was in for. Seeing it for the first time all pieced together was a very, very different movie. It was just really scary, and I really did sleep with my mom until I was 15 years old after that. I was terrified," Richards said. “I think that’s what sealed the deal for me to get out of horror films. After seeing myself in that, I was always thinking there was someone hiding behind the drapes or outside my windows or under my bed, so I would just sleep holding my mom’s arm the entire night.”

15. Lakeith Stanfield as Bill in Judas and the Black Messiah

Lakeith as Bill
Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

Stanfield said he had trouble separating his emotions from the characters', pointing out a poisoning scene in which he felt like he was actually poisoning  Fred Hampton. “Sometimes your body thinks that’s real, everything you’re putting it through. It’s no wonder I’ve been feeling so stressed out and having panic attacks. I realized going forward before I step into something like that again, maybe have a therapist." 

16. Adrien Brody as Władysław Szpilman in The Pianist

Adrien Brody as Władysław Szpilman
Focus Features / courtesy Everett Collection

After spending months preparing by practicing piano four hours a day, selling all of his belongings, starving himself, and reading Szpilman's memoirs to immerse himself in the Holocaust, Brody said it took him over six months after the film to "settle back into things." He even said that "there were times when I was concerned that I might not be able to get out of it sane, because I didn't realise how far it had taken me."

17. Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou in Nightcrawler

Jake as Lou outside with a light shining on his body
Chuck Zlotnick/Open Road Films/Courtesy Everett Collection

Describing losing 30 pounds for the role, Gyllenhaal said, "Physically, it showed itself, but chemically and mentally, I think it was even a more fascinating journey. It became a struggle for me.” He also said that the character still appears in his nightmares, though he later said he didn't believe in nightmares, and that dreams are just ways to communicate with yourself. 

18. Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon

Carrey as Kaufman
Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Carrey went full Method for his role as eccentric comedian Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon, so much so that he struggled to get back to himself after filming. “I was looking back at myself and going, ‘What the hell do I believe?’” he said. “That was a process.” However, he said it also helped him shed expectations of who he was supposed to be in a sort of "death."

19. And finally, Penn Badgley as Joe in You

Joe with his baby and hat on You
John P. Fleenor / Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

Badgley said that playing the "irredeemable" character takes a "huge toll on his psyche." However, he also called it a "deep psychological exploration" for him.

What actors can you think of that struggled to shake certain characters or saw the characters affecting them long after they were done playing them? Let us know in the comments!

The National Eating Disorders Association helpline is 1-800-931-2237; for 24/7 crisis support, text “NEDA” to 741741. The National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline is 1-888-950-6264 (NAMI) and provides information and referral services; GoodTherapy.org is an association of mental health professionals from more than 25 countries who support efforts to reduce harm in therapy. And finally, if you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE, which routes the caller to their nearest sexual assault service provider. You can also search your local center here.