It’s a well-known fact that actors acquire all sorts of skills to best perform specific characters convincingly. Think Natalie Portman fine tuning her ballet talent for a solid year to prepare for the Oscar-winning role in Black Swan, or Channing Tatum learning innumerable dance moves for his role in the Step Up dance series. But sometimes actors find truly unusual ways to prepare for their roles. Here are some examples.

Tom Cruise is known for playing a bold handsome action hero and a romantic leading man with an edge in film after film. So when he was cast as professional hit man Vincent in Collateral he needed to find a way to break away from his good-guy pattern, and delve into his character’s unconscionably dark frame of mind. Tom reflected, “I’ve never played a character like this before. Vincent interested me because he is such an anti-social personality, bringing destruction and chaos with him wherever he goes. He’s a force of nature.” The character of Vincent takes advantage of his ability to blend into the crowd, so Tom’s ability to experience anonymity in preparation for the role was not an easy task. After all, he is one of the most recognized people on earth. In an effort to properly prepare for the role, Cruise dressed up in classic brown UPS attire and delivered a package in a crowded Los Angeles venue–and did all he could to be perceived as just another delivery guy. And, in fact, it appeared to work. He also learned how to shoot like a cold-blooded assassin after considerable and extensive gun and fight training.

Adrien Brody went from a relatively unknown actor to an Oscar winner for his role as Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist. His level of commitment was nothing short of remarkable as he prepared for the role. As a well-off American young man, he sought to enter the mindset of a Jew in the time of the Holocaust who suffers enormous loss to the Nazis. To prepare, Adrien gave up everything from his Porche, his cellphone, his apartment–and he even broke up with his serious girlfriend in order to grieve authentically onscreen and to portray his character’s tragic journey in an honest manner. Also, Adrien did not know how to play piano before accepting the role of a pianist. So, he learned to play the entire four-minute Chopin piece for the role from scratch. Those hands you see playing are truly Adrien’s hands. “When I’m playing a character, I’m being them in those moments,” Brody once described. “It is definitely the closest thing to a real spiritual experience that I can describe. It’s like I connect to the emotional state of another being that’s other than my own, and that is very freeing.”

So, how about you? What weird or extreme things have you done to prepare for a role? Was it painful? Did you enjoy it? And did your training produce the desired effect?

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