20 Actors Who Risked Their Lives for a Role

Acting is a very competitive field in which to work with many actors each auditioning for a role. Even once they have got the role, they have to prove their worth as their current performance has a direct impact on future work offers they will receive. If they prove they will go the extra mile for a role and give their performance one hundred percent, then it will improve their chances of getting more and better-paid work in the future. If they deliver a poor performance in an audition or they are criticized for their characterization in a role, other actors will get the job and their future career in the entertainment industry is potential over. For these reasons, actors are often willing to take big risks to get a role or deliver a knock-out performance. In fact, there are some actors who have even been willing to risk their lives. Here are 20 examples of actors who have risked their lives for a role.

20. Channing Tatum

Channing Tatum was born in Alabama on April 26, 1980, and began his acting career in 2000. He is well-known for his roles in ‘Coach Carter’, ‘Dear John’, ‘Hail Caesar!’, ‘Logan Lucky’, ‘White House Down’, ‘She’s the Man’ and ‘The Hateful Eight’. However, it was in the 2014 drama movie ‘Foxcatcher’, which also starred Steve Carell, that he was willing to risk his own life. In one particularly impressive scene from this movie, viewers will see Tatum’s character getting himself pumped up and then beginning to beat himself. The highlight is when he headbutts a mirror three times, not only smashing the mirror but also putting his head through the set’s drywall. This was not an intentional move and it could have caused a serious head injury or life-threatening blood loss. Fortunately, Tatum suffered only some damage to the side of his face. Director Bennet Miller was so impressed that he kept the dramatic moment in the final cut of the film.

19. Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio is no stranger to danger when it comes to making his films. He has suffered several injuries and even faced death in a high-situation. One of his injuries can be seen in the Quentin Tarantino western movie ‘Django: Unchained’. In the scene in question, DiCaprio slams his hand onto the table in the midst of an argument and accidentally smashes his hand into a glass. He suffered a very nasty cut that bled profusely. Despite his injury, he carried on filming and the gash was a great, if not gory, effect in the movie. Although this was a nasty injury, it didn’t put his life at risk. The same could not be said for an incident that took place while he was filming the blockbuster movie ‘Titanic’. He got trapped in one of the corridors that was filling with water and almost drowned.

18. Gary Oldman

Everyone knows how bad smoking is for your health as almost all health organizations across the globe have widely advertised the dangers of this habit. If people take up this unhealthy habit, they either poorly educated on this subject or a teen facing peer pressure. There are very few adults that would willingly take up this habit but that is exactly what Gary Oldman did for a role and risked his health into the bargain. Oldman played Winston Churchill in the movie ‘The Darkest Hour’. To get into character, he smoked cigars just like Churchill did. While many would think he would have opted for fake cigars or a herbal alternative, the actor chose instead to stay true to the character and smoke the real thing. During filming, he smoked $20,000 worth of Cuban cigars which is approximately 400 cigars. This seriously affected Oldman’s health and he was admitted to a hospital with nicotine poisoning and even required a colonoscopy.

17. Kate Winslet

Kate Winslet starred alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in the blockbuster film ‘Titanic’. She also faced danger when fleeing from the sinking ship when the corridor they were running down filled with water and they almost drowned. However, the situation was even closer to death for Winslet as her costume had caught on a prop on the set and she had to be freed before she could flee the corridor.

16. Nicole Kidman

While many actors suffer an injury or are put at risk due to a dangerous stunt, others find themselves in a predicament for more unusual reasons. The perfect example of this is Nicole Kidman who suffered a potentially life-endangering injury due to her wardrobe. In the 2001 musical romantic comedy ‘Moulin Rouge’, Kidman plays the role of Satine who is a courtesan and cabaret actress. This role required her to wear a tight corset in most of the scenes. As a result of the corset being fastened so tightly while she performed musical numbers, she suffered from several fractured ribs and this can lead to other complications, many of which are life-threatening. Fortunately, she recovered from her injuries well enough to complete filming. Nicole Kidman was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress and the Baz Luhrmann film won Oscars for Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction.

15. Jaimie Alexander

When you sign up for a film with battles and fight scenes, a certain amount of cuts and bruising is to be expected. However, this was nothing compared to what Jaimie Alexander had to suffer when she was filming the first ‘Thor’ movie. Her list of injuries is horrific. She dislocated her shoulder, herniated a disc in her thoracic spine, chipped 11 vertebrae, and tore her rhomboid. Despite suffering such a terrible list of injuries, it did not deter her from agreeing to reprise her role in ‘Thor: Ragnorak’.

14. Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt has taken on many roles in action movies, so it is little wonder that his roles have required stunts and many scenes have involved risky situations. If you have ever watched the film ‘Seven’, you may remember that Pitt’s character is wearing an arm sling for part of the movie following a car chase scene. This is because during filming, he accidentally went through a car windscreen with his arm. It was quite a serious injury as the cut went down to the bone and tore a ligament. The injury required surgery before he could carry on shooting. He was very lucky that the cut did not sever the artery in his arm as he could potentially have bled to death. Following the surgery, he carried on playing the role of Detective Mills in the film.

13. Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron is well-known for going the extra mile to get into character. The perfect example of this is when she played a murderer in ‘Monster’ and underwent hours in the make up room each day to completely transform her appearance. There are many films where she has also had to keep herself in good physical shape to perform stunts on a movie. One example of this is the 2005 science-fiction action movie ‘Aeon Flux’. It was while filming this film that she suffered an injury that was almost life-changing. She was required to perform a back-flip in one of the scenes and on the day of filming, the manoeuvre did not go well. Mid back-flip, she ruptured one of her discs and this almost caused permanent damage to her spine. Following this injury, filming was halted for weeks as Theron had to undergo an intensive course of physical therapy to recover.

12. Margaret Hamilton

In the 1939 classic musical fantasy film ‘The Wizard of Oz’, Margaret Hamilton played the Wicked Witch of the West. While viewers may have wanted to see the character go up in flames, few people would have wished the same fate on the actress, but that is exactly what happened in a freak accident on set during filming. Flamethrowers were being thrown as part of the special effects of the scene, but it was not intended that one would hit the actress. The accident occurred in the scene when the witch was supposed to make a sudden departure through a trap door in the midst of smoke and flames. Unfortunately, a rogue flamethrower spat out and set her Hamilton’s face and hands on fire. According to sources on the set at the time, nobody even noticed she was injured until she walked off set.

11. Jason Statham

Jason Statham is typically associated with crime, action, and thriller films. He prides himself on completing all his own stunts in the movies. He has even gone on record as saying people do not fully understand the risks that people who perform stunts put themselves through each time they step on set and that he believes they should have their own category at awards ceremonies in recognition to their contributions in films. Statham has repeatedly put himself in life-threatening situations in almost every film he has ever made by performing fight scenes, car crashes, falls, and many other spectacular, but dangerous, stunts.

10. Matthew Fox

The props used in fights can always pose a risk, even if they have been adapted for use on stage. Matthew Fox starred in the hit drama ‘LOST’, which ran for six years. Throughout the series, there were many fight scenes. In one of these scenes, Fox was fighting against his co-star Terry O’Quinn. At one point in the fight, O’Quinn lunged towards Fox to stab him with what was supposed to be a retractable knife. For some reason, O’Quinn had accidentally picked up the real knife instead of the retractable one and he was horrified to realize that he was actually stabbing Fox for real. Someone must have been watching over Fox that day though as he was wearing a protective Kevlar vest and suffered no injury.

9. George Clooney

Sometimes the severity of an injury isn’t instantly apparent and what may seem like a minor injury may actually be a life-threatening situation. When George Clooney was filming a torture scene in the 2005 film ‘Syriana’, he suffered what he believed was a minor head injury. For weeks after the knock, he suffered a nagging headache which he initially ignored. Finally, he went to see a neurologist who discovered that Clooney was leaking spinal fluid. If he hadn’t received treatment when he did, he may have gone on to experience a brain haemorrhage or a stroke. Thankfully, he received treatment and made a full recovery.

8. Halle Berry

Halle Berry is known as one of the most elegant women in Hollywood. However, she has earned herself a reputation in the industry for clumsiness due to the number of injuries she has suffered on set. These have ranged in severity from minor injuries to injuries that have had a significant impact on her life. She has suffered at least five big injuries on five different film sets. In 2004, she was hit over the head by a falling lighting prop while filming ‘Catwoman’. She then almost chocked to death on a fig whiel filming ‘Die Another Day’, broke her foot filming ‘Cloud Atlas’, and broker her arm during the making of ‘Gothika.

7. Christian Bale

The risks that Christian Bale had to take for his role in ‘The Machinist’ seriously put his life in danger and could potentially have impacted on his health for the rest of his life. Prior to filming in 2004, doctors warned him that it was too big a risk to take with his health, but Christian Bale went ahead with the necessary transformation needed to play the role. He starved himself until he weighed just 120 pounds for the film and anyone who has seen it will known how shocking his skeletal figure looks on the screen. To achieve this weight, he lived on cigarettes and a daily diet of a tin of tuna and a single apple. He had actually wanted to lose an extra five pounds for the role but medics warned him that the extra step could lead to death.

6. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

While filming the 2012 film ‘Premium Rush’, Joseph Gordon-Levitt knew he was taking risks as he was involved in scenes involving car chases. However, he had hoped that he would be lucky and escape injury. The production crew did put safety measures in place, including cordoning off areas of the city for filming. An incident occurred when a cab driver ignored the barricades and drove straight onto the set. Gordon-Levitt was playing a bike messenger for the scene and he drove straight into the cab and through the rear window. He suffered a severely cut arm in the collision. Fortunately, he missed the artery, or the situation could have been a whole lot worse and he may have bled to death on scene. Likewise, had he not been wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, he might not be here today to tell the tale.

5. Adrien Brody

Just like Christian Bale, Adrien Brody has starved himself for a role. When he played the lead role of Wladyslaw Szpilman in ‘The Pianist’, his performance won him an Oscar for Best Actress. He wanted to get into character by living a similar lifestyle to the Holocaust survivor. He gave up his apartment, car, and technology and then starved himself to look like he had survived the Holocaust. He described the experience as excruciating and it took him a while to recover from playing the role.

4. Isla Fisher

Isla Fisher is not usually associated with playing dangerous roles. In fact, she has earned a reputation more for her roles in comedy films. That does not, however, mean that she has not faced some risky situations in her career during filming. The most life-threatening situation she has faced was during filming of ‘Now You See Me’. This film is about a group of magicians that team up to perform astronomic magic illusions for the greater good of large groups of people. During one scene, Isla Fisher’s character gets into a tank full of water. She is wrapped in chains and piranhas are supposedly put into the water. She must escape the tank. During filming. She got stuck to the bottom of the tank and could not escape. Therefore, she almost drowned. The crew did not immediately come to her rescue as they thought she was putting on a brilliant performance as a magician pretending she was trapped in the water. Thankfully, the crew realized in time to get her out of the tank before she actually drowned. It was lucky they were paying attention.

3. Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks has enjoyed a prolific career in the film industry and is probably best-known for his roles in comedy films. However, it was playing the role of Chuck Noland in the 2000 film ‘Castaway’ that seriously impacted on his health and this was for two separate reasons. First, he lost a lot of weight to play the role of a man stranded on an island alone. He shed a total of 55 pounds to get into character. He now suffers from type 2 diabetes and this is possibly due to the yo-yo dieting for the role. The second impact that the film had on his health was that he contracted a staph infection and filming was halted for three weeks to allow the actor to recover.

2. Robert De Niro

For his role in the biographical sports drama ‘Raging Bull’, De Niro won an Oscar for Best Actor. However, he had to work for this accolade and it came at a price to his health. In the film, he plays professional boxer Jake LaMotta. To get into the role, he regularly trained with LaMotta before filming began. He even knocked out LaMotta’s teeth and broke his ribs. Another aspect of preparing for the role was putting on weight to get the right physique. He had to eat three large meals a day. At first, he described this as fun but then said it began to take its toll. At one point, Martin Scorsese decided to stop filming as he was concerned about De Niro’s health. The sudden weight gain and intensive training had begun to affect De Niro’s posture, breathing, and talking.

1. Brandon Lee

Brandon Lee has to come at the top of this list because he paid the ultimate sacrifice for a role with his untimely death. He died on March 31, 1993, while filming ‘The Crow’. He was accidentally shot in the scene where he walks into his apartment to find thugs raping his girlfriend. The accident happened when the props department had unknowingly left the live primer at the rear of the gun and they had decided to use real bullets with the powder charge removed rather than stunt bullets. When the primer was set off, the bullet was discharged and shot Lee in the abdomen. He was rushed to hospital and underwent emergency surgery, but this was unsuccessful and he died.


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