Lesson #1: Outside of Robert De Niro‘s historic turn as Jake La Motta in Raging Bull and Christian Bale‘s Dick Cheney in Vice, name me one performance that gained in conviction or versimilitude because the actor gained weight for the part.
Okay, Russell Crowe in The Insider, Vincent D’Onofrio‘s “Gomer Pyle” in Full Metal Jacket and Charlize Theron in Monster. I’ll allow these. Five in all.
But how exactly was Bradley Cooper‘s Chris Kyle in American Sniper more convincing or persuasive because he gained 40 pounds? All through my first and only viewing all I could say to myself was “Jesus, Cooper’s less than five pasta dishes away from being a total fatass, albeit a muscular one.”
How was Charlie Sheen‘s Wall Street performance better because Sheen packed on 15 or 20? I could never figure this out.
Ditto Aaron Eckhart as the bad pot-bellied husband in Neil Labute‘s Your Friends and Neighbors (’98).
If I was a successful screen actor I would never pack it on for a role. If I was a much-in-demand director, I would always discourage actors from doing this.
Alfred Hitchcock to Cary Grant prior to filming North by Northwest in 1958: “Cary, Roger Thornhill is a very wealthy man who sets no limits on indulgence. He eats and drinks what he wants, and the world still beats a path to his doorstep. He has to look the part of the arrogant New Yorker. I want you to fly to Italy and eat nothing but pasta and gain 20 to 25 pounds before the start of principal photography.”
Grant to Hitchcock: “Get yourself another Thornhill…no offense.”
Lesson #2: During the last 20 or 25 years of the 19th Century fatness was regarded as a signifier of prosperity and largeness of spirit.
Plumpness or voluptuousness even become fashionable as an ideal appearance for women — a aesthetic mindset that apparently lingered (to go by the popularity of bordering-on-zaftig movie stars like Theda Bara) until just before World War I.
But then slimness took over. A corresponding stigmatizing or otherwise discouraging of corpulence was more or less the rule from 1920 to 2000 or thereabouts. But then came the Great Obesity Epidemic of the 21st Century, and now we’re right back in the 1880s and 1890s again.
Except today no one associates pot bellies with financial abundance — we’ve become a truly egalitarian society when it comes to spreading midsections — and no one dares to stigmatize for fear of being sitgmatized themselves as cruel and intolerant.