Life & Culture

Timothée Chalamet and the Case of the Skinny Actor Slimdown

Chalamet lost 18 pounds to play addict Nic Sheff in the newly released Beautiful Boy. But lithe actors losing even more weight for a role is nothing new, writes Trey Taylor

  • TextTrey Taylor

The already slim actor Timothée Chalamet, 23, admitted to losing 18 pounds (or 1.3 stone) to shoehorn himself into the Gumby-shaped role of meth addict Nic Sheff in his latest film Beautiful Boy. He was just 20 when production took place. Now he’s being considered for a potential Oscar nomination.

“I didn’t know you had that much weight to lose,” a Yahoo Entertainment reporter emphatically said in reaction to Chalamet’s admission that he’d molted. “I didn’t know I had either,” Chalamet joked in reply.

Emma Stone, who interviewed Chalamet for Variety’s Actors on Actors series, had the same reaction. “How can you lose weight?”

He was initially meant to shed only 15 pounds to play the addict, but the weight kept pouring off. The film’s director, Felix van Groeningen, had requested it of him. (Chalamet’s plea bargain, “Well, I am skinny... sir.”) So he hollowed out his cheeks with a strict diet of what he described as “the protein goo” from post-apocalyptic thriller Snowpiercer.

Lithe actors losing even more weight for a role is nothing new. Leonardo DiCaprio – Chalamet’s 90s counterpart – lost exactly 18 pounds in two weeks to appear ravenous in Danny Boyle’s The Beach. “The specific work involved targeting the abs, upper body and lower body,” DiCaprio’s trainer for the film, Cornel Chin, said in 2010. “All of these exercises involved using exclusively bodyweight exercises such as press ups, crunches, leg raises and so forth.”

Chin admitted that “Leo wasn’t in the greatest of shape when I first met him... [he] had gained some unwanted weight,” after Titanic became a box office hit.

To play smacked-up junkie Harry Goldfarb in Darren Aronofsky’s harrowing drug pusher nightmare Requiem for a Dream, an already concave Jared Leto “didn’t eat meals for weeks”. He suffered through an intense, food-poor diet. “I just nibbled, and nothing bigger than a little piece, not even a mouthful. I wouldn’t be able to do this ever again, I think because I couldn’t even imagine doing it,” he explained at the time to Jam! Showbiz.

Removed from the “art” of it all, it’s hilarious to imagine a rakish twink training his ass off to the tune of virtually unnoticeable results. These guys were already skinny. But as process is such an important talking point for actors, it can become either a vehicle to get to the heart of a character or a crutch on which to lean when there is a lack of one, as if to say: “See! I physically transformed, which is half the battle.”

As Leto admitted, losing the weight was merely an avenue he took to get “some clue into Harry, my character,” he explained. “And yeah, I think it did. Harry and everyone in the film are in a constant state of craving. I decided I never wanted to have to act that part.” It worked, sure, but the character is memorable because of the acting. Physicality comes second, especially when the transformation comes off more Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man than Christian Bale in The Machinist. Whether or not audiences will observe the bodily changes from Call Me By Your Name – where Chalamet appears shirtless – to Beautiful Boy is moot.

Did Lucas Hedges lose weight for something? I’m not sure if I care to look. Either way, he’s a decent actor. Noah Centineo, the internet’s boyfriend and star of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, is borderline beefy in our newly minted Age of the Twink.

While this thespian thin down bears almost no resemblance to the genuinely fatal “heroin chic” fashion trend of the late 90s – in the case of a working actor, their emaciated bodies aren’t necessarily glamorised; their drug-addled characters quite the opposite – it’s interesting to note that the weight loss is undertaken mostly at the behest of a director trying to accomplish their ‘vision’. It calls to mind a quote uttered by Jaime King, the poster girl for heroin chic, reflecting on her look in a 2002 interview with The Independent. “I looked so skinny, with black circles under my eyes. It makes me sick, so sick, that’s what they wanted.”

What they wanted. That is, the makers, the creators, and the audience. Despite the catalyst for the loss being in service of the art, fans quake at the sight of their “skinny legends”. Timothée Chalamet looks fantastic. His chiselled chin could dice a pepperoni. Beautiful Boy? Eh, it’s okay.

Beautiful Boy is in UK cinemas now.