To play Jake La Motta in Raging Bull Robert De Niro famously gained 60 pounds, a feat which many critics called “transformative” and set the bar for all actors after him.
Before there was Christian Bale, Robert De Niro was the king of transformational method acting — and no film establishes this better than the Martin Scorsese classic Raging Bull. In the film, DeNiro plays Italian-American middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta, whose self-destructive behavior is chronicled over the course of several decades, and De Niro takes it upon himself to show those decades of wear through his real, physical appearance.
At the time of the film’s release, De Niro’s 60 pound weight gain was the most by any actor for a film role, but what makes the actor’s physical change so remarkable is the extremes he went through during the course of one shoot. For the majority of the film, De Niro was required to maintain the body-type of a boxing contender and only in the last scenes in the film, which depict an older, overweight LaMotta, does De Niro swing wildly in the opposite direction.
And as if the weight gain alone wasn’t enough, De Niro added the weight in truly epic fashion: the production was shut down for several weeks while the actor went to Italy and ate as much pasta as he possibly could. By the time he got back, Scorsese was so alarmed by De Niro’s weight gain and labored breathing that production was again shut down as the director feared for the actor’s health.
De Niro trained the only way his character could, with endless reps of body-weight exercises such as dips, chinups, and pushups. De Niro reportedly performed up to 600 crunches a day—and it showed in his abs.
De Niro had previously earned serious street cred for his physical dedication to a part with 1980’s Raging Bull. De Niro trained with Jake La Motta (the man he played in the movie), convincing the legendary boxer that De Niro could have fought professionally if he had a mind to. To look the part of La Motta in his later years, De Niro then gained 60 pounds—thanks to a trip to Europe and a four-month eating binge.