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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

On the Next Episode of The Lead

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November 8th, 2013
05:31 PM ET

Starving for an Oscar

The "Dallas Buyers Club" expands to more movie theaters this weekend, after pulling in more than a quarter of a million dollars on just nine screens last weekend.

The reviews are stellar, with many critics highlighting the most attention-grabbing aspect – the startling amounts of weight actors Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto lost to portray AIDS patients during the 1980s epidemic.

But the physical transformations come with some serious health risks.

Transforming into their characters was a full-body experience for Leto and McConaughey. Their roles as HIV patients required each to embark on an intense weight loss regime, waning from fit stars to dying characters within months.

"I stopped counting after 30 or 40 lbs," said Leto. "It provides a certain amount of fragility to the character which was essential here."

Perhaps nothing conveys commitment to an audience more than a rigorous and intense physical commitment.

It conveys it to voters for the Academy Awards, too. Just look at best actor Robert De Niro, portraying both cut young Jake LaMotta, and overweight, older LaMotta in "Raging Bull." Or best actress Charlize Theron in "Monster." Or multi award winner Tom Hanks in "Philadelphia" and "Forrest Gump."

Hanks was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and told the BBC that gaining weight for roles did not help his cause.

"You don't exercise very much and I'm sure that didn't help blood sugars very much, but I'm not going to say, 'Oh I have Type 2 diabetes because I did "Castaway,"" said Hanks.

Celebrity nutrition expert Jackie Keller says for actors, the motivations and the risks are sizeable.

"Effecting a weight that is far below their normal is really a difficult thing for the body to adjust to, so there's a problems with sleep, there's problems with energy level," said Kelly. "But it can be done at least safely in the time frame it's allowed for it."

Keller helped actor Jake Gyllenhaal gain weight for 2010's "Prince of Persia."

But her former client cast quite a different figure last month as he prepared for a smaller role in "Nightcrawler."

"I'm playing someone who is, like, hungry both literally and figuratively," said Gyllenhaal.

"He's a very healthy eater, so I'm assuming that for this role he's doing it in a healthy fashion," said Keller. "We don't totally eliminate any particular macronutrient source, and we keep the diet fairly well balanced so that, you know, we try to minimize the types of cravings that people have.

For these actors, edible temptations are far outweighed by their urge to look the part.

Actresses Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman trained intensely for 2010's "Black Swan."

"It's one of those things where you can only fake it so much," said Kunis. "In order for me to look like a ballerina, I had to have my collar bone protrude in a certain way."

And repeat efforts are not uncommon. Just six years before "Dallas Buyers Club," Leto went for another extreme, adding 67 pounds to his naturally thin frame to play John Lennon's killer in "Chapter 27."

"It is kind of a gross thing to do to yourself," said Leto. "I'll never do it again."

McConaughey appears to have gained the weight back, he said he made a bee-line for a cheeseburger after the movie wrapped.

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