The Legacy of DeNiro's Weight Gain for Raging Bull

John Cusack revealed that he lost 25 pounds to play Edgar Allan Poe in “The Raven.” “I thought it would be fun,” Cusack said. “It wasn’t fun not eating.”

Ever since Robert De Niro took home an Oscar in 1981 for playing Jake LaMotta in part because of the sense of authenticity lent his performance by first getting into shape to look like a boxer and then gaining 60 pounds to look like a fat ex-boxer, actors have been gaining and losing weight in record numbers. Two things are most striking about Cusack’s revelation.

One, why bother losing 25 pounds in an effort to find that sense of realism when you are also going to be sporting a well-trimmed Van Dyke beard despite the fact that every photograph and portrait available of Poe shows him with no more facial hair than a mustache?

Two, why bother losing 25 pounds when you could have been using that time and effort to improve your acting skills? Let’s face it: John Cusack has pretty much been coasting since the early 1990’s. Cusack stated that he decided to lose the weight in an effort to attain the emaciation Poe was experiencing as his life was coming to an end.

“[Poe] was a world famous writer but they didn’t have copyrights, so he was dirt poor actually,” Cusack told OnTheRedCarpet.com. “He was always kind of living hand-to-mouth and had financial troubles all his life … so I thought that would be the best look.”

Poe was never a particularly healthy individual and the cost of alcohol and disappointment made him quite a pathetic figure physically speaking on those dark last few days before he ascended to Great American Writer Heaven.

Gotta be honest, John: I haven’t seen “The Raven,” but I have watched the previews and, frankly, I couldn’t tell a difference between the way you look in this movie and the way you looked in anything else.

The same cannot be said of Anne Hathaway, whose revelation of weight loss for her upcoming role in “Les Miserables” did not need to be verbally explained. She barely looks like the same person in the photos of her role as Catwoman.

Those photographs from the set say it all, and what it says is that Hathaway lost a lot of weight — 16 pounds over the course of three weeks, according to Mail Online though US Magazine quotes Hathaway’s rep as saying “The numbers are exaggerated in both pounds and calories.”

What’s with the weight loss to take on a role? In the case of Robert DeNiro, it was nothing new. During his peak output in the 1970’s and 1980’s, DeNiro was infamous for going to great lengths to achieve a certain measure of realism in his performance. Before Raging Bull DeNiro was a essentially a rather slender figure, so it made complete sense for him to bulk up in order to believably portray a champion boxer. The additional 60 pounds to become flabby was not as necessary, but definitely made his performance all that much greater.

Things are different today, however. The technological revolution that is the single most influential driving force behind the craft of filmmaking today has completely changed the rules. Skinny actors no longer need to look like they’ve got padding beneath their costumes to look positively obese. Advancements in prosthetics combined with computer graphics can transform the physical features of an actor into something unrecognizable and utterly convincing. For crying out loud, Brad Pitt and Jeff Bridges can be made to look like they are as fresh faced as they were when we first met them on the screen!

If Robert DeNiro were making “Raging Bull” today he might still decide to spend a few months in Italy testing the cuisine of every restaurant in the country, but economics would probably dictate that his flab be put on by the special effects department. Would his performance suffer as a result? In DeNiro’s case, yes. But John Cusack is no De Niro. His claim to have lost 25 pounds in order to find the darkness within Edgar Allan Poe seems more like celebrity posturing than an honest assessment of a deeply dedicated actor.

As for Hathaway, one can only assume that after spending all that time inside that tight leather catsuit, she felt she deserved some recognition. The graphic evidence of significant weight loss seems to scream out one single word more loudly than any other.

Oscar!