When actors begin to prep for their next role, they dive headfirst into the psyche of the character they’re about to play. Between researching who the character is, completing extensive training, and learning lines, the process can take weeks (even months) to perfect. Unfortunately, what happens on set doesn’t always stay on set. Whether it’s because of the character, the director, or the overall premise of the movie, there are some roles that ruined actors’ lives.


As moviegoers, we might not realize that working in the entertainment biz can really take a toll on an actor’s health. While we know about their drastic show diets and their near-death experiences outside of movie lots, we never really hear about the ramifications of those physically or mentally dangerous roles.

Moreover, while most performers try to shrug off the emotional complexities that come with their daytime jobs, some actors experience so much on-set trauma that their personal lives suffer. Here are some examples of specific movie roles that negatively impacted the actors forever.

1. Heath Ledger felt mentally exhausted after The Dark Knight.

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His Joker portrayal was legendary.

This former romantic comedy actor turned to the dark side by diving deeply into the mind of a psychopathic villain – the Joker. And apparently, the role took a negative toll on Heath Ledger. According to Screen Rant, Ledger locked himself in a room for six weeks and obsessed over images of hyenas, stills from Clockwork Orange, and joker cards. Over time, the extreme effort Ledger put into his craft eventually left him battling insomnia and mental exhaustion.

2. Shelley Duvall felt that she was treated poorly during The Shining. 

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Nothing is more classic than Jack Nicholson’s role in The Shining. But audiences tend to forget the one-of-a-kind performance Shelley Duvall executed.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing people forget. According to Looper, director Stanely Kubrick gave Duvall no mercy during the filming of The Shining. She worked long days with very little breaks and eventually suffered an anxiety attack. Kubrick also allegedly treated Duvall poorly to create a power divide between her and Nicholson and intensify their scenes.

Consequently, Duvall felt conflicted about her experience on set. She explained, “Even though the atmosphere on set was sometimes unpleasant, I’m now remembered for a film that’s become a horror classic. The fact that people are still watching and talking about it 31 years later amazes me.”

3. Isla Fisher almost drowned in Now You See Me.

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Most actors leave extreme stunts to the professionals. Isla Fisher, however, took things into her own hands and nearly suffered dearly.

While filming an underwater magic trick for Now You See Me, Fisher was attached to a chain that got stuck. She revealed on the Chelsea Lately show that she swam to the bottom of the tank in an attempt to release the chain. But she struggled underwater for three minutes without the cast realizing the danger. Luckily, a quick-release switch and a stunt coordinator saved her before it was too late.

4. Janet Leigh developed PTSD after Psycho.

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Hitchcock’s iconic movie, Psycho, probably even made you paranoid about showering.

The movie’s lead actress, Janet Leigh, also struggled with the movie’s violence. She portrayed the victim, Marion Crane. And after filming the haunting bath scene multiple times, she developed a phobia of taking showers. For years, Leigh reportedly only took baths or kept the shower curtain open. She preferred to face the bathroom door and lock all of the windows and doors to make sure no one could enter her home and surprise her.

5. Viggo Mortenson nearly drowned while filming The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

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While set coordinators typically prep for all situations, some things don’t go according to plan.

For instance, Viggo Mortenson, who played Aragorn in the classic Lord of the Rings series, almost drowned in a river because of his costume. For the scene, Mortenson’s character had to sit face down in the water after being shot in the back with arrows. Unfortunately, his heavy costume and the river’s strong curtain did not mix well. Luckily, though, he survived.

6. Bob Hoskins went mad in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

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Bob Hoskins experienced hallucinations while filming this movie.

After working on set for eight months straight, Hoskins claimed to actually see animated characters on set. During an interview with Express, he shared, “I think I went a bit mad while working on that. Lost my mind. The voice of the rabbit was there just behind the camera all the time, you just had to know where the rabbit would be at all times, and Jessica Rabbit and all these weasels. The trouble was, I had [learned] how to hallucinate. If you do that for eight months it becomes hard to get rid of. Unfortunately, those hallucinations even influenced Hoskins’s personal life, and his daughter reportedly even noticed the difference.

7. Jennifer Lawrence almost suffocated during The Hunger Games.

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Before Jennifer Lawrence became a huge movie star, she scored a lead in The Hunger Games. 

The movie dealt with some sensitive subject matter, but Lawrence seemed to handle it well. Some things were out of her control, though. While filming, directors instructed JLaw to run through a tunnel. A fog machine, however, went errant during her run. Rather than creating a light fog, the device filled the whole tunnel with heavy smoke. It nearly killed Lawrence before she eventually escaped.

8. Anne Hathaway loss a massive amount of weight for Les Miserables.

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As beautiful as Les Miserables is, the musical deals with intense themes.

And the actors seemed to dedicate themselves entirely to the script. For actress Anne Hathaway, the transition was especially challenging. She lost nearly 25 pounds to accurately portray Fantine. While she won an Oscar for her performance, Hatheway suffered physically and emotionally with the dramatic weight loss. Reportedly, this role affected her so much that it took weeks before she could adequately cope with reality again.

9. Diane Kruger was almost strangled to death by Quentin Tarantino in Inglourious Basterds.

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Actors are supposed to listen to the director’s instructions, but some directors take things too far.

For instance, on the set of Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino almost strangled Diane Kruger in a scene. Even though he reportedly wanted to perform the act himself to help ensure the actress’s safety, he took things a little too far. Tarantino did not call right before Kruger passed out, so she nearly asphyxiated.

10. Malcolm McDowell temporarily went blind for A Clockwork Orange.

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A Clockwork Orange is not for the faint of heart.

And lead actor Malcolm McDowell didn’t complete his role without facing complications. For instance, one scene required the actor to have his eyes pinned open. McDowell allowed the director to keep them open for every single take. Eventually, he got a scratched cornea and suffered temporary blindness from the prolonged exposure.

11. Johnny Depp had to detox after Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

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Not all actors are method actors. But when a performer is passionate about a certain project, they might take extra steps to accurately portray a role.

At least that’s what Johnny Depp did for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas when he portrayed Hunter S. Thompson. Reportedly, Depp lived in Thompson’s Aspen home for months, and the two became extremely close in the process. However, during a Rolling Stone interview, Depp mentioned that he had a hard time letting go of the character. He also decided to do a “detox” when he stopped filming.

12. Linda Blair experienced religious exhaustion because of her role in The Exorcist.

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She had to portray a possessed child.

She was 13 years old when she filmed the movie, so Linda Blair didn’t completely realize the implications that would come with the film. Blair mentioned in an interview with Dread Central that being bombarded with questions at such a young age about faith, possession, and Catholicism really took a toll on her. She said, “To me The Exorcist was a work of fiction; I didn’t realize then that it dealt with anything in reality, and so when the press kept asking me about all the devil stuff, it just kept adding to the pressure I was under, and it was just an awful thing to go through as a teenager.”

13. Adrien Brody put himself through the wringer to prepare for The Pianist.

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He nearly destroyed his own life to get things just right.

Adrien Brody prepared for his role as Wladyslaw Szpilman by selling his car and apartment and ending his relationship with his girlfriend to truly experience what’s it like to lose everything. Unfortunately, that dedication cost him dearly, even after winning an Oscar for his performance. Brody told IndieWire, “I was depressed for a year after The Pianist. And I don’t suffer from that, generally. It wasn’t just a depression; it was a mourning.”

14. Jason Statham nearly lost his life during filming for The Expendables 3.

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The stunts got a little too real.

In fact, according to Terry Crews, Jason Statham’s Expendables costar, the actor almost drowned. During a Tonight Show with Jay Leno interview, Crews revealed that one of the movie’s stunts went very wrong. For one scene, Statham’s character needed to drive a truck to the edge of the Black Sea. He was supposed to get out of the car, but the actor lost control and went right into the dangerous waters. After a few frightful moments, Statham swam free. The truck, however, disappeared into the sea.

15. Tippi Hedren was actually attacked in The Birds.

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No birds were harmed in the making of the movie, but Tippi Hedren wasn’t so lucky.

The director, Alfred Hitchcock, wanted the violent scenes to look as realistic as possible, so he used real birds. According to her memoir, Tippi, the actress endured five straight days of live birds attacking her face and body. “I was too focused on my own survival to notice, but I was told later that it was even more horrifying and heartbreaking for the crew to watch than the previous four days had been,” Hedren shared. “And there wasn’t a thing anyone but Hitchcock could do to put a stop to it.”