While it is not a new thing for actors to learn new skills for their film performances, some have gone to incredible lengths to embrace every aspect of the character they’re playing. With the upcoming release of vampire thriller Byzantium ( tomorrow, May 31st), it was recently revealed that Irish actress Saoirse Ronan mastered a remarkably difficult Beethoven sonata for piano in an astonishing 12 weeks… with just 2 hours a day practice and not having played the instrument at all prior to that!
Here we have a look at some of the most remarkable skills learnt by actors for films.
Daniel Day-Lewis – Hunting and fishing
Daniel Day-Lewis is one notoriously dedicated method actor. As such, it is no surprise that the 55-year-old English-Irish star has so far managed to bag three Academy Awards for some of his top roles. One that didn’t, but which really put his legendary method skills to the limit, was that of Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, which saw him living in the wilderness for months in preparation for his character. During this time, Day-Lewis lived off nothing but the land and what he would hunt and fish himself.
Pat Morita – Karate
This may break your heart a little and even ruin your childhood. But prior to Karate Kid, California-born Pat Morita had no knowledge of karate whatsoever. And he did by no means become an expert in it either… the story goes that he learnt just about enough in order to do the film. Extra points there for making it so believable and turning in such an iconic performance!
Michelle Yeoh – 24hr Motorbike stunt riding
Michelle Yeoh, as a protégé of Jackie Chan, is known for a number of crazy stunts in her career. But her turn in Police Story 3: Super Cop (also starring Chan) has to top them all. Her final stunt in the film – riding a motorbike off a ramp and onto the roof of a moving train – was so impressive that it led Chan to add an even more dangerous stunt for himself (hanging off a rope ladder tied to a flying helicopter) to keep his reputation intact as Hong Kong’s most reckless and talented stunt artist. The most impressive bit about Michelle’s stunt though? She only learnt how to ride a motorbike the day before shooting!
Tom Cruise – Japanese & Samurai sword fighting
Tom Cruise has a bit of a reputation for being one of a small handful of Hollywood A-listers who insists on always performing his own stunts, however dangerous they may be. Bet insurance companies love him for that… but in order to prepare for Edward Zwick’s epic The Last Samurai, Cruise spent 2 years learning not only the art of Samurai sword fighting, but also Japanese! He in fact narrowly escaped potentially fatal injuries after a sword was swung within one inch of his neck while filming. Yikes!
Saoirse Ronan – Piano… and a Beethoven piece!
For her role of Eleanor is Neil Jordan’s Byzantium (at UK cinemas May 31st), young Saoirse Ronan astonished both the director and music professionals alike by mastering Beethoven’s Third Piano Sonata (which her character plays in a scene in the film) in just 12 weeks, having never played the instrument before! Her training involved 2-hour practice a day, learning the piece on baby grand piano she rented for the part. It is made all the more remarkable by the fact that even professional piano players find the piece incredibly difficult to execute. Go Saoirse!
Byzantium hits UK cinemas on Tomorrow, May 31st