Actresses who did hardcore training for a role

In an era where action flicks and superhero stories are Hollywood's bread and butter, it's not enough for the female stars of these films to be talented and beautiful; they also have to acquire a very particular set of skills (and sometimes, a very particular set of muscles to match) in order to fulfill the physical demands of their roles. 

From soldiers and spies to intergalactic assassins and psychotic ballerinas, these women put in maximum effort before the cameras ever began rolling, in order to be in peak condition when it came time to kick ass onscreen.

Gal Gadot

Gal Gadot already had the face to play one of the DC universe's most notoriously gorgeous girl heroes when she was cast as Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — but it took some serious work in the gym to turn her long, lean, runway model's body into an Amazonian temple of muscle for Wonder Woman's stand-alone flick

Gadot, who was unable to do a single pullup at the start of her training, spent nine months bulking up for the role. By the time she was in costume and in front of the cameras, she'd gained seventeen pounds — "And it's all muscle," she told Glamour. "I feel so much better now. When you feel strong, it changes everything — your posture, the way you walk. I look at photos from five years ago and think, Whoa, I was too skinny." And it wasn't just the physical transformation she had to accomplish; Gadot also had to learn to ride horseback and swing a sword in service of the film's intense battle scenes.

Scarlet Johansson

Between playing Black Widow in the Iron Man and Avengers franchises and a cyborg assassin in Ghost in the Shell, Scarlett Johansson has had to pretty much stay in constant peak physical condition since 2010, But for the latter, she had to know how to handle a wide variety of lethal objects, too.

Johansson describes her training regimen for Ghost in the Shell as "a lot of repetition and then a lot of tactical training, which I'd never done before — with room clearing and all that stuff, to just be as efficient with the weapons as possible." Hardcore, for sure, although it still sounds like a lot more fun than the strict weight-lifting and diet routine she followed for Avengers, which she described as, "Workout like a dude, eat like a rabbit."

Alison Brie

Until recently, Alison Brie was best known for playing Trudy, the long-suffering wife of Pete Campbell on Mad Men — a role which required serious acting skills but absolutely no stuntwork. So when she landed a starring role in Netflix's GLOW (that's Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), she had to train like a madwoman to get in literal fighting shape. 

Sometimes, that meant intense workouts where she and her fellow GLs of W hurled weighted objects onto the gym floor; sometimes, it meant carrying her 220-pound trainer, Jason Walsh, around the room on her back. Walsh said his goal was to turn Brie into someone who could both dish out and take a hit. "Alison would be jumping off ropes and landing on people and flipping. I wanted to get her resilient so she didn't run the risk of injury," he said.

Jennifer Lawrence

In order to play Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games franchise, Jennifer Lawrence had to not only act her butt off, but also whip herself into peak physical condition and acquire a slew of survival skills. Lawrence's six-week training regimen included the usual time in the gym, where she did sprints and cardio conditioning for the action-packed films — and of course, she had to learn to hold a bow like a pro. 

But when the actress was asked about her workout routine, she ticked off some unusual items, too, "Rock climbing, tree climbing — and combat, running, and vaulting." She must have slept somewhere in there, too, although who knows when she would've had time for it!

Hilary Swank

Few actresses have ever gotten into the kind of shape that Hilary Swank did for her Academy award-winning role as a champion boxer in Million Dollar Baby, and now that we've gotten the scoop on how she did it, we understand why! Swank had to overhaul her entire lifestyle and adopt a tightly regimented routine in which her workouts, her meals, and even her sleep were all planned out down to the minute.

"My training was two and a half hours of boxing and approximately an hour and a half to two hours lifting weights every day, six days a week," the actress said. "The producers asked me to gain 10 pounds of muscle. I gained 19 pounds of muscle. I started at 110 and went to 129. And in order to do that, I had to eat 210 grams of protein a day. Now, your body can only assimilate so much protein, so I had to eat every hour and a half." Swank also described drinking ten egg whites per day and sleeping nine hours per night — but with a midnight alarm so that she could get up and choke down a protein shake in the wee hours of the morning.

Demi Moore

For her role as a soldier in the 1997 film G.I. Jane, Demi Moore famously got in such peak physical condition that she was able to do one-armed pushups. To nail the part, Moore trained with an actual Navy SEAL and eschewed stunt doubles, even for the movie's most intense scenes involving a brutal obstacle course

She said, "I could have come in and asked to let the stuntwoman do the obstacle course, but I felt I would have walked away having missed an opportunity experiencing, first-hand, what these people actually go through in training; it's the whole reason for doing this film in the first place."

Uma Thurman

In order to play Beatrix "The Bride" Kiddo in Quentin Tarantino's modern-day Kill Bill duet of kung fu films, Uma Thurman had to be able to kill Bill in several dozen different ways — and at least two languages. 

Thurman described the litany of skills she had to train for, in an interview, saying, "Three styles of kung fu, two styles of sword fighting, knife throwing, knife fighting, hand-to-hand combat, Japanese speaking. It was literally absurd." Needless to say, it took a serious investment of time and effort to take it from absurd to awesome. Said Thurman of her grueling regimen with martial arts master Wu Ping, "They trained me five days a week for three months from nine in the morning until five o'clock at night and we were not to be late and I never got to leave early."

Linda Hamilton

While some folks were swooning over the then-awe-inspiring special effects in James Cameron's 1991 sequel to Terminator, others were far more impressed by the musclebound guns of its leading lady. Linda Hamilton trained like a maniac for her return to the role of Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, putting in thirteen weeks of work before shooting even began — a regimen that saw her doing loads of cardio, weight training, weapons training, and judo, as well as eating a very vintage-1990s diet that included virtually no fat. 

And even that wasn't enough to satisfy her trainer. Hamilton said, "He would have liked to have had me swimming in the ocean at dawn with a 50-pound pack. But I have a son who needed me too."

​Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie doesn't just accept physically demanding roles; she seeks them out, and then looks for ways to make them even more hardcore. In a special feature included on the Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life DVD, the movie's director reveals that Jolie came on board with a list of new skills and new fighting techniques she wanted to learn for the film — requiring her to train in everything from horseback riding to stick fighting, before all was said and done. 

Jolie clearly got a taste for pushing herself to the limit. Seven years later, she completed a grueling training regimen in two new martial arts in order to play the title role in Salt. "For her fight training, we got her learning a combination of Muay Thai and Krav Maga very early on," the film's stunt instructor, Simon Crane, explained. "The training, at the early stages, took up about three to four sessions a week, lasting approximately two hours each. When we started filming, we trained during lunch breaks or on the weekends."

Zoe Saldana

Even though her actual face and body never appeared onscreen, Zoe Saldana went through an absolutely killer training regimen for her performance as Neytiri in Avatar. Not only did the actress need to learn archery, martial arts, and how to ride a horse bareback, she also had to learn in Na'vi, the fictional language featured in the movie. 

And the six months she spent mastering those skills were just the beginning, as she then had to learn how to do it all, while wearing a motion capture suit and head camera. All together, Saldana spent a whopping eighteen months preparing for this role.

Natalie Portman

How intense was Natalie Portman's training regimen for Black Swan? The actress herself probably sums it up best, "There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die." To prepare for her role as the star of Darren Aronofsky's thriller about a mentally unbalanced ballerina, Portman spent a full year developing the basic ballet skills required to execute the film's choreography — dancing for five hours a day, every day. 

But once production kicked into gear, those five hours of daily dancing turned into sixteen, which, in combination with an ultra-restrictive dancer's diet, saw Portman shed twenty pounds from her already-thin frame. Fortunately, the actress' misery had company; her co-star Mila Kunis had to endure a similarly grueling routine.

The dedication is real

Despite Hollywood's reputation for embellishment and subterfuge, there's nothing fake about the effort these actresses put in to prepare for these physically demanding roles. So the next time you're watching a superhero movie, or an on-screen dance-off, be sure to take a moment to appreciate all the hard work that went into it before the cameras ever started rolling.