‘Cillian Murphy ate an almond a day to get into shape for role’ is just one of the thousands of headlines currently circulating in the wake of Oppenheimer co-star Emily Blunt’s interview where she referenced the actor’s weight loss: “He had such a monumental undertaking,” she told Extra. “And he could only eat, like, an almond every day. He was so emaciated.”
Thousands isn’t an exaggeration: a Google ‘News’ search of ‘Cillian Murphy weight loss’ yields 7,140 results. A staggering amount of interest in someone for just… being in a smaller body. But this doesn’t come as a surprise: our society is obsessed with weight. Weight gain, weight loss, weight maintenance – both of people we know and people we don’t know. There is a global fascination with body shape and size, and it’s nothing new.
Who else remembers the obsession with Renee Zellweger’s weight gain for the role of Bridget Jones back in 2001 and her subsequent weight loss once filming had ended? It was hard to miss: the narrative around the actress’s body dominated all media and discussion around the film. So much so that when the actress appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show in 2004, she expressed her sadness at the attention surrounding these weight fluctuations. “For the last four years, the questions I have been asked the most… Can you guess? The weight,” she said. “’How did you lose that weight?’ That’s what everybody wants to know. But the thing is, why is that? It saddens me so much.”
Similarly to Renee, Cillian has stated that he doesn’t want the focus of his role in Oppenheimer to revolve around his weight loss. “I don’t want it to be, ‘Cillian lost x weight for the part,” he told the Guardian. He has refused to disclose how many pounds he lost, or what he ate to achieve the ‘emaciated’ physique of the film’s character. Instead, he talked about his efforts to fully embody the role of J. Robert Oppenheimer: “I love acting with my body, and Oppenheimer had a very distinct physicality and silhouette, which I wanted to get right,” he told the New York Times. “I had to lose quite a bit of weight, and we worked with the costume and tailoring; he [the character] was very slim, almost emaciated, existed on martinis and cigarettes.”
Importantly, Cillian made sure not to glamorise the transformation, adding that “you become competitive with yourself a little bit, which is not healthy. I don’t advise it.”
For me, this was a vital addition to the narrative. Weight loss is so often idolised and sought-after – no matter the means or consequences – that we can lose sight of the effects on the body both physically and mentally. After Matt Damon lost 51 pounds for his role in film Courage Under Fire, he damaged an adrenal gland and his doctors reportedly told him that the stress he underwent during this time could have caused permanent damage to his heart. Taylor Lautner, meanwhile, described his gruelling regime to prepare for the Twlight films: he was ‘forced to be in a gym multiple times a day, six days a week,’ before detailing the impact that losing that specific physique had on his body image and mental health, with the media claiming he had ‘let it all go’. He said that it was a ‘rough’ time.
This is so typical of diet culture: thinness is valued above all else, with little to no care for the ramifications of achieving thinness. Any of us who have experienced the 90s will be able to relate to the extreme measures we were actively encouraged to undertake to lose weight: think the baby food diet (clue’s in the name with this one, you only eat baby food); the cabbage soup diet, where, you guessed it, cabbage soup is on the menu three times a day; and the Atkins diet, where you can eat as much meat, butter, cheese, fats and oils as you wish, while all carbohydrates including all fruit and some vegetables are restricted. I’ve tried them all and they left me miserable, while any initial weight loss was regained and often more – which is often a side effect of depriving your body!
I bristled when I read the headline about Cillian eating ‘an almond a day’: not only because it uses ‘in shape’ to refer to an emaciated character who lived off martinis and cigarettes, but also because as a child of diet culture, almonds will always trigger me… Almonds were a hallmark of diet culture, and we were encouraged to use them to stave off hunger and sometimes even replace meals – but consumption still had to be limited, of course, because did you know nuts are also very calorific? It’s no wonder our relationship with food and our bodies is so complicated.
Lastly, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the emphasis on weight reduces these actors and their talent to their appearance. I, for one, long for a world where appearance becomes the least interesting thing about an individual and headlines instead revolve around celebrating skills and achievements rather than weight fluctuations.