Ben Foster Reveals 60 Pound Weight Loss To Play A Holocaust Survivor

Ben Foster in The Survivor
(Image credit: HBO Films)

It’s amazing the lengths actors will go through in order to truly embody the roles they play. In order to provide an accurate portrayal of a Holocaust survivor in his latest film The Survivor, Ben Foster went through the wringer to play real-life Holocaust survivor Harry Haft who fought fellow inmates to survive the Auschwitz concentration camp. Holocaust survivors have been through both physical and mental anguish that is unimaginable to most. In order to become the role of this real-life Holocaust survivor, Foster reveals that he made himself lose 60 pounds.

Imagine having to lose a ton of weight only to have to gain it back that much sooner. It reminds me of the time when Christian Bale changed his weight losing 62 pounds to be in The Machinist only to gain 100 pounds back six months later for The Dark Knight. Ben Foster had to lose and gain weight much quicker for The Survivor, explaining to Variety that he lost weight for the camp scenes only to gain weight for the boxing scenes five weeks later.

When I read the script, it had such scope and moral ambiguity. It’s a terribly moving piece. Then you start getting down to the engine room. How are we going to do this? And it was suggested that we could use digital effects to make Harry bigger and smaller for the weight loss and the weight gain. The one thing I knew was that I needed to lose the weight for myself, and fortunately, Barry and production were able to support that and we were able to shoot in order. So I was able to drop 62 pounds for the camp, and we took five weeks off, and I put on 50 for the ring. And then the last section of the film was the last decade with Harry and his story and I was able to indulge a lot more. Following a man’s journey, it’s rare for an actor to read something so complex. There’s so much to be drawn to in this material.

Ben Foster could have taken the easy way out in letting CGI effects lend their magic to his physical transformation, but he instead decided to put physical work into the role himself. Wanting to tell a moving story about a Holocaust survivor like Harry Haft clearly made Foster want to feel what his character is feeling-- and therefore authentically connect with audiences. The Leave No Trace actor is among a number of stars who have gone through physical transformations as a form of method acting for their complex roles. Matthew McConaughey went through an unbelievable diet of shedding 2.5 pounds a week to play a real-life HIV positive patient in Dallas Buyers Club. The same can be said for Benedict Cumberbatch losing weight in The Couriers when he lost 21 pounds to play real-life businessman and engineer Greville Wynne. This shows it’s only natural for actors to want to provide true vision and justice to their real-life characters for the audiences watching.

Method acting may seem like a challenging feat, but can seemingly also make work for the actor much easier if they truly go through what their character experiences- good or bad. Ben Foster continued to speak to Variety about the importance of using your body as a way to get into character to undergo his character’s struggles.

I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror if I was in the camp scenes and didn’t reflect some version of loss that felt credible. We see the documentaries, you see the photos, and you can’t forget that. So that was an opportunity to explore. I wanted to just see how far I could go and still be able to fight.

Ben Foster has also talked about how his method acting caused him to experience Harry Haft’s nightmares even though he did not share the same trauma as his character did in real life. The somewhat underrated actor has taken himself to extreme lengths before for his roles like when he played Lance Armstrong in The Program. Since the whole film revolved around Lance Armstrong’s involvement with performance enhancers, Foster took those same drugs under medical supervision to gain an understanding of their effects. What a relief that this actor did not lose himself to the role like Heath Ledger or Jim Carrey were thought to during their careers.

Considering the daring lengths Ben Foster is willing to go through for his roles, I hope his role in The Survivor will give him the award recognition he has deserved for so long. Be sure to take a look at Ben Foster’s talented transformation in The Survivor coming to your HBO Max subscription on April 27th. 

Carly Levy
Entertainment Writer

Just your average South Floridian cinephile who believes the pen is mightier than the sword.