The Extreme Lengths Ben Foster Went to Play Lance Armstrong

Method actors consistently wow us with their ability to push their bodies as well as their minds to the absolute limits to achieve the best possible performances. Ben Foster has eaten dirt to play a Navy SEAL, and lived on the streets to accurately portray the Los Angeles homeless. Now, in his upcoming filme, The Program – which chronicles the conspiracy behind cyclist Lance Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs – Foster may have taken his method acting to its absolute extreme.

The actor recently spoke with The Guardian regarding the lengths he went to perfect his performance, as well as his decision to take the same performance-enhancing drugs used by Armstrong himself:


For my investigation it was important for me privately to understand it. And they work. Even discussing it feels tricky because it isn't something I'd recommend to fellow actors.


The actor explained that while the drugs work, they take a serious toll on the user  a toll he has only just begun to recover from. Foster’s use of performance-enhancing drugs to accurately portray Armstrong seems unique to this particular role. He revealed that while he had played drug addicts in the past, he never felt the need to indulge in his research because in those instances, as the outward effects could be readily seen. In the case of Armstrong, however, the whole film revolves around his surreptitious use of the illicit substance, so the only real way for Foster to truly get a sense of their effects was to use them himself -- although it should be stated that Foster had the strict supervision of a medical professional to undergo such treatments.

Directed by Stephen Frears, The Program centers on Armstrong’s recovery from testicular cancer, and his use of performance-enhancing drugs to win seven consecutive Tour de France victories. The drugs are not a tangential topic of The Program, they are the central focus, the crux upon which the film builds its story. Judging from the trailer, Foster seems to have nailed Armstrong’s persona and mannerisms, it also makes us wonder: did the use of the drugs actually play a role in him perfecting the performance?


Method acting has become increasingly common, as well as controversial over the years. Aside from Ben Foster, men like Christian Bale and Daniel Day-Lewis have immersed themselves in their roles – taking tolls on their bodies and minds – in order to perfect their characters. Perhaps the most notably controversial method performance over the last few years was Heath Ledger, whom many believe lost himself in his now iconic turn as The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. It begs that question: how far is too far for the sake of a performance?


Foster overtly states that he would not recommend this method of research to his fellow actors, which seems to answer that question. We will find out how effective his methods were when The Program hits theaters later this month.

Conner Schwerdtfeger

Originally from Connecticut, Conner grew up in San Diego and graduated from Chapman University in 2014. He now lives in Los Angeles working in and around the entertainment industry and can mostly be found binging horror movies and chugging coffee.