It was a role which required him to sleep inside an animal carcass, eat raw bison and endure regular swims in freezing North American rivers.
And Leonardo Di Caprio was last night rewarded for his tortuous performance in The Revenant after being named best actor at the BAFTAs – as the film claimed a quintet of gongs.
Di Caprio thanked his mother – along with co-star Tom Hardy and a host of other British actors – as he collected the award, saying he was “humbled and honoured”.
Citing Tm Courtenay, Gary Oldman and Daniel Day Lewis, he said: “I have to say as an actor I have been so influenced by so many British actors throughout the years.
“I want to thank one particular British actor and that was my partner in this process – Tom Hardy. I want to thank you for your fierce loyalty as a collaborator and as a friend.”
Paying tribute to his mother, he added: “I didn’t grow up in a life of privilege and this woman drove me three hours a day to a different school to show me a different opportunity. It’s her birthday today - Mum, I love you very much.”
Di Caprio’s award was sandwiched between The Revenant’s victories in the best film and best director categories.
The film, in which Di Caprio plays Hugh Glass – an American frontiersman who is left for dead by his comrades after being attacked and badly mauled by a bear – also claimed prizes for sound and cinematography.
In a tribute befitting Valentine’s Day, the film’s director Alejandro G Inarritu dedicated his award to his wife, Maria Eladia Hagerman, saying: “This award comes with remarkable British punctuality – I want to celebrate, to share and to dedicate it to my wife. Tomorrow we will be celebrating our 24th anniversary together. That’s what I call heroism, endurance and a love survivor!”
Among the Brits to emerge victorious on the night was Kate Winslet, who won best supporting actress gong for her performance in Steve Jobs, the film about the Apple co-founder.
Collecting the award, she said she was quite “overwhelmed”, telling the audience: “Oh my gosh. What an amazing year to be nominated.”
She paid tribute to her fellow nominees and said: “It has been an amazing year for women.”
Meanwhile, John Boyega took the EE Rising Star award, the only Bafta voted for by the public.
Boyega, who starred in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, said: “I want to thank God for this moment. I have some very special people in my life... I’m going to share this award with all the young dreamers who are hard-working... This is for you.”
Brooklyn was named outstanding British film while Amy – a film about Amy Whitehouse – scooped the documentary award.
Mad Max: Fury Road claimed four awards, for editing, hair and make-up, costume and production design.
Sidney Poitier won the Bafta Fellowship Award but could not be at the event due to ill-health. Instead, the award was presented to him on screen by actor Jamie Foxx and Poitier’s daughter.
The 88-year-old described it as an “extraordinary moment”, while Oprah Winfrey called him “an unyielding example of how true strength of character has the power to shift an industry”.
David Bowie was remembered in the In Memoriam segment.
Here are the winners in full:
Best film - The Revenant
Best actor - Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Best actress - Brie Larson (Room)
Best director - Alejandro G Inarritu (The Revenant)
Best debut - Theb
Best original screenplay - Spotlight
Best adapted screenplay - The Big Short
Best costume design - Mad Max: Fury Road
Best supporting actress - Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)
Best animated film - Inside Out
Best supporting actor - Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
EE Rising Star - John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
Best special effects - Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Best sound - The Revenant
Best editing - Mad Max: Fury Road
Best British short animation - Edmond
Best British short film - Operator
Best original music - The Hateful 8
Best documentary - Amy
Best cinematography - The Revenant
Best make-up & hair - Mad Max: Fury Road
Outstanding British film - Brooklyn
Best foreign language film - Wild Tales
Best production design - Mad Max: Fury Road