Hollywood makeup artists are on a whole different level. They can take a good-looking actor and turn them hideous, otherworldly, or into someone else entirely. These 20 performers were all turned into characters for movies and essentially had to wear a physical body or a face that wasn’t theirs. And the results were amazing.
20. Ralph Fiennes, Harry Potter (2005-2011)
For the hugely popular Harry Potter series, it was imperative that a talented actor play head baddie Lord Voldemort. The producers chose Ralph Fiennes. But his face would be completely hidden under makeup – Voldemort is a horrifying snake-like creature with green-tinted skin and slits where his nose should be.
So Fiennes had to undergo a long time in the makeup chair to get himself turned into Voldemort. Luckily, he had a great artist to help him, Oscar winner Mark Coulier. And Coulier managed to reduce the Voldemort transformation time down to two hours. But even he couldn’t remove Fiennes’ nose with just makeup. That part was CGI.
19. Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
When Rooney Mara was cast as Lisbeth Salander she knew it would mean drastically changing the way she looked. First her long hair came off, then her eyebrows were bleached. Finally, she herself went into town to get all the piercings her character has in the film. Her own mother might not have recognized her in the end.
Needless to say, it was an emotional experience for Mara. In November 2011 the actress told Entertainment Weekly magazine, “There were certainly things I was scared to do, but I never thought I wasn’t up for the challenge… I just had to process, ‘okay, this is what you look like now.’”
18. Nicole Kidman, The Hours (2002)
Nicole Kidman wore a false nose to play Virginia Woolf in The Hours. It was a difficult process – she had to spend three hours in makeup every day. And in 2003 she told the Chicago Tribune, “[I] try to create who [Woolf] is through just being her rather than trying to change physically, even though I wore the nose, even though all of those things.”
Indeed, the nose almost gained more attention than the performance. At the premiere party for the movie, producer Scott Rudin told the Tribune, “I ultimately hate the discussion of the nose because I think it diminishes the scale of what she does in the movie.” Yet it all paid off in the end: Kidman won an Oscar.
17. Jeff Goldblum, The Fly (1986)
In David Cronenberg’s 1986 ode to body horror, Jeff Goldblum plays the titular character. Yes, he turns into a fly. Needless to say, that took a lot of work. Goldblum got naked, got covered in fly makeup and general grossness, and even faced off against an angry baboon in the name of art.
Unsurprisingly, The Fly won an Oscar for its makeup effects. Many years later in 2018, Goldblum recalled the whole process to the website Yahoo. You see, it had taken him five hours to get into the Fly makeup and then another hour to get it all off again. However, Goldblum said, “It’s not the most comfortable thing but it wasn’t bad. It was a fun thing to do.”
16. Laura Gómez, Orange is the New Black (2013-2019)
There were many physical transformations in Orange is the New Black, but one of the most remarkable was Laura Gómez as Blanca Flores. As a prisoner with no access to beauty products, she has wild hair and a unibrow. In 2015 Gómez told the website You Beauty, “I think [the unibrow is] a big part of the essence of Blanca. As an actor, you always look for that detail that makes this character stand out.”
Gómez also told the website, “I didn’t know I had so much hair until I got this job, but I do. The truth is, we have the most amazing hair and makeup department. I need to give them credit because they turned my little hair into that crazy mess that Blanca has.” In real life, the actress looks very different indeed.
15. Tom Cruise, Tropic Thunder (2008)
After some downtime (not to mention a slating from the media) Tom Cruise made a comeback with an extremely surprising character. He decided to play Les Grossman in comedy Tropic Thunder. Grossman lived up to his name: he was gross. And he definitely didn’t look like the handsome Cruise.
Cruise told Conan O’Brien in 2019 that before being given the role he’d told the filmmakers, “Look, I’d love to play this character, but I want to have fat hands and I’m gonna dance.” That was precisely what happened, and now Grossman is one of Cruise’s most beloved characters. Cruise even appeared as him at the 2010 MTV Movie Awards.
14. Doug Jones, The Shape of Water (2017)
You’ve probably seen Doug Jones act without ever knowing that you have. He’s Hollywood’s go-to guy for monster and alien roles. Under makeup he’s been in Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and more. But arguably his most impressive and famous role is that of the Amphibian Man in the Oscar-winning The Shape of Water.
The Shape of Water showcased Jones’ talents but not his face. In real life he’s a perfectly good-looking guy who doesn’t seem to mind that he’s spent most of his career hidden under prosthetics. That being said, in 2020 he told the website MetroPlus, “I would love to be in a Hallmark Christmas movie, playing the dad offering his daughter some sage advice while wearing an ugly Christmas sweater.”
13. Tilda Swinton, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
When Tilda Swinton played the 84-year-old Madame D, she had to undergo five hours in the makeup chair to effectively age her up. Then it would take another five hours to get it all off again. Luckily, the actress was able to shoot all her scenes in a mere two days.
Of course, Tilda Swinton is not at all likely to be mistaken for an 84-year-old in real life. But in a 2014 interview with newspaper Chicago Tribune the journalist asked her “Is it a compliment to say I totally believed you were an old woman?” and she answered, “It’s the most romantic thing that you could say to me.”
12. Rebecca Romijn, X-Men series (2000-2006)
Rebecca Romijn was the first actress to play Mystique in the X-Men movie franchise, and it was a tricky job. In the early days she would have to spend at least eight hours having the dark blue makeup carefully applied. And if that wasn’t bad enough, she had to be totally naked underneath it.
Romijn was later replaced by Jennifer Lawrence as a younger Mystique, and she seemed to have mixed feelings about it. In 2016 she told Entertainment Tonight, “I don’t have an opinion on whether or not there is some kind of double standard going with regard to bringing back the older men but not the older women. I’d be happy to go back and reprise that role sometime but maybe they have moved on.”
11. Tim Curry, Legend (1985)
Tim Curry’s patience playing the Lord of Darkness in Legend eventually ran out. You see, he had to be covered in prosthetics and makeup, spending over five hours having it all applied. At the end of the day he was supposed to sit in a bath for one hour to remove it, but one day he just ripped it off instead, injuring himself.
As we well know, Curry opted to do a prosthetic role again in the original IT movie, playing Pennywise. Speaking to Fangoria magazine in 1992, he said, “I don’t think anybody likes [the makeup]. But it’s great fun when you’re actually working it, making it part of yourself and finding out what it can do. And both with [IT and Legend, the fun is that it’s very difficult to go too far.”
10. Charlize Theron, Monster (2003)
To play real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, the beautiful Charlize Theron had to change almost everything about her body. She gained weight by eating chips and donuts, she wore fake teeth, she had her hair thinned out and her eyebrows bleached. Critics raved about her transformation.
However, as remarkable as Theron’s change to a hard-done-by murderer was, for the actress that wasn’t the most important part of the movie. In 2004 she told CNN reporters, “The greatest thing I can hope for, which is an impossible thing to hope for because so much emphasis has been put on the transformation…[is] that people can go see it and get past all that.”
9. Oscar Isaac, X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Oscar Isaac was cast as Apocalypse for the 2016 entry in the X-Men franchise. But it wasn’t all it cracked up to be. In 2018 Isaac told GQ magazine, “I didn’t know when I said yes that that was what was going to be happening. That I was going to be encased in glue, latex, and a 40-pound suit—that I had to wear a cooling mechanism at all times.”
Isaac couldn’t even see his co-stars through the makeup. To top it all off, the movie got terrible reviews. Luckily, the handsome actor had the Star Wars franchise to fall back on, and he’s still much in demand. Turns out people want to see his face, not that of a comic book villain.
8. Naomi Grossman, American Horror Story: Asylum (2012)
Naomi Grossman looks very different from Pepper, the character she played in American Horror Story. In 2012 she recalled to Entertainment Weekly magazine that on being cast she met with the special effects department and,“I could tell this was not your typical ‘nurse number 3 to the left’ type role!”
In reality, Grossman is gorgeous. In 2014 she told the website Salon, “My agent and manager were concerned about my decision to go bald. They feared I would look like Pepper. I was actually slightly insulted by that! It takes two makeup artists working feverishly for three hours for me to look like Pepper!” In the end, she enjoyed having no hair.
7. Christian Bale, Vice (2018)
Christian Bale has done several bizarre body transformations for roles, and in 2018 he went completely unrecognizable to play Dick Cheney. However, he made it look easy. At the film’s world premiere he told reporters, “It was more fun gaining the weight than losing it. I’ve just eaten a lot of pies, so far.”
By that time, Bale had already lost the weight he’d put on for the movie. And without the Cheney makeup, he was back to his good-looking self. Most people would advise against doing the drastic things for movies that Bale does, though. Losing and gaining weight like that can be bad for your health.
6. Nicholas Hoult, Mad Max: Fury Road (2014)
For Mad Max: Fury Road Nicholas Hoult played Nux, a cancer-ridden wasteland warrior covered in paint and tattoos. To prepare for the role Hoult lost weight, and he had to spend two hours in makeup every day. It was all worth it in the end though, because his performance was praised by critics.
And Hoult had no problem with the Nux makeup. In 2015 he told the website Inquirer, “Mostly, you feel the same all the time on the inside, but makeup makes certain parts of your personality slightly larger. But, even just having a shaved head and walking around at home makes people react slightly different to you.”
5. Margot Robbie, Mary Queen of Scots (2018)
Queen Elizabeth I isn’t an easy historical character to play. Since obviously photographs of her don’t exist, the world only has a rough idea of what she looked like in paintings. When Mary Queen of Scots came out, some criticized how outlandish Margot Robbie looked. She had bright white makeup on her face, a red wig, and lots of scars.
But historians think that’s what the real Elizabeth most likely looked like. And Robbie herself was completely up for playing a more strange-looking version of the queen. She told People magazine in December 2018, “It helps me a lot to find a character if I look completely different to how I look in real life. It makes my acting job much easier.”
4. John Matuszak, The Goonies (1985)
Sloth, probably the most famous character from children’s classic The Goonies, was played by football player John Matuszak. It wasn’t an easy process for him to transform into his character. He had to spend five hours every day having the makeup put on, and after that he could only see out of one eye.
Yet despite all that Matuszak had lots of fun on the set, and got along well with his young co-stars. Of course, he looked nothing like Sloth out of make-up, but unfortunately his life was even more tragic. He had substance abuse issues and occasional problems with the law. And he died of an accidental opioid overdose just four years after The Goonies came out.
3. Karen Gillan, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Other actresses wanted the role of Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy, but Karen Gillan was the most determined to get it. You see, she shaved her head for the role, something her main competition wasn’t willing to do, and got the part. It also meant spending lots of time in makeup being painted blue and purple – and she didn’t mind doing that either.
Gillan clearly isn’t afraid to look less beautiful than she is. And she’s said the makeup helps her act, as well. In 2019 she told The Hollywood Reporter magazine, “[The prosthetics] do sort of make me a bit less excitable, which I am naturally as a person. I can’t really move my face, and I feel a bit restrictive. So, yes, it absolutely informs the performance.”
2. Bill Skarsgård, IT (2017)
How do you prepare to play a supernatural, murderous, Stephen-King-written clown? Bill Skarsgård took on that job when he was cast as Pennywise for 2017’s <>IT. Yes, he had to be covered in clown makeup every day, but he had some effects of his own. You see, the droopy lip and wandering eye are both tricks Skarsgård did himself.
There was quite a furore when people realized that the guy behind the Pennywise makeup was actually attractive. It went to some weird places, fast. For instance, in September 2017 the website Buzzfeed threw out the headline, “Bill Skarsgård Is So Hot He’s Making People Want To Bang A Murderous Clown.”
1. Linda Blair, The Exorcist (1973)
Linda Blair is the person behind one of the most terrifying transformations in horror movie history. Yes, she had to take her Exorcist character Reagan from cute little girl to a demonically possessed hell child. It wasn’t easy for Blair, and what she went through wouldn’t fly today. At one point her prosthetics even burned her face.
These days Blair has mixed feelings about being asked to do so much so young. In 2013 she told the website Dread Central, “I just really had no idea of what this story would become, what these characters would become to fans throughout the years. I didn’t understand it. And when the movie came out, the amount of pressure that came down on me wasn’t anything I was prepared for.”