Actors Who Made Themselves Unrecognizable For a Role

Jun 25, 2020Shilo Maloney

There's a difference between acting and performances. Performance requires mental, emotional, and physical envelopment into a character so that what we see on screen is all character and none of the actor. Many in Hollywood (past and present) from Brando, Ledger, Blanchett, and Bale, throw their image to the wayside to deliver amazing transformative performances. We found some of the most drastic physical changes actors went through to play their characters. Let's see if you will recognize any of them.

Jim Carrey - The Bad Batch

Image Credit: Wikipedia/Ian Smith - Annapura Pictures/The Bad Batch

Jim Carrey dives deep when he needs to. And when it came to The Bad Batch, he pulled no punches. He plays a greasy wanderer known as The Hermit, and the only way you'd recognize him is by looking out for his name in the credits. His skin is sunburnt bronze and the texture of sundried leather. His eyes are often covered by makeshift cardboard glasses, complete with an unkempt beard. He's draped in dirt and sweat, and his matted hair hangs past his shoulders. If we didn't tell you it was Carrey, would you believe us?

Johnny Depp - Black Mass

Image Credit: Wikipedia/George Baird - Warner Brothers Pictures/Black mass

Johnny Depp is a big fan of makeup, props, and poofy makeup. His filmography is full of elaborate disguises. But his one of his most amazing transformation comes in Black Mass, when he plays the notorious James "Whitey" Bulger — mobster, informant, and head of the Winter Hill Gang. And rather than just trying to capture the man's haunting presence, Depp decided to copy Bulger's look down to his icy blue eyes. It's a methodical makeover that deserves praise on the same level as Depp's performance in the film.

Gary Oldman - Darkest Hour

Image Credit: Wikipedia/John Bauld - Universal Pictures/Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman went as deep into prosthetics as he did with his performance in Darkest Hour. His nose, chin, neck, and cheeks — were enhanced with prosthetics. Bits of plastic were shoved behind his ears to make them look like Churchill's. Oldman wore a bodysuit and hairpieces made of both Angora and baby hair. Makeup of this range and quality requires a meticulous touch. So, the actor never ate or slept onset in an attempt to avoid affecting the prosthetics done to him.

Karen Gillan - Guardians Of The Galaxy

Image Credit: Wikipedia/Ra Boe - Marvel Studios/Avengers: Infinity War

When she crash-landed into Guardians of the Galaxy, Karen Gillan was equipped with a five-piece prosthetic that took five hours to complete in order for her to look like the daughter of the titan Thanos, Nebula. Gillan had to wear 22-millimeter contact lenses, paint her hands blue, and even had to shave her gorgeous red hair to get Nebula's smooth head. But when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 rolled around, the makeup crew cut the process by two and a half hours. But regardless of how much time Gillan spent in the makeup chair, she's impossible to identify in the vicious and thrilling role.

Joel Edgerton - Bright

Image Credit: Wikipedia/Gage Skidmore - Netflix/Bright

The Australian, Joel Edgerton, spent about three hours suiting up to play the good-natured orc. Since it took 60 days to film Bright, that meant Edgerton spent over a week getting prepped with foam latex prosthetics. You can barely see him behind all the hours and layers of makeup. But, his rising talent pulls through it, proving that even as an alien, Edgerton brings through a humanity into his stellar performance.

Emma Thompson - Nanny McPhee

Image Credit: Wikipedia/Justin Harris - Universal Pictures/Nanny McPhee

Throw Emma Thompson in a makeup chair for two hours and wonders will happen. Thompson was hidden under a wiry wig, fake warts, a fake unibrow, prosthetic ears and nose, and plastic bits to fill out her mouth before the disturbing dentures were plopped in to complete the horrifying look. She, like Oldman, wore a fat suit, and as you might imagine, wearing all that wasn't fun for the bubbly Brit.

Tilda Swinton - Suspiria

Image Credit: Wikipedia/Myles Kalus Anak Jihem - Amazon Studios/Suspiria

The greatest character actor of our time dives into roles and rarely does she emerge without gold in her palm. Tilda Swinton (take it in) disappeared in more ways than one to play the disgusting Helena Markos. To play this monstrous man, Dr. Jozef Klemperer in 2018s Suspiria. Swinton had to wear a full-body costume that took roughly six hours to apply. The result is something as impressive as it is abhorrent, but Swinton owns it in unimaginable ways.

Charlize Theron - Monster

Image Credit: Wikipedia/Fuzheado - Newmarket Films/Monster

For 2003's Monster, Charlize Theron gained around 30lbs and won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance as the world's first female serial killer Aileen Wuornos. Contrary to popular belief, no prosthetics (except a cellophane-thin strip of plastic on my eyelids and a cream on her face to give me a sun-damaged look) were used to transform Charlize. There were no wigs used either. Charlize stated that she "...didn't want it to look like a caricature." She's hardly recognizable in the role, but Charlize's talent shines through regardless of this harrowing film.

Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club

Image Credit: Wikipedia/David Torcivia - Focus Features/Dallas Buyers Club

For his more than impressive Oscar-winning role in 2013's Dallas Buyers ClubMatthew McConaughey drastically changed his appearance to play a man diagnosed with HIV and given a month to live. McConaughey lost 47lbs to prepare for the sickly role. His weight loss helped him secure his most iconic role, and when you watch his performance, there's so much to marvel at, the drastic lengths are warranted.

Marion Cotillard - La Vie En Rose 

Image Credit: Wikipedia/Georges Biard - Icon Film Distribution/La Vie En Rose

A prestigious makeup artist, Jan Archibald won the Oscar for her work here. She perfected Cotillard's transcendent image, shaving Cotillard's hairline back a full 2 inches to emulate Piaf's look. As Cotillard had to portray Piaf at varying stages in her life, Archibald designed 8 wigs for the aging character, one of which was modeled off an actual lock of Piaf's hair. Cotillard occupied the makeup chair for five hours at a time, a small pain for a role that won her a deserved Oscar for her performance.

Danny DeVito - Batman Returns

Image Credit: Wikipedia/Gage Skidmore - Warner Brothers Pictures/Batman Returns

Stan Winston turned the beloved DeVito in a monster in the most comic and compelling way. Danny had a prosthetic that started above his eyebrows, ran down his nose, and ended above his lips, giving him that beak-like nozzle you see above. His makeover set included false rotten teeth, dark circles around his eyes, a greasy hairpiece, and skin painted ghostly white for his looks as Penguin. It's masterful stuff no matter your indifference to the movie.

Rooney Mara - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Image Credit: Wikipedia/Dora Britt - Getty Images/Baldur Bragaso

Rooney Mara drastically switched her style to portray Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In order to look like a different person, Mara dyed her hair, bleached her eyebrows, and endured piercings to transform. But, her process involved moving to Stockholm as well before production to fully take the character in to portray her the way the famous novels intended.

Joaquin Phoenix - Joker

Image Credit: Wikipedia/Harald Krichel - Warner Brother Pictures/Joker

Speaking of Rooney Mara, let's get to her acclaimed fiancé, Joaquin, and his preparation for his role in the controversial DC film, Joker. Phoenix underwent a drastic transformation, which involved losing 52 pounds. This weight loss wore on the actor, as he expressed his feelings with the change saying: "It turns out that affects your psychology. ... You start to go mad." He disappears in the film, and you have to give yourself a double-take to recognize who you're actually looking at here.

Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight

Image Credit: Wikipedia/Howie Berlin - Warner Brothers Pictures/The Dark Knight

It's hard to think of Ledger without thinking of his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight. Heath's tragedy, residue from his isolation in preparation to play the role, was many people's introduction to the depths of method acting. Ledger, in preparation, developed insomnia which led to prescription abuse and his subsequent demise. He's indistinguishable in more ways than one in the role. Ledger was involved in the character's design, from the makeup to the costume that cemented Ledger in pop culture's pantheon.

Christian Bale - Vice

Image Credit: Wikipedia/Harald Krichel - Annapurna Pictures/Vice

Few have fluctuated their weight methodically and rapidly as the Christian Bale. From The Fighter, to Batman, to American Psycho, to American Hustle, Bale has shifted sizes so frequently we're tricked into thinking it's prosthetic. It's not. It's determination. And for his Oscar-nominated Vice, the man gained 40lbs, despite being told that prosthetics and makeup would be enough. He insisted to change his body to play Chaney perfectly anyway.

These actors have delivered some sincerely compelling roles in the pursuit of human truth and entertainment. With a mix of pushing the mental, emotional, and physical lengths, they've stretched their limits to give us some memorable work. Who looked the best in prosthetics? We're not bias, but it's definitely Swinton, hands down, right?

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