Many movies require actors and actresses to wear costumes or to apply basic makeup to take on a specific role. Some directors may even require actors and actresses to change their hair color or lose weight.
Few movies, however, require its stars to undergo massive transformations for their roles-a select few of which are unique to the point that they create a memorable experience in and of themselves. From prosthetic body parts to changing one’s race, gender, or species, these are the most unique transformations that actors have undergone for their on-screen performances.
Brad Pitt – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
In the film adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s famous children’s book, Pitt plays a character that ages backward.
He went several transformations for this film, and it is not until the end do female moviegoers get to see the Brad Pitt they are used to. Certainly different than Pitt’s role in Fight Club.
Heath Ledger – Batman: The Dark Knight
Heralded as Ledger’s career defining performance, his portrayal of The Joker was quite different than that of his precursor, Jack Nicholson.
A nice touch was the subtler green hair, an overall more disturbed and disheveled appearance, and the “Chelsea Grin” facial scars. His portrayal of The Joker could easily be regarded as the only character in this franchise capable of giving children nightmares.
Charlize Theron – Monster
Theron takes a break from being unbelievably hot by gaining weight, aging 25 years, and not wearing makeup. And the denouement of her portrayal of a lesbian prostitute-turned-serial killer character is the bad fitting jeans that moms used to wear in the early 1990s.
Definitely a change of pace for Theron, and a look that we hope to not see her embrace again in the coming years, or ever.
Emma Thompson – Nanny McPhee
In this film, Thompson plays a haggard, wart-covered, and uni-browed nanny whose unflattering characteristics vanish upon the children entrusted to her care learning to mind her.
She is almost unrecognizable until then end of the movie, which makes you go…”Oh yeah…it’s Emma Thompson.”
Mike Myers – The Cat in the Hat
For The Cat in The Hat, Myers had the distinction of playing Dr. Seuss’ most famous character, and donned a full cat suit and whiskers in order to complete the transformation.
For this film, makeup guru Rick Baker was enlisted, who also did the makeup and special effects consulting on Hellboy and Norbit, among others.
Jim Carrey – The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
After filming The Mask, Carrey swore off future films involving intense makeup but claims he was unable to pass on this role.
Reportedly, the makeup and costume donned by Carrey for this film took between 3-8 hours to complete. This unique transformation seems as if it could not have been executed successfully, had it been anyone but Carrey.
Rebecca Romijn– X Men
Romijn’s makeup in X Men, was the culmination of the work of four make-up artists, a hundred small silicon prosthetics, lots of body paint, and nine hours of application per use. The end result is completely worth it.
According to Romijn, for X Men 2, the application time was shortened to six hours, which helped her from becoming an evil bitch woman.
Gwenyth Paltrow – Shallow Hal
Gwenyth Paltrow plays the love interest of Hal (Jack Black) in this 2001 comedy about a shallow man who eventually falls in love with a very fat (but inwardly beautiful woman), because he is hypnotized into believing she is outwardly beautiful.
The application of her bodysuit and accompanying make-up took four hours each time. The upside of seeing Paltrow wearing a fat suit in this film is also getting to see her real body in a thong.
Ron Pearlman – Hell Boy
Ron Pearlman is well known for having donned makeup and prosthetics for roles (Beauty and the Beast), but most impressive was what he became for the filming for the Hellboy Franchise.
Most of his red bodysuit was made of red latex, and the costume itself took 4 hours per application. The upside for Pearlman was that in this role, he got to be the baddest of all badasses.
Eddie Murphy – Norbit
For Norbit, Murphy enlisted the work of Rick Baker – with whom he worked on The Nutty Professor and Coming to America – to help create a multitude of other characters, all played by Murphy.
Probably the most outrageous of these, was “Rasputia Latimore”, an outrageously sex-crazed and obese woman, who becomes the overbearing wife of the film’s eponymous star. The bodysuit donned by Murphy for this role was definitely a masterpiece in and of itself.
Tom Cruise – Tropic Thunder
Tom Cruise’s cameo performance in Tropic Thunder surprised most moviegoers, and arguably stole the show with his depiction of a greedy and ruthless Hollywood producer.
For this role, Cruise’s diet-coke addicted “Les Grossman” donned a fat suit, bald wig, chest hair mat, and prosthetic hands, among others. It is widely speculated that the inspiration for this character was the human penis (a dick). Which makes a lot of sense if you were to think about it.
Robin Williams – Mrs. Doubtfire
Robin Williams’ portrayal as Mrs. Doubtfire in this 1993 comedy was so believable, that it made most people wonder if dressing in drag was his regular routine.
Interestingly, the prosthetic mask used in the film (which famously goes flying into the street), was actually a prop; Williams’ real facial makeup was a composite of eight separate pieces and a whole lot of blush.
John Travolta – Hairspray
In Hairspray, Travolta gives a surprisingly convincing performance as “Edna”, a character he envisioned to be Sophia Loren…if she were to gain 200 lbs.
This role required Travolta to undergo five hours of extensive makeup and prosthetics to complete his transformation. He even wore high heels in a number of scenes, which begs us to wonder how he was able to do so as effortlessly as he did. Experience?
Eric Stoltz – Mask
Based on a true story, Eric Stoltz plays a character whose mother is played by Cher, so naturally a serious physical disfigurement is to be expected.
However, in this film, he portrays more specifically a child suffering from craniodiaphyseal dysplasia. The massive prosthetic cranium earned Michael Westmore & Zoltan Elek an Academy Award for Best Makeup in 1985.
Selma Blair – A Dirty Shame
The normally small-chested Blair portrays a stripper named “Ursula Udders” in this 2004 offbeat film. The prosthetic breasts used in the film required four hours of make-up.
For the nude scene, her ‘nude’ version of the prosthetic breasts cost $5,000 and the studio’s lighting was so bright that the film only had several hours to film before the lights started to crack them. It was essentially a one-time use set, that was discarded shortly after.
John Matuszak – The Goonies
The one-time professional football player Matuszak famously transformed into everyone’s favorite childhood freak, Lotney “Sloth” Fratelli, in Spielberg’s 1986 The Goonies.
The application of his make up – which was quite groundbreaking at the time – took a total of five hours per application. Well worth it. Baby Ruth!