12 '90s Heartthrobs Who De-Glamorized For A Role

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Vote up the '90s heartthrobs who pulled off a totally unglamorous role.

The 1990s was a good time to be a handsome Hollywood leading man with an array of glossy magazines and a plethora of appealing eye-candy roles. However, these Generation X heartthrobs proved they were much more than just pretty faces

Heath Ledger, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Matthew McConaughey are all unequivocally beautiful with their athletic frames and perfect, chiseled features. However, all three of those actors scored Hollywood’s highest honor, the Academy Award, after they completely deglamorized for a movie role.

Find out which '90s heartthrob gained so much weight for a real-life role he temporarily had to use a wheelchair. Which rom-com leading man became unrecognizable behind his cannibal tribe makeup? Which former People’s "Sexiest Man Alive" demanded his bald, overweight, surly character also have “fat hands”?

Make your voice heard. Vote up the '90s heartthrobs you think pulled off a totally unglamorous role.


  • After he grabbed the entire world's attention with his star-making turn as Southern lawyer Jake Tyler Brigance in 1996's A Time to Kill, McConaughey languished for a few years trying to find his groove. Then in 2001, The Wedding Planner hit the silver screen, turning the actor into an early-2000s rom-com go-to. McConaughey, who was often given the opportunity to take his shirt off in these delightful love stories, found success with several additional romantic comedies like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch, and Fool's Gold

    In 2005, People awarded the matinee idol the honor of being labeled the "Sexiest Man Alive."

    McConaughey may have enjoyed the financial success of playing the standard rom-com role of the ridiculously handsome, cocky womanizer. However, the Texan wanted more from acting. He revealed in his 2020 memoir Greenlights that he turned down a $14.5 million rom-com paycheck. His new goal was to make darker films. 

    One of the key parts of the McConaissance that arrived in the early 2010s was his Academy Award-winning performance as an AIDS-infected Texan named Ron Woodroof in the 2013 biopic Dallas Buyers Club. The actor lost 50 pounds in just five months so he could believably play a man diagnosed with stage 4 HIV/AIDS. His hulking muscles were gone and his face was completely shrunken. The rom-com leading man with the six-pack abs was nowhere in sight.

    20 votes
  • Johnny Depp reached a whole new level of Generation X teen-idol fame when he starred as undercover police officer Tom Hanson in the small-screen hit drama 21 Jump Street. The actor became a staple on the cover of '90s fan mags like Teen Beat and Tiger Beat.

    The admittedly shy Depp apparently didn't enjoy the attention, nor did he want the fame that came with being a male pinup. "I don't want to make a career of taking my shirt off," Depp told Rolling Stone in 1988. "I'd like to shave off all my hair, even my eyebrows, try it that way. I don't fault the TV stars who do teen magazines. They took ahold of their situation, took offers that gave them the big money fast - but they were dead in two years. I don't want that."

    Quirky director extraordinaire Tim Burton helped Depp shake off the teeny-bopper image when he cast the handsome actor against type in movies like Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands. Depp continued this offbeat character streak in non-mainstream films for most of his career. 

    The three-time Academy Award nominee had to go full-transformation mode for his role as monstrous Irish mob boss Whitey Bulger in the 2015 biopic Black Mass. In the film, Depp worked with his regular collaborator, makeup designer Joel Harlow.

    Harlow describes the painstaking process of turning a movie star with matinee idol looks into a balding, homicidal, unhinged Mafia boss:

    The movie hinged on the makeup being believable. When you zoom in close, you don’t want to see lace, so we punched the hair into the silicone so it looked like it was coming out of the skin. He’s got a prosthetic that goes from his cheeks and the bottom of his nose to the middle of his head. His eyebrows were covered so they are false eyebrows. Each hair was individually punched into the prosthetic each time before it was put on. There were about 45 forehead pieces that needed to be done … and each took 22 hours to do.

    Changing Depp's eye color from brown to blue was also important to the film's story. "There is something in the eyes that speaks of a darkness, and that’s what we were trying to achieve," added Harlow.

    19 votes
  • In 1999, American audiences were introduced to a new handsome actor from Australia named Heath Ledger. The blond-haired, sweet Aussie instantly obtained '90s heartthrob status with his winning turn as Patrick Verona in the popular high school romantic comedy 10 Things I Hate About You.

    Ledger proved his acting chops over the next few years. One of his most impressive performances came as a closeted gay cowboy in Ang Lee's Academy Award-winning Western, Brokeback Mountain. However, it was his villainous turn as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's 2008 sequel The Dark Knight that impressed movie audiences and critics alike.

    To play the Joker, Ledger needed to erase his golden looks. Makeup artist John Caglione Jr. wanted to design the actor's makeup to reflect the Joker's psychotic mental state. Caglione wondered, “What if this guy slept in his makeup? You know, this psychopath. [What] if he didn’t spruce up his makeup for two or three weeks? You know he never changes his clothes.”

    Ledger's Joker sported smeared paint that made him appear unstable and dangerous. The method actor actually slept in the makeup and would not retouch it for weeks. The completely unglamorous look and Ledger's Academy Award-winning performance all helped to make his homicidal Joker one of the most infamous superhero comic book movie villains of all time.

    22 votes
  • Jared Leto was every Gen X teenage girl's fantasy when he appeared as the reticent blue-eyed dreamboat Jordan Catalano on My So-Called Life. The angsty teen drama may have been on the air for only one season, but it became a cult favorite that launched both Leto and his co-star Claire Danes's careers. 

    Leto has proved his acting chops over the years in less glamorous roles like a heroin junkie in Requiem for a Dream and in his Academy Award-winning performance in Dallas Buyers Club as an AIDS-infected transgender woman. 

    In 2007, Leto put any care for his own health and appearance aside when he packed on a whopping 65 pounds to play John Lennon's assassin, the hefty Mark David Chapman, in the biopic Chapter 27. Leto's method ways were reportedly so drastic and dangerous that the weight gain temporarily forced him into a wheelchair.

    "I couldn't walk for long distances; I had a wheelchair because it was so painful. My body was in shock from the amount of weight I gained," admitted Leto. "It took about a year to get back to a place that felt semi-normal. I don't know if I'll ever be back to the place I was physically."

    Chapter 27 did not perform well critically or at the box office. However, Leto's method performance made the film somewhat redeemable.

    15 votes
  • Tom Cruise became an official heartthrob in the 1980s with winning roles in Risky Business and Top Gun. His contagious smile, all-American looks, and box office bankability made him an instant movie star. He was enshrined in the sexy hall of fame in 1990 when People officially declared him the "Sexiest Man Alive."

    Cruise has made a living putting mega franchises on his back and carrying them to billions of dollars. He's made six (and counting) Mission: Impossible movies. However, Cruise can really act. He also has a good sense of humor and great comic timing. 

    The 2008 fourth-wall-crashing action-comedy Tropic Thunder parodies a group of spoiled actors who are in the process of making a Vietnam War movie called Tropic Thunder. Cruise, who is friends with writer-director Ben Stiller, saw the script at Stiller's house and wanted to play the Les Grossman character. Grossman is the studio executive in charge of making Tropic Thunder. He is profane, loud, surly, and disagreeable. 

    Cruise revealed he told Stiller, "I want to play this character. I said, ‘I want to have fat hands, and I’m gonna dance.’ And he looked at me, he was like, ‘What?’"

    At first, Stiller didn't get what Cruise was dishing. Cruise recalled:

    He said, "Look, are you sure you can’t just be you? Like, look like you and do it?" 

    I said, "No, no, no, man, I’m sorry, I don’t know how else to play this character." So then I did the makeup test, we’ve tested the fat hands, you know, and the whole look, and so we’re doing the wardrobe and there was no music playing... I said, "Look, let me just - I wanna do some moves for you." You know, so I just started working, you know, on less, you know, just kind of moving like that [motions awkwardly].

    Cruise not only had fat hands, but went bald, carried extra weight, and sported some unseemly, protruding chest hair. It all helped to make his hilarious dance moves at the end credits roll one of the highlights in an already funny movie.

    17 votes
  • Hugh Grant became such a huge rom-com leading man in the 1990s that it seems like he practically invented the genre. With his bumbly endearing ways, classically handsome features, and irresistible British accent, Grant charmed his way into the hearts of moviegoers around the world. He scored rom-com hit after hit in the 1990s with Four Weddings and a FuneralNine Months, and Notting Hill. Grant continued his charming leading-man success well into the 2000s with the films About a Boy, Bridget Jones's Diary, and Love Actually

    There is one very strange left turn on his filmography. In the 2012 Wachowski-helmed sci-fi epic Cloud Atlas, Grant plays six different evil characters over several different time periods. The most unglamorous among them is the chief of a flesh-eating cannibal tribe 2,000 years into the future. 

    "I have six cameo parts in this strange, ambitious film," Grant said. "I do a lot of killing and [sexual assault]. I wear an awful lot of prosthetic makeup, too. You probably won’t know that I am in the film! But it was a laugh. I thought before I read it that I’d turn it down, which I normally do, but I was interested in meeting the Wachowskis because I have always admired them enormously. And they are so charming and fascinating."

    Even with the excessive makeup and costume, Grant still had a hard time getting into the role of the "Kona Chief." Grant recalled:

    One of the Wachowskis came up and said, "Come on, man, it’s like you’re just so hungry for the flesh." 

    I was like, "I can’t do that. Give me a witty line." The cannibal had no witty lines. It was harder than I thought, particularly being the cannibal. I assumed I could do that, and they were so clever with the hair and makeup that I thought, "I look amazing. That’s the character."

    16 votes