"Transformation - that is what the actor's nature, consciously or subconsciously, longs for," wrote legendary Russian actor and acting teacher Michael Chekhov in his 1950s text To the Actor. And from the looks of this list of conventionally attractive actors who transformed for a role, Chekhov's words ring true today. Several gained weight for a role, while others changed their physical appearance in different drastic ways.
Some might argue the actors who made these radical transformations did so solely for critical acclaim and accolades. But there's something to be said for performers who are so committed to their craft that they would radically change their cover-model looks to play less-glamorous characters - even if an award statue is their reason for doing so.
Actors transforming their physical bodies is nothing new. Metamorphosis has long been part of any decent actor's process - although more often, such change happens internally. But when the transformation is visibly apparent, audiences have a more immediate and clear sense of the lengths actors will go to in the service of a character - or an award.
Many considered Nicole Kidman's prosthetic nose in The Hours to be the height of Kidman transformation, but she is willing to push things even further. In 2018's Destroyer, Kidman plays a down-on-her-luck cop bent on vengeance and isn't afraid to show the difficult life this character has lived. Her hair is brown, limp, and lifeless; her eyes are dull and exhausted, ringed by deep bags; and Kidman sports so much facial and prosthetic makeup, it looks like she's not wearing any makeup at all.
Kidman told Entertainment Tonight the physical transformation made the character more real not just for audiences, but for her: "What happens is it becomes authentic, so then it just becomes, like, oh this is very real to me. I'm in this skin. I'm in this person. I'm not standing on the outside trying to make this happen."
Kidman has been nominated for multiple Best Actress awards for her performance.178Is this a shocking transformation?
- Photo: Voltage Pictures / Wikimedia Commons
High School Musical alum Zac Efron has built a steady career as the dopey hot guy in films like Neighbors, 17 Again, and Baywatch. While he has tackled a few indie films, it wasn't until his portrayal as the infamous Ted Bundy in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile that critics and fans started to take note of his serious acting chops.
At first, Efron wasn't even sure he could pull off the role, telling Variety, "I've seen people make horror films like this before, and it seems like an aggressive play to separate yourself from a perceived image. And it's got a lot of killing and hacking and slashing. I think I've seen that before too many times."
Fortunately for Efron, this take on the Bundy story is through the eyes of Bundy's girlfriend, Liz Kendall (Lily Collins), and it is surprisingly lacking in the gore department. That is what drew Efron to the project in the first place - it is not necessarily about a slayer of women, but rather about a seemingly normal person:
This movie was really about a human being, somebody that perhaps I would have been friends with... And a love story from a very unique perspective. I've never seen that before. It's intriguing to me. I think it's more psychological and even more kind of a mindf*ck.2113Is this a shocking transformation?
Margot Robbie's role as Queen Elizabeth I in 2018's Mary Queen of Scots required the Australian actress to undergo some major physical changes - even more major than those required for her turn as Tonya Harding in 2017's I, Tonya. To help her become the Virgin Queen, makeup artist Jenny Shircore altered Robbie's skin, eyebrows, nose, and lips, a process that took three hours. The effects of smallpox physically affected Elizabeth's face, so her scars, though covered with layer upon layer of white makeup, were still obvious.
Robbie told Harper's Bazaar the transformation was so complete that other members of the cast were uncomfortable even looking at her, which made her feel lonely. The filmmaking process turned into "an interesting social experiment," she said, and helped her understand how Elizabeth's scarred face influenced her interactions with others: "Normally there's someone who steps in and says, 'No, keep all the girls looking pretty!' But Josie Rourke, the director, was keen to explore how Queen Elizabeth's looks affected her relationships, and everyone had the guts to do it."
Robbie has accumulated several Best Supporting Actress nominations for her performance.2215Is this a shocking transformation?
In the 2016 film Gold, Matthew McConaughey plays Kenny Walls, a gold prospector who gets involved in a big-time trading scandal. Not only did McConaughey gain 47 pounds for the role, but he also covered up his luscious locks with a bald patch and wore fake teeth.
McConaughey told The Sydney Morning Herald the physical transformation helped him understand antihero Walls: "I never set out thinking he needs to be fat. But boy, he sure was full. He was a consumer, of life - food, drink, love, loyalty, the buzz of pulling his scam off. All of it."
Gold didn't bring much in the way of acclaim for McConaughey, but it did confirm what his fans have come to realize since Dallas Buyers Club: McConaughey is willing to dive deep into his craft, and the rom-com heartthrob of yore has been replaced by a "serious" actor.135Is this a shocking transformation?