"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.
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since Dallas Buyers Club: McConaughey is willing to dive deep into his craft, and the rom-com heartthrob of yore has been replaced by a "serious" actor.64Is this a shocking transformation?
James Franco's role as the drug peddler Alien is perhaps the most memorable thing about 2012's Spring Breakers. The actor who had become something of a matinee idol playing characters like James Dean and Harry Osborn was now portraying a lowlife of the highest order. Alien is a dealer who is covered in tattoos, with his hair in cornrows and his teeth emblazoned with grills.
Franco told MTV how the cornrows (which were apparently extremely itchy and uncomfortable) brought Alien to life: "As soon as the woman in Florida put [the cornrows] in, the character was alive. We both knew. We looked in the mirror and it was like, 'Oh my, God. He's here.'"
Though he didn't score Oscar or Golden Globe nominations, Franco did earn 18 other award wins and nominations for his performance, mostly from critics associations.77Is this a shocking transformation?
Being John Malkovich is an odd movie by any measure, and Cameron Diaz's character is perhaps the strangest bird in the nest. In the 1999 film, Diaz plays Lottie, the wife of a puppeteer who's found a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich. To become Lottie, Diaz scaled back the makeup and donned a frizzy wig. Lottie's physical appearance apparently wasn't described in the script, so director Spike Jonze and Diaz came up with the look after she accepted the role.
Diaz said the production crew on set didn't recognize her or her character:
It's funny 'cuz I didn't choose this role thinking, "I found a role nobody will recognize me in." There were no descriptions and we didn't "find" Lottie until after I had already gotten the part... I didn't realize that people weren't going to recognize me until I put the costume on... I just assumed they knew it was me, but they thought I was a stranger. It was kind of interesting.
Diaz was nominated for both a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance.77Is this a shocking transformation?
In the 2009 film Precious, you'd be hard-pressed to find any vestige of the glamorous pop diva in Mariah Carey's performance as the title character's social worker, Ms. Weiss. Carey described her makeover in the film: "[Director] Lee Daniels is a bonafide genius so I put myself in his hands. And he was like, 'No makeup. We're going to put dark stuff under your eyes. Your hair is going to be cut and short and brown. And you're gonna wear big clothing.'"
Ms. Weiss also has a noticeable mustache. "I'm not even a hairy person," Carey said. But "Lee wanted an extreme look. He wanted ultra-real."
Carey earned a handful of Best Supporting Actress award nominations for her mustachioed performance and the Breakthrough Performance Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.56Is this a shocking transformation?