The power of prosthetic make-up – 10 actors who were rendered unrecognizable

“When you look at me, what do you see?”

That’s what most actors like to ask the audience through their performances. While most of them imbibe the character’s persona, there are others who are willing to spend several hours on that make-up chair. They do everything from shedding/gaining huge amounts of weight to shaving their heads. There is also a rare breed of actors who had to undergo prosthetic extensions to alter their appearances drastically. Here are the ones we completely didn’t recognize at first glance:

1. Charlize Theron – Aileen Wuornos in Monster

It is next to impossible to guess that the chain-smoking serial killer in Monster has been portrayed by the South African bombshell. 30 pounds heavier and sans eyebrows, the actress looked and felt a lot like the real Aileen Wuornos. The result? She won the Academy Award for Best Actress that year.

2. Sean Penn – Micky Cohen in Gangster Squad

Mr. Penn is no stranger to the make-up chair. He sported a prosthetic nose for his award-winning role as Harvey Milk in Milk. But it was in the role of boxer/Mafia kingpin Micky Cohen in Gangster Squad that he was totally unrecognizable. Though the movie didn’t create a lot of buzz, Penn’s performance as the bad guy won him a lot of praise.

3. Tim Roth – Thade in Planet of the Apes

Yes, the 2001 version of Planet of the Apes sucked bananas. But kudos to the make-up department for transforming actors like Helena Bonham Carter and Michael Clarke Duncan into apes. However, the one who stood out from the lot was Tim Roth. He was menacing and mimicked the ape-like movements to the T. It was only when the end credits rolled that everyone realized Mr. Roth was behind all that make-up.

4. John Hurt – Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man

John Hurt’s make-up in this film was the reason we have the Academy Award for Best make-up and Hairstyling every year. The extensive make-up took almost 7 hours to apply and 2 hours to remove. Owing to this, John Hurt only shot for the film on alternate days. My question, did the prosthetic make-up ‘hurt’ his face? Okay, bad pun.

5. Ron Perlman – Hellboy

Can you think of any other actor in the world who could play Hellboy better? Neither can we! Ron Perlman was born to play the demon who loves cats. The make-up took up to 4 hours to apply, following which Ron Perlman became Hellboy – body and soul.  

6. Manu Bennett – Azog in The Hobbit tilogy

Manu Bennett is the go-to bad guy of this century. So when they needed a tall, broad guy with a deep voice to play a devilish Orc, he was the obvious choice. Orcs are generally ugly, and it took a lot of effort to transform the handsome Manu into the Azog the Defiler. As is with Tim Roth, you have to actually wait for the credits to roll to realize who it is. Yes, most of it was motion-capture, but some scenes did require him to go through the arduous make-up.

7. Jim Carrey – The Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas 

Ideally, Jim Carrey can make do without any prosthetic make-up. What with his ability to mold his face into any desired shape. But the Grinch was a tricky proposition, where they had to keep the character intact without burying the face in extra layers of make-up. The creators got it just right and the results are just perfect. The movie? Not so much.
Carrey also underwent serious facial transformation for his roles in The Mask and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Talk about dedication!

8. Rebecca Romijn – Mystique in X-Men

In what can be considered as the most extensive make-up work in the history of film, Rebecca Romijn’s transformation into the shape-shifting mutant Mystique is truly commendable. The actress sat for a record 8 to 10 hours in the make-up room. Her costume was two-third prosthetics and the rest was spray-painted on her torso. Eventually they managed to hit the right balance of beauty and evil.
Yes, Jennifer Lawrence played Mystique too. But the topic of “who wore it better” is open for debate.

9. Tom Cruise – Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder

If you watched Tropic Thunder and wondered, “Who’s that abusive producer dancing to Flo Rida’s Low?”, then you are not alone. Turns out, it was Tom Cruise all along. Albeit fatter, balder and with more chest hair. The prosthetic nose gave him (what the filmmakers called) the perfect “Jewish” look. Be what may, he gave the movie some of its finest scenes as Les Grossman.

10. Steve Carell – John Du Pont in Foxcatcher

Steve Carell’s intense performance in Foxcatcher earned him an Oscar nomination. And when you look at his character, you end up doing a double take and wondering, “Is that the same guy from The Office? He looks different!” Well yes, because the make-up team worked tirelessly to help him resemble the real John Du Pont; especially that giant nose and jawline. It worked beautifully, and every time Carell came on screen, he creeped the hell out of everyone.

We seriously adore all these actors for their dedication and performances. Which actor did you have trouble recognizing post make-up?

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