1. Pretty much everyone playing a dwarf, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Peter Jackson already had experience hiding a recognizable actor beneath makeup and effects in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, casting John Rhys-Davies (the tallest member of the cast) as Gimli the dwarf. The Hobbit upped the ante with a cast of 13 dwarves, all heavily obscured in contrast to Martin Freeman’s shrunken role as Bilbo Baggins. Richard Armitage (of British series Robin Hood, Strike Back, and MI-5, and Heinz Kruger in Captain America) pulled out a diminutive but powerful Gerard Butler impression as Thorin Oakenshield. Graham McTavish, James Nesbitt, Aidan Turner, and nine others donned heavy makeup in order to fill out Thorin’s company, and not a single one stood out without the help of the end credits. And if the first Hobbit film was any indication of covered-up performances, Billy Connolly will be added to the list after playing dwarf king Dain Ironfoot in the second and third installments.
2. Gary Oldman, Hannibal (2001)
Gary Oldman is no stranger to wigs and the Hollywood makeup chair. To play Dracula for Francis Ford Coppola, Oldman donned swirly white hair done up in geisha buns, and saw his face morphed into a variety of vampy visages through prosthetics and cosmetics. But in Ridley Scott’s Hannibal, the only clue to Oldman’s identity in an uncredited performance (prior to home video) as the hideously disfigured antagonist Mason Verger is a brief, blurred flashback sequence that depicts how Verger ended up looking like one of Peter Jackson’s orcs. In the flashback, an unblemished Oldman in brown leather pants attempts to seduce Hannibal Lecter. He dangles from an autoerotic asphyxiation cord and accepts a “popper” from Lecter, which puts Verger under the influence of a different cocktail of drugs altogether. Lecter then convinces a delirious Verger to carve up his own face with a shard of broken mirror and feed the tissue to dogs. The only thing more gruesome than the result is that Thomas Harris based this character on a man who actually did that while on PCP.
3. Tim Curry, Legend (1985) and It (1990)
As a film and TV actor, Tim Curry has spent his entire career trying to distance himself from his best-known role—the sweet transvestite hero of The Rocky Horror Picture Show—lest he be typecast and consigned to midnight-movie purgatory. If proving his range means being encased in so much makeup that he has nothing left to act with but his eyes and his insinuating voice, he’s game. For the role of the lascivious, Satanic figure in Ridley Scott’s Legend, Curry allowed effects wizard Rob Bottin to seal him inside makeup that took more than five hours to apply each day, complete with talons and three-foot-long fiberglass horns that caused considerable strain to his neck. After that, Curry’s role in the 1990 television adaptation of Stephen King’s It must have felt like a walk in the park; he only had to slip into a clown suit and makeup that made him look like Bozo’s evil twin. Curry is one of the last actors to have made something of a specialty of being transformed into characters who, now, would probably be realized through CGI or motion-capture animation. [PDN]
4. Glenn Close, Hook (1991)
Before Steven Spielberg attracted scathing reviews for his 1991 grown-up Peter Pan film Hook, Spielberg attracted half a dozen celebrity cameos to populate the movie. Although Phil Collins, David Crosby, and Jimmy Buffett are fairly easy to spot as a British inspector and a pair of pirates, respectively, one cameo is far less obvious. Two decades before Glenn Close was nominated for an Oscar for portraying a man in Albert Nobbs, Close wore a fuzzy gray beard as a pirate punished by Dustin Hoffman’s Captain Hook. Her crime? Betting against Hook’s ability to kidnap Peter Pan’s children and whisk them away to Neverland. Close’s pirate first denies the accusation, then sobs in front of Hook before she’s carried kicking and screaming and stuffed into a treasure chest referred to as the “boo box.”
5. John Leguizamo, Spawn (1997)
John Leguizamo stands at an average height of 5 feet, 8 inches. But in the film adaptation of Todd McFarlane’s comic-book series Spawn, Leguizamo enthusiastically portrays the squat, overweight Clown, a shape-shifting, teleporting demon with pointy teeth and face paint appropriate for the Gathering Of The Juggalos. In other words, it’s hard to recognize that Clown is played by the same guy who was Luigi in Super Mario Bros. John Leguizamo’s Clown is like a fat, vertically challenged version of Maurice from Little Monsters, but more obnoxious, disgusting, and evil. He’s sent from hell by The Devil Malebolgia to mentor and antagonize Spawn into leading an army from hell against heaven. When Spawn refuses, Clown loses his sense of humor and morphs into Violator, a combination of animatronic puppetry and CGI that thankfully did not require Leguizamo to spend any more hours in the makeup chair.
6. John Hurt, The Elephant Man (1980)
Although stage actors have portrayed John Merrick, the severely deformed man based on the real-life Joseph Merrick, without makeup, that aspect was essential to David Lynch’s 1980 film. The whole point of John Hurt’s performance is that he’s unrecognizable, as Merrick navigates a 19th-century London that barely considers him human. While in many cases, an actor behind so much prosthetic makes you wonder if it matters who’s behind the latex, Hurt gives an indelible performance, interpreting Merrick’s tormented soul and basic humanity while acting only with his eyes and his voice. Not only did Hurt receive an Oscar nomination (he lost to De Niro in Raging Bull), the Academy created a category for Best Makeup the following year, on the strength of Christopher Tucker’s work in this film. Tucker used casts of the real Merrick’s body, which had been preserved at the Royal London Hospital Museum & Archives, as the basis for his transformation of Hurt, which is still affecting more than 30 years later.
7. Eric Stoltz, Mask (1985)
Eric Stoltz was hardly a recognizable face in 1985, and his performance in Peter Bogdanovich’s Mask did little to change that. Loosely based on the life of Roy “Rocky” Dennis, a California boy born with a rare bone disorder that resulted in severe facial deformities, Mask rendered the young Stoltz completely unrecognizable in the lead role. The actor spent roughly four hours in makeup every day, where foam latex and a set of dentures were applied to create the disfiguring effects of craniodiaphyseal dysplasia. (In one of his auditions with Bogdanovich, Stoltz approximated Dennis’ appearance by reading his lines with pantyhose wrapped around his face.) Fellow cast members reportedly didn’t recognize Stoltz without his makeup on, and while this may have been an exaggeration, it certainly didn’t take away from the power of that makeup: Stoltz came up empty Oscar night, but the film’s makeup artists, Michael Westmore and Zoltan Elek, took home top honors in their field.
8. Steve McQueen, An Enemy Of The People (1978)
After Steve McQueen appeared in the all-star disaster blockbuster The Towering Inferno (1974), moviegoers saw almost nothing of him until 1980, the year of his death, when he starred in a couple of undistinguished vehicles, Tom Horn and The Hunter. The only other movie McQueen acted in during the last six years of his life (save an uncredited turn in 1976’s Dixie Dynamite) was a dull, talky version of that drama-class perennial, Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People. A quasi-vanity project produced by McQueen through his own company, it may be the only evidence that some part of him wanted to be respected as a serious actor. The star, who in commercial roles never messed with the clean-shaven, short-haired look that seemed to be a tonsorial representation of his stripped-down, minimalist brand of cool, plays Ibsen’s embattled scientist hero with untamed long hair and a scraggly beard, his features hidden behind large eyeglasses. Presumably, he didn’t want his fans to think they’d be getting the same Steve McQueen they’d loved in Bullitt and The Great Escape. In the end, the studio solved that problem by pulling it after a very limited release, something that McQueen remained bitter about to his final days.
9. Bill Nighy, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) and At World’s End (2007)
If the undead crew of Captain Barbossa in the first Pirates Of The Caribbean didn’t serve as enough of a cautionary tale for pirates meddling with dark forces, Davy Jones certainly made the point in the sequels. Damned for abandoning his task of ferrying souls to the afterlife, the sea he was bound to consumed his humanity, with Jones’ physical form twisted into a cephalopod/crustacean hybrid. Bill Nighy literally disappeared into the role under layers of CGI, his left arm and right leg replaced with crab equivalents and his entire body covered with barnacles. Most nightmarish of all, his entire face was obscured by a rubbery beard of constantly moving tentacles, granting him more resemblance to his pet kraken than the man who played Billy Mack or Shaun’s stepdad Philip. Nighy’s acting instilled the character with sadistic rage and a tortured back story, but whenever anyone thinks about the character the first thing that comes to mind is those tentacles, dancing over the keys of a pipe organ or waggling a key in Jack Sparrow’s face.
10. Halle Berry, Cloud Atlas (2012)
Cloud Atlas takes place in seven different time periods, ranging from 1849 to the late 2300s, with different-yet-somehow-connected characters in each. The Wachowskis/Tom Tykwer film adaptation—which is excellently weird—met the challenge of visually portraying the novel’s interconnectedness by using the same actors, but in wildly different makeup, in each of the movie’s sections. So each of the main actors—Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Halle Barry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, and Doona Bae—play anywhere from three to six wildly different people throughout the film, with varying degrees of recognizability. Berry gets to have the most fun—and most drastic transformations—with two of her characters: In one segment, she plays Ovid, a balding Asian man with a receding hairline and an eye patch. In another, she’s Jocasta Ayrs, a Jewish woman with blonde hair. As Ovid, she’s completely unrecognizable, as Jocasta, you’ll need to squint to see her features come out (past a pretty serious prosthetic nose). Hugh Grant’s various characters—including a brutal tribesman—are also tough to recognize.
11. Debra Winger, Made In Heaven (1987)
Made In Heaven, a spacey romance directed by Alan Rudolph, stars Timothy Hutton and Kelly McGillis as star-crossed lovers who meet in heaven. He’s just arrived there after dying on Earth; she’s a pure soul born in the clouds who hasn’t made the trip downstairs yet. When she does, Hutton petitions Emmett, heaven’s superintendent, to let him be reborn so they can have a shot at being reunited. Emmett is played by the uncredited Debra Winger, who had recently married Hutton. With her hair dyed red in a modified crew cut, and speaking in a chain-smoker’s rasp, Winger looks like the computer-generated “clone” that used to appear in Laurie Anderson’s ’80s videos, and behaves as if she didn’t mind being noticed but really preferred not to be recognized. Like so much else in the cinematic world of Alan Rudolph, her performance is more weird than anything else, but the rapport between her and Hutton is so strange and sweet that it stands as a testament to what must have been an interesting marriage.
12. Jemaine Clement, Men In Black 3 (2012)
Jemaine Clement is generally the guy in Flight Of The Conchords without a beard, but he donned a pretty intense one—along with a mass of long hair, camera-lens eyes, wrinkly skin, and sharp teeth—to play Boris The Animal in Men In Black 3. Clement’s biggest fans probably recognized his voice most quickly; he doesn’t lose his funny comic timing, even when playing a brutal, planet-eating monster called a Boglodite. But for most of the movie, Clement is so deep into his weird costume that he can barely peek through. [JM]
13. Bruce Greenwood, Meek’s Cutoff (2010)
While never an outright star, Bruce Greenwood has been a recognizable actor for the past few decades, popping up in everything from a Beach Boys biography to J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. But even Greenwood devotees might have missed him behind the mountains of hair he wears in Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff. As the titular bumbling guide, Greenwood further masks his familiar voice with constant mumbling and a folksy accent to portray a shyster who cons a group of settlers as they make their way to the Oregon territory. As things go from bad to worse, Meek’s bluster expands, revealing hints of Greenwood’s typical movie roles: good-looking jerks.