Tom Cruise to Charlize Theron: 10 stars who made themselves unrecognisable for a film role

Drinking ice-cream, hours in the make-up chair and pizza every night – how Hollywood stars completely changed their appearance for their films

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When actors and actresses transform themselves for a role, the results can be more than just physical. Charlize Theron and Gary Oldman won Oscars for their portrayals of serial killer Aileen Wuornos and British prime minister Winston Churchill respectively, while Tom Cruise won even more fans as foul-mouthed studio head Les Grossman in 2008's Tropic Thunder.

And whether they’re spending hours in the make-up chair or drinking pints of melted ice cream to change their body shape in record time, these stars have shown how dedicated they are to rendering themselves unrecognisable.

1. Colin Farrell as Oswald Cobblepot, AKA The Penguin in ‘The Batman’

Irish actor Colin Farrell is unrecognisable as Oswald Cobblepot in 'The Batman', due for release in 2022. Getty Images, Warner Bros

If you didn't know this was Colin Farrell, it would be impossible to tell that the handsome 44-year-old Irish actor was beneath those prosthetics. Of winning the villainous role in the film, which has been pushed back for release to 2022 due to the pandemic, Farrell told GMA News: "Just to be part of that folklore, that mythology, is really cool."

2. Tilda Swinton as Dr Jozef Klemperer in ‘Suspiria’

British actress Tilda Swinton showed her versatility in 2018's 'Suspiria'. EPA / K Period Media

The famously chameleonic actress went all out for her art in 2018's Suspiria, in which she transformed into an 82-year-old psychoanalyst. A reinterpretation of director Dario Argento's 1977 horror classic, 59-year-old Swinton played two roles in the film, with her role as Klemperer kept secret from the audience.

3. Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in ‘Vice’

British star Christian Bale transformed into former US vice president Dick Cheney for 2018's 'Vice'. Getty Images / Annapurna Pictures

The 46-year-old British Oscar winner spent hours in the make-up chair to transform into one of the United States’ most divisive vice presidents in recent history, Dick Cheney.

"There's a load of interviews with Mr Cheney and I got every single one of them on my phone," Bale told Screenrant of how he got into character. "And I'm just sitting there watching for hours and hours and hours."

4. Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in ‘Monster’

Playing real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the 2003 film 'Monster' won Charlize Theron a Best Actress Oscar. AP, Newmarket Films

The 45-year-old South African nabbed a Best Actress Oscar for her role as serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who was convicted of murdering seven men in Florida in 1989 and 1990. Eschewing a 'fat suit' in favour of gaining weight herself to play the role, Theron told Advocate she got into character by "constantly trying to be Aileen". "I was trying to
walk like Aileen, to carry myself like Aileen, things like that."

5. Jared Leto as Mark David Chapman in ‘Chapter 27’

American actor Jared Leto piled on the weight to play John Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman, in 2007's 'Chapter 27'. Reuters, Peace Arch Films

Taking on the role of John Lennon’s killer, 48-year-old Leto was under pressure to gain a lot of weight in a short amount of time. Chowing down on nightly pizza and pasta dinners, Leto also admitted to melting pints of ice cream in the microwave and drinking them in order to pack on 30 kilograms.

6. Ewan MacGregor as Emmit Stussy in ‘Fargo’

Scottish star Ewan McGregor aged a few years and saw his hairline recede for his role as Emmit Stussy in Netflix's 'Fargo'.Getty Images, Netflix

The Scottish actor took on two roles in season three of the hit show, playing the Stussy brothers: the villainous Emmit and kind-hearted Ray.

“People were much friendlier when I was Ray or found me to be more friendly,” admitted the 49-year-old. “Make-up designer Gail Kennedy said that she was slightly intimidated by me when I was playing Emmit and not at all when I was playing Ray. So, there was definitely a difference.”

7. Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

Rooney Mara was unrecognisable as computer hacker Lisbeth Salander in 2011 film, 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'. Getty Images, Nordisk Film

The American actress, who recently welcomed her first child with Joaquin Phoenix, underwent a dramatic transformation to play computer hacker Salander in the film adapted from the best-selling book.

And the 35-year-old admitted the role had changed her style in real life, too, telling Vogue: "I definitely dress more like a tomboy now. I have a bit of a utilitarian type of thing [going on]."

8. Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in ‘Darkest Hour’

Gary Oldman won a Best Actor Oscar for portraying Winston Churchill in 2017's 'Darkest Hour'. Reuters, Focus Features

The 62-year-old actor won a Best Actor Oscar for portraying British prime minister Winston Churchill in the 2017 film.

"The make-up would take four hours," he told Deadline of applying the mask, which was created by Oscar-winning special make-up effects artist and visual artist, Kazuhiro Tsuji.

“Then I’d work a 12-hour day, followed by an hour at the end to take it off. So it was 18- or 20-hour waking days. I think I must have a Guinness World Record, actually, because it was 48 consecutive days in make-up.”

9. Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre in ‘The Informant’

Oscar-winner Matt Damon went on a weight gain diet to play the hapless Mark Whitacre in 2009's 'The Informant'. Getty Images, IMDB

Fifty-year-old Damon piled on the pounds, and added a moustache, to play undercover informer Mark Whitacre.

Gaining 13kg in total, he also added cheek plumpers to fill out his face, telling the New York Daily News: "I ate pizzas and In-N-Out burgers. I felt great for a while. De Niro put on 27kg for ­Raging Bull and he said that the first 15 pounds were absolute fun. Then it started to become work. With me, the first 20 pounds were fun and then it started to ­really wear on me because I couldn't exercise, so I never got the endorphin rush of breaking a sweat."

10. Tom Cruise as Les Grossman in ‘Tropic Thunder’

Tom Cruise shocked and wowed fans when he transformed into studio head Les Grossman in 2008's 'Tropic Thunder'. AP / Paramount Pictures

The 58-year-old action star shocked fans by turning his hand to comedy in the 2008 film Tropic Thunder. Playing bullying studio head Les Grossman, Cruise told the BBC he had two stipulations for writer-director Ben Stiller when it came to taking the role: "I said: 'I want to have fat hands and I want to dance'."


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