The best Hollywood makeunders, from Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy to Charlize Theron in Monster

Jessie Thompson,Katie Rosseinsky and Jochan Embley
·10-min read
 (ES Composite)
(ES Composite)

We all know what they’re up to from the minute we see the trailer: a Hollywood star who has endured a makeunder has their sights shamelessly set on an Oscar.

The brilliant Amy Adams is long overdue some recognition from the Academy, and it looks like she knows it. She’s the latest actor to turn to the oldest trick in the book and undergo a dishevelled on-screen transformation. In Hillbilly Elegy, released on Netflix today, she plays a trainwreck small-town drug addict. Cue: weight gain, scraggly wig and a very washed out complexion.

Her co-star Glenn Close (another multiple Oscar-snubee) doesn’t fare much better, described by our critic Charlotte O’Sullivan as looking like “a cross between Terrahawks’s Zelda and Bad Grandpa”.

Unfortunately, that frizzy hair may have all been for nought. The film has been trounced by critics as an overblown melodrama chock-a-block with OTT acting. “There’s not much to do here except stand back and warm your hands on the blaze of bad performances,” said The Sunday Times.

Adams and Close need not fear. They’re joining the ranks of some heavyweight company (no pun intended), some of whom have shot for the prosthetic moon and landed among the stars, while others have merely ended up in a sad puddle of pointless latex. Whether you believe 'uglying up’ is a cynical attempt to fatten up the trophy cabinet or a case of serious artistes suffering for their craft, we’ve looked back at some of the most shameless makeunders in Hollywood history.

Charlize Theron, Monster

<p>Charlize Theron’s monstrously good performance as Aileen Wuornos</p>PA

Charlize Theron’s monstrously good performance as Aileen Wuornos


Charlize Theron does not bat an eyelid at transforming herself for a role. As Fox’s Megyn Kelly in Bombshell she had a totally different face and in Mad Max she went full skinhead – but it was her head-to-toe reincarnation as serial killer Aileen Wuornos that has gone down in movie history (and nabbed her an Oscar). She gained 30 pounds and wore prosthetic teeth for the part, and looked like she didn’t wash her hair for three months. Last year she admitted that financial backers of the film who had been expecting a ‘hot lesbian movie’ were perturbed by her choice to change her physical appearance. JT

Shamelessness rating: 4 No one has ever had this much fun playing a greasy murderer

Nicole Kidman, The Hours

<p>Nicole Kidman won her Oscar by a nose</p>Buena Vista

Nicole Kidman won her Oscar by a nose

Buena Vista

In order to play the novelist Virginia Woolf in The Hours, Michael Cunningham’s metafictional take on Mrs Dalloway, Nicole Kidman sported a now-infamous prosthetic nose and clinched a best actress Oscar for her troubles. It may have taken three hours to apply each day (Kidman reportedly wore it off-camera too, because she loved how anonymous it made her feel), but this was a simple but ruthlessly effective makeunder, laughing in the face of those actors who pile on the pounds or shave their heads to grasp the Oscars gold. JT

Shamelessness rating: 6 Audacious proof that a woman must have a prosthetic nose of her own if she is to win an Oscar

Christian Bale, basically everything

<p>Christian Bale’s startling weight loss in The Machinist</p>Handout

Christian Bale’s startling weight loss in The Machinist


What does Christian Bale actually look like? He lost a jaw-dropping 60 pounds for his role in The Machinist and 30 pounds for The Fighter. After the latter saw him nab an Oscar, Bale finally decided to allow himself a bag of crisps and piled on the pounds for roles in American Hustle and as former Vice President Dick Cheney in Vice. But aside from the dramatic weight changes, try telling us that the man in Batman Begins is the same man with a strange haircut in The Big Short? We refuse to believe it. JT

Shamelessness rating: 1 This simply seems to be Bale’s way of life

Leonardo Di Caprio, J Edgar

<p>Leo’s transformation did not translate into critical success</p>Warner Bros

Leo’s transformation did not translate into critical success

Warner Bros

Leo’s quest for an Oscar was a journey that the whole world was invested in. Before he got the gold for The Revenant, his fruitless endeavours (five noms, zilch wins) spawned hundreds of memes. We can only assume that hysteria contributed to his decision to play FBI director J Edgar Hoover in Clint Eastwood’s 2012 flop biopic, for which he spent hours in the make-up chair. Playing Hoover from youth to old age, Di Caprio donned facial prosthetics, a bald cap, fake teeth and latex body pads. All that effort, and he ended up looking more like an elderly Cabbage Patch doll. JT

Shamelessness rating: 8 It wasn’t worth it, was it Leo?

Emily Blunt, The Girl on the Train

<p>Not such a long commute in the make-up chair for Emily Blunt</p>Dreamworks

Not such a long commute in the make-up chair for Emily Blunt


Rachel Watson, the ‘girl on the train’ in Paula Hawkins’ ubiquitous novel, is an overweight alcoholic who knocks back vodka miniatures on her way into Euston station each morning. In the Hollywood adaptation, she looks like Emily Blunt, with the half-arsed addition of some painted on dark circles, reddish contact lenses and slightly lacklustre hair. Blunt said she could “barely look at [herself]” during filming - we’ve looked significantly more horrifying the morning after a few weeknight wines. KR

Shamelessness rating: 3 We’ve looked worse completely sober

Nicole Kidman, Destroyer

<p>Kidman’s character in Destroyer was not a fan of SPF</p>Annapurna

Kidman’s character in Destroyer was not a fan of SPF


In her biggest on-screen transformation since The Hours, Kidman would spend more hours in the make-up chair while filming Destroyer, a gritty neo-noir thriller which saw her play a hard-boiled Los Angeles cop who has spent her undercover career embedded in criminal gangs, forgetting to wear SPF. Make-up artist Bill Corso added prosthetic eye bags, latex wrinkles and a nose ‘bump’ before painting sun damage marks onto Kidman’s ageless visage. A sad wig that could’ve been stolen from an Eighties rocker’s garage finished off the look. Beyond the initial buzz of her Oscar-baiting makeover, though, the film struggled to land at the box office. KR

Shamelessness rating: 7 A staggering transformation that didn’t translate into trophies

Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

<p>Dallas Buyers Club took the McConaissance to a new level</p>AP

Dallas Buyers Club took the McConaissance to a new level


Matthew McConaughey shook off his rom-com golden boy image in the most drastic manner possible in 2014 film Dallas Buyers Club, losing 50lbs in order to portray Ron Woodroof, a late-stage HIV patient. The movie’s make-up artist, Robin Matthews, had a budget of just $250, which makes the transformation even more impressive: she and McConaughey both won Academy Awards for their efforts and lo, the McConaissance stepped up a gear. The actor seems to have acquired a Bale-esque passion for on-screen shape-shifting since: he shaved his head and put on another 50lbs to play a washed-up prospector in the critically panned Gold in 2016, then convincingly transformed into a scraggly-haired stoner for The Beach Bum. KR

Shamelessness rating: 8 A classic move from the ‘look, I’m a serious actor!' textbook

Mariah Carey, Precious

<p>Mariah, is that you?</p>Lionsgate

Mariah, is that you?


When scheduling clashes meant that Helen Mirren wasn’t available to play Harlem social worker Ms Weiss in Precious, director Lee Daniels turned to the next available icon, Mariah Carey. The singer really is barely recognisable thanks to a drab wig and a dowdy Eighties wardrobe, along with a smattering of much-discussed facial hair (Carey spent the entire press tour denying she’d grown it herself). “It wasn’t just de-glamourised,” she said of her transformation. “They added some hideousness on top of that too. I drank some ugly juice.” KR

Shamelessness rating: 7 Making the ultimate diva ditch her usual glamour is no mean feat

Margot Robbie, I Tonya

<p>Margot was on thin ice for her Tonya Harding transformation</p>Handout

Margot was on thin ice for her Tonya Harding transformation


Margot Robbie looks nothing like Nineties ice skater Tonya Harding, and the tight budget for this chaotic biopic didn’t leave much room for expensive prosthetics or time for hours in the make-up chair. Instead, make-up artist Deborah La Mia Denaver used “reverse contouring” to take the edge off Robbie’s cheekbones; eyelash glue helped to tweak the shape of her eyelids. The film’s hairstylist ended up dousing her frazzled blonde wig in beer to recreate a crunchy permed texture too. It’s a portrait of Harding painted in very broad strokes, yet it’s weirdly convincing if you squint a bit, and the role eventually won Robbie her first Oscar nomination. KR

Shamelessness rating: 5 She’s still basically Margot Robbie, just with a bad wig

Margot Robbie, Mary Queen of Scots

<p>Robbie looked more like Pennywise than powerful ruler</p>Universal

Robbie looked more like Pennywise than powerful ruler


Casting Robbie as Queen Elizabeth I didn’t seem like such an outlandish move on paper. Surely she’d just don a fancy ginger wig, a massive ruff and a smattering of face powder, just like Cate Blanchett did? Little did we know that the actress would end up looking more Pennywise the Clown than Gloriana in a bright red fright wig and layers of white face paint, her hairline yanked back to recreate that Tudor high forehead. Robbie gives the role her best shot, but it’s impossible not to get distracted by the fact she’s a dead ringer for those cress heads you might have made at pre-school. KR

Shamelessness rating: 8 A startling makeunder that’ll give you a right royal fright

Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

<p>Hathaway as Fantine before the shears came out</p>Universal Pictures

Hathaway as Fantine before the shears came out

Universal Pictures

We all knew Hathaway was on the prowl for an Oscar the minute she was cast as Fantine in Les Mis, who dies homeless on the streets of Paris while singing beautifully. But she really gave the game away when she got her hands on the gong and said “you came true” into its tiny gold face. Credit where credit is due: she lost 25 pounds, had her hair cut off on screen and even stopped spending time with her husband because he was making her happy when ‘“I needed to go further into that negative place to play my character.” JT

Shamelessness rating: 5 Let’s be honest, the haircut actually looked quite nice on her

Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

<p>You wig up if you want to… Meryl did </p>Film4

You wig up if you want to… Meryl did


Before Gillian Anderson played Margaret Thatcher in The Crown wearing a wig that needs its own postcode, Meryl Streep took on this incredibly divisive role. Make-up artists didn’t want to bury Streep’s brilliantly expressive face under fakery when she was playing Thatcher in her power years, but she did wear dentures and a very big wig (of course). It was the scenes portraying Thatcher in her eighties, suffering from dementia, when Streep became unrecognisable, thanks to some clever prosthetics. JT

Shamelessness rating: 8 We know exactly what you were up to, Meryl

Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour

<p>Gary Oldman donned a foam bodysuit to play portly PM Churchill</p>Working Title Films

Gary Oldman donned a foam bodysuit to play portly PM Churchill

Working Title Films

A dramatic physical transformation always ups your Oscar chances, but donning prosthetics in order to play Winston Churchill in a serious World War II period drama makes you a shoo-in for that little gold statuette. It wasn’t exactly surprising, then, when Gary Oldman picked up his Best Actor Oscar for Darkest Hour, after spending 200 hours in the hair and make-up chair and waddling around in a foam bodysuit. To complete the process, which made John Lithgow’s turn as The Crown’s Churchill look a bit half-hearted, his entire face – bar his forehead and lips – was covered in a silicone cast. KR

Shamelessness rating: 9 A blatant Oscar play that paid off

Jared Leto, Chapter 27


“I’m not sure it was the wisest choice,” said Jared Leto of his decision to embark on a diet of melted ice-cream, soy sauce and olive oil in order to gain almost five stone for his role in Chapter 27. The rapid expansion, which helped him embody John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, came with real health issues. He got gout and, for a time, was wheelchair-bound. It wasn’t his first physical transformation: in 2000, he reversed the trick and lost two stone from an already slim frame to play a heroin addict in Requiem for a Dream. Say what you will about Leto’s acting career, you can’t question his commitment. JE

Shamelessness rating: 10 For literally giving himself inflammatory arthritis, it has to be, right?

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