In such a superficial and trend-centric town, denizens of Hollywood paradoxically farm out the most unattractive but challenging and potentially career-making roles to the most attractive and comfortably successful leading men and women in the city. The following is a list of major motion picture performances that saw highly desirable actors and actresses disappear into the bodies and minds of bizarre, twisted, and repulsive characters; some with relatable, redeeming qualities beneath unattractive shells, some meant to be grotesque foils to the heroes of these cinematic stories.
It is no coincidence that over one third of the actors listed here won or were nominated for Academy Awards for these performances, given how drastic a departure these various roles are from the personalities and lifestyles of the actors who played them and the skill that is therefore needed to believably inhabit these characters. As the list progresses, this discrepancy between actor and character becomes greater; the last handful of actors are barely recognizable on screen under the prosthetics, piercings, scars, deformities, and aesthetic that make a believable, authentic character. The characters described here range from off-putting and edgy to mutilated (using makeup magic of course) beyond recognition as a human, let alone as the actor behind the mask; these are: 15 Incredibly Attractive Actors Who Have Played Ugly Characters.
15 Tom Cruise as Les Grossman
Like his fellow Scientologist, John Travolta in Hairspray, 80s-era heartthrob Tom Cruise donned a fat suit to play stereotypically amoral, money grubbing studio exec, Les Grossman, in Tropic Thunder. Underneath the prosthetic overfed belly covered in gratuitous fake chest hair and gold chains, Cruise is hardly recognizable as the former angsty, bad boy protagonist from films like Top Gun and Cocktail. His show-stealing cameo earned Tom a Golden Globe nomination and provided his public image a much-needed facelift in the wake of a poorly received, Scientology-inspired rant against psychiatry, which had alienated the actor from several of his movie-making peers.
14 Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander
With a button-cute name and face like (Patricia) Rooney Mara's, the makeup and costume crew behind David Fincher's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo might have lost some sleep and hair over how to believably hide this cuteness behind the heavily pierced, eyebrow-less face of insomniac hacker and title "girl", Lisbeth Salander. On the other hand, in an interview with Allure magazine, the previously un-pierced actress alleged that, while makeup artists were of course responsible for her character's overall malnourished, sleep deprived, Suicide Girl-aesthetic, they played no part in Mara’s decision to actually pierce her ears, lip, eyebrow, nose (twice), and nipple.
13 Amy Smart as Kayleigh Miller
Co-star alongside Jason Statham in both installments so far of the Crank action movie series, Amy Smart is most recognizable (at least to Gen X-ers and millennials) as a cast staple in young adult demographic hits like Starship Troopers and Varsity Blues. But, her role as Kayleigh Miller, opposite Ashton Kutcher in The Butterfly Effect, had her acting far outside her sunny blonde comfort zone. In this flick, Kutcher's character is blessed/cursed with the ability to relive and change his love interest's traumatic past but, with each attempt, there are unintended consequences, and in one unintentionally derailed timeline, Kayleigh ends up a worn out and literally scarred sex worker.
12 Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos
Charlize Theron won an Academy Award for her performance (in 2003's Monster) as Daytona Beach-area serial killer, Aileen Wuornos. Prior to 2003, Theron had shown great range in terms of her acting chops but not necessarily in terms of the attractiveness of the characters she had played to date. In Monster, she is unrecognizable behind a mad dog stare, unkept skin and hair, garbled trailer park English, and her butch tendency toward murderous rage.
Runner up: Christina Ricci, also in Monster, as Wuornos’ lesbian lover, Selby. Ricci’s transformation for this role was less drastic than Theron’s, which makes sense given Wuornos received the death sentence while her lover remained a free woman.
11 Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof
Matthew McConaughey dirtied himself up to play well-meaning deadbeat vigilantes nearly back to back, first playing a man named for wet dirt in the film, Mud, then a pessimistic-to-say-the-least detective in HBO's first installment of True Detective. Yet, it is only in Dallas Buyers Club that the ever-laid back actor's surf bleached good looks do not shine through his character's in this case tragically emaciated, unattractive frame. McConaughey received an Oscar for his portrayal of healthy and AIDS-ravaged versions of real-life founder of the film's namesake "club", Ron Woodroof, and his physical disappearance into this role might have helped secure that win.
10 Javier Bardem as (Raoul) Silva
The idea for this list actually grew out of a typically one-sided conversation with my dentist, who educated me on the technical term for (spoiler alert!) that piece of metal that Javier Bardem, as classically misshapen, disfigured, or bodily modified Bond-villain, Silva, pulls out of his face, to the apathy of Bond (Daniel Craig) and the disgust of Skyfall audiences everywhere. Of course I promptly forgot that this prosthetic cheekbone is called an obturator as soon as the cavity filling commenced, but it will be a long time before I forget the image on the big screen of Bardem minus half his face.
9 Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson/Deadpool
As of March 21st, 2016, Marvel Entertainment's Deadpool has earned over $600 million and counting at the box office, officially surpassing Spider-Man 3's epic profits. Burn victims are particularly hard to look at and the Deadpool saga, at least in Marvel’s cinematic universe, very much centers on protagonist Wade Wilson’s obsession with fixing his leathery complexion to the benefit of his love life.
Runner up: Mel Gibson as the “Man” in The Man Without A Face. Gibson's character like Reynolds’ in Deadpool is hideously burned with a tortured past that mostly revolves around being ashamed and angry over (the circumstances surrounding) his burnt face.
8 John Matuszak as Sloth (Fratelli)
Former NFL player and character actor, John Matuszak, is not classically handsome per se, but compared to the appearance of his most widely known onscreen persona, the man is gorgeous. Matuszak's nine years as a defensive end and thirty-two other acting credits never gained him much recognition next to his performance as the deformed and likely inbreed with a heart of gold, Sloth, in The Goonies. At the heart of this 80s cult classic is the moral that beauty and character are not necessarily related; the film’s title, rather than referring to Sloth, refers to the film's social outcast protagonists who find in him a kindred spirit.
7 Christian Bale
When his turn came to play a sleazy, plump conman (in American Hustle), this method actor refused the fat suit and got chubby the old fashioned way; and this after having hit the gym hard for The Dark Knight Rises a year earlier. Before this last turn as Batman, Bale had lost weight for his Oscar-winning role in The Fighter as a defunct, addict boxer, which came easy after starving himself to play the wasted away protagonist of 2004’s The Machinist. No studio magic was used to make Christian’s cheeks and ribcage look about to cave in or like a hero tough enough to un-paralyze his self and fight villains with lifelong steroid abuse issues.
6 Heath Ledger as the Joker
This Aussie actor tragically delved so deeply into his role as Gotham’s infamous psychopathic jester in The Dark Knight, he never quite came back and ended his own life before the already finished film was released in theaters in what was ruled an accidental prescription medication (opiates and anti-anxiety medication) overdose.
Heath Ledger posthumously earned an Oscar in 2009 for his now legendary interpretation of this classic comic book villain; he and his father alleging that Ledger locked himself in a London hotel room for weeks with nothing but a journal/scrap book, laughing and talking essentially to himself as he developed his Joker.
5 Jared Leto
Jared Leto is another method actor on the list who not only underwent drastic transformations for several critically acclaimed roles and performances but who also, like Matthew McConaughey, won an Oscar for his performance as an AIDs patient in Dallas Buyers Club. He has survived inhabiting the world of an amputee heroin addict relegated to a chain gang in Requiem for a Dream, Rayon the transgender hustler in Dallas Buyers Club, John Lennon’s assassin in Chapter 27, and so far has avoided Joker #3 a.k.a. Heath Ledger’s fate of committing suicide after playing the popularly fictionalized lunatic in soon-to-be released Suicide Squad.
4 Nick Stahl as Yellow Bastard
Nick Stahl first gained attention in the industry through his work as a child actor opposite burn victim and title character (Mel Gibson) in The Man Without A Face. It is interesting then that he would end up playing an even more horrifying character, inside and out, than his former co-star; that character being the jaundice-skinned, homicidal pedophile called alternatively Roark Jr., Junior, or that Yellow Bastard by the citizens of Sin City. Over the course of the film, Junior is transformed from a relatively attractive if still sadistic, spoiled son of a made politician, into what looks like the pubescent love child of Mickey Mouse and the Toxic Avenger.
3 Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent
One of the most shocking transformations on the list comes from Aaron Eckhart and his portrayal of DC-comic book villain Two- Face a.k.a. Harvey Dent (in 2008's The Dark Knight, alongside the late great Heath Ledger). Though much of the gory detail in the partially charred White Knight of Gotham's face was generated by a crew of nerds working at computer terminals, it is still Eckhart's powerful acting that led audiences to sympathize with Dent's loss and need for vengeance in the film, and made his on-screen portrayal of the conflicted, coin toss-guided, Two-Face that much more menacing.
2 Gary Oldman as Mason Verger
Gary Oldman is another actor (like John Matuszak) whose name does not spring to mind when listing beautiful actors but who is a god among men when compared against his truly horrific outward appearance on-screen, in this case as wealthy, presumably former child molester and only surviving victim of notorious, fictional killer, Hannibal Lecter. Still, nobody would argue that the piercing blue-eyed, Academy Award nominated (for 2011's Tinker Tailor Solder Spy) actor looks unattractive by any means, especially for being in his late 50s. It is no surprise then that most audience members were surprised to find Oldman’s name in the end-credits for 2001’s Hannibal.
1 Naomi Grossman as Pepper
Obvious riffing on her now-ironic last name aside, this beauty is most known, on set, as Pepper the "pinhead" from American Horror Story Seasons 2 (Asylum) and 4 (Freak Show). Pinhead is a dated and politically incorrect term for what is medically known as microcephaly, a birth defect that results in mild to severely shrunken skulls that prevent normal brain development and result in all manner of cognitive and physical impairment over the lifespan. Lucky for Naomi, off screen, out of costume, and out of character, all of her body parts look to be proportioned just fine and then some.