Hollywood seems to have a very complicated system when it comes to how actresses are portrayed on screen. While it’s important to have a signature look to go along with stellar acting skills, it’s also important to have diversity in the characters that can be portrayed.
While some actresses seem to depend on their looks to achieve roles, not everyone strives to create a career based on being the hot girl in the Transformers movies or the leading lady that always seems to get her man. Being an actor requires the ability to delve deep into a character, while putting your own persona and appearance on the back burner. So, many actresses have decided to downplay their looks to help achieve the right character for a role. Not only does it help to achieve believability from the audience, but it also gains respect from the fact that they are willing to really hone their craft regardless of how they will be perceived.
Whether it’s an attempt to be taken seriously as an actor or a way to delve deeper into a character, some of Hollywood’s leading ladies have stripped away their looks in order to become a character on screen. While some have been rewarded with accolades and awards, others just hope it will lead to bigger and better things. Check out our list of 20 super hot actresses that played ugly women on screen, and see how far these leading ladies were willing to go to be a working actress in Hollywood.
20 Emma Thompson
Emma Thompson is a celebrated British actress that has starred in a number of roles on the big screen. While other actors might be hesitant to diminish their appearance on screen, Thompson has never shied away from characters that differ from her own natural beauty off-screen. While the Harry Potter character, Sybill Trelawney, was bad enough, it was her character in Nanny McPhee that was the truest version of ugliness that Thompson is best known for. Released in 2005, Thompson actually wrote and starred in this film adaptation from the Nurse Matilda books from Christianna Brand. From crooked teeth to large hairy moles on her face, it’s a good thing the kids started learning their lessons by the end of the film.
19 Helena Bonham Carter
While some actresses may be pretty concerned with the way their appearance is portrayed in film, Helena Bonham Carter doesn’t seem bothered by taking roles that seek to characterize her as unattractive. Whether it was Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series, the wrinkled one-eyed witch in Big Fish, or the giant forehead Queen in the Alice in Wonderland film series, Carter doesn’t mind hiding her natural beauty to personify a role. A film that couldn’t have made that any clearer was the 2001 film remake, Planet of the Apes. Carter played the role of Ari, a female monkey with full-on facial prosthetics and makeup.
18 Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep is an actress that is known for her ability to completely transform into a character. Whether it was Julia Child in Julie & Julia or Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, Streep has won numerous Academy Awards for her stellar acting skills on screen. Proving that she would go to any lengths to embody a character, it was her portrayal as "The Witch" in Into the Woods that showed her looking her worst. With scraggly hair, yellowed teeth, and snarled nails, her character started off far from the blue-haired beauty she became at the end. The deep-set wrinkles and crooked teeth showed Streep had a completely different look than what fans are used to from her red carpet appearances.
17 Uzo Aduba
Playing the character, Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, Uzo Aduba is a favorite from the Orange is the New Black cast. Since the show revolves around women behind bars, it’s not exactly going to be filled with the most glamorous looks on screen. With no makeup and hair that is cringe-worthy, Aduba's character is actually a favorite by celebrities who watch the show. Julianne Hough actually came under fire in 2013, when she dressed up as Aduba’s character for Halloween. Everything would have gone off smoothly in the orange jumpsuit and recreated hair, except of course the whole “blackface” thing. In the meantime, Aduba has forgiven and forgotten, and proves her beauty with each walk on the red carpet.
16 Mayim Bialik
Mayim Bialik has always had a unique look, even when she starred as a child actress in Blossom and Beaches. Yet, unlike other child actresses that try and shed their good girl image through a series of scandalous photos and outbursts, Bialik chose to further her education and even became a neuroscientist. So, when she was cast as Amy Farrah Fowler in The Big Bang Theory, it seemed like the perfect character for her to play to bring her back on TV. While she may be similar to her character due to her field and degree, her Big Bang Theory character does nothing to show off just how beautiful Mayim Bialik has become.
15 Hilary Swank
Hilary Swank is an actress that has won a number of awards and accolades throughout her professional career. While there have been plenty of roles that have played up her natural beauty, oftentimes her character picks are more invested in telling the story rather than keeping up appearances. Her most memorable character portrayal was in 1999, when she played Brandon Teena in the biographical film, Boys Don’t Cry. Donning short hair, no make-up, a wrapped chest, and a plethora of ugly plaid shirts, it was almost unbelievable how she was able to transform into this real life character for the film.
14 Sophie McShera
Sophie McShera hasn’t had the best of luck when it comes to getting roles that portray her in the best light. While her role in Downton Abbey introduced her to her biggest fan base, Daisy wasn’t the most glamorous character since she was part of the wait staff. When she was cast in the remake of Cinderella, she played the role of Drizella (the evil stepsister). The character, with her ugly yellow dresses, was meant to be unattractive both inside and out, so there again, McShera wasn’t the prettiest girl at the ball. However, off screen, she features sparkling eyes and a beautifully natural smile. Proving that not everyone is who they seem on screen, McShera is still looking for the perfect role to let her true beauty shine through.
13 Joss Stone
The hit television series, The Tudors, followed the life of Henry VIII who famously married (and beheaded) a number of different women. A woman he was to marry, Anne of Cleves, was played by music sensation Joss Stone. While Stone is known for her bohemian style and strong vocal ability, Anne of Cleves was treated pretty harshly, both historically and in the series. It was said that Henry VIII found her so ugly that he couldn’t consummate the marriage (which is probably the only reason she wasn’t one of the wives he had to kill), and he reportedly said she looked like a horse. Although most actresses wouldn’t jump at the chance to play a character with a “horse face,” Stone didn’t have too many options since she was just starting out.
12 Mariah Carey
Although Mariah Carey is revered for her vocal ability, she has tried to branch out to a film career in recent years. From the role as a slave in The Butler to her lead in Glitter, there seems to be mixed reviews on her acting skills. While some claim Glitter is their favorite flick, others have criticized the predictable story-line and Carey’s attempt at humanizing the character. However, her portrayal in the critically-acclaimed film, Precious, was one that helped her in becoming known as a serious actress. Forgoing all the makeup and glamorized look, Carey is dressed down and seems more natural than we have ever seen her.
11 Maisie Williams
When Maisie Williams was first introduced to audiences through her role as Arya Stark in the hit series, Game of Thrones, she didn’t exactly match the feminine character of her older sister. Donning clothing that was specific to the male characters, she was the tomboy with the cute face that fans rooted for. While her situation went downhill quickly, so did her appearance on the show. The creators chopped off her cute brown locks, dressed her like a boy, and left her countless times sleeping in filth; it seems she spends each episode looking her worst. When fans see her on the red carpet, it can be a little jolting to see her in a regular state. She sure does clean up nice, and we’re all still rooting for her character on the show!
10 Cameron Diaz
Cameron Diaz is often portrayed on film as the super attractive and unattainable woman that has captivated all those around her, like in her 1998 movie, There’s Something About Mary. However, not all of her characters have been super attractive or portrayed in the best light. From the scene where Mary puts “hair gel” in her bangs to the childhood shots in the Charlie’s Angels film series where Diaz has full-on headgear, Diaz is the best at playing awkward characters. While we all know how stunning the actress is on the red carpet, it is refreshing to see that she isn’t afraid to let out her inner freak on screen.
9 Gwendoline Christie
Gwendoline Christie is the actress that portrays Brienne of Tarth in the hit HBO series, Game of Thrones. While she is already reaching model stature with her supermodel height, the show often portrays her with a freakish-like build to create the character from the book series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Rarely seen without her armor (since it adds to the boxy and unfeminine look), she is mocked as “Brienne the Beauty” since she is thought of as one of the ugliest women in Westeros. While her onscreen character may not turn many heads, off screen she is considered a classic beauty with a glamorous pin-up style look.
8 Linda Cardellini
When it was announced that they were going to create a movie out of the Scooby-Doo television series, fans wondered how that would work out with real actors instead of animation. Yet, Matthew Lillard was the absolute perfect actor for the Shaggy role, and fans liked seeing their favorite characters on the big screen. While Velma was the obvious smart one of the group, her character wasn’t exactly the most striking. With a bowl haircut and over-sized glasses, the Velma character was a far cry from the absolutely gorgeous actress playing her, Linda Cardellini. At the premier, Cardellini wowed fans by her natural beauty, and showed that her real hair was much better than the wig.
7 Jennifer Aniston
Jennifer Aniston isn’t new to dealing with the effects of public perception, since her look on Friends created a massive flocking to hair salons by millions of women requesting “The Rachel.” While she was able to transition out of television into a successful film career, many of her roles featured the same look fans were used to seeing since her days on Friends. Whether it was an attempt to be seen as a serious actress or that she was finally able to get a role she could sink her teeth into, Aniston starred in a surprising role for the 2014 film, Cake. Struggling with chronic pain, Aniston’s character was a complete turnaround from the fresh-faced woman audiences fell in love with on TV.
6 Drew Barrymore
Drew Barrymore is an actress that has arguably had the most profound transitions in Hollywood. From a child star to a rebellious adolescent to a doting new mom, Barrymore has grown up in the public eye both on and off the screen. While many of her roles portray her as the leading lady with girlish appeal, some of the shots from her 1999 film, Never Been Kissed, weren’t exactly complimentary. When forced to go back to high school, she reverts back to her geeky stage both in mind and spirit. Her outfit choices are utterly ridiculous and the oily faced look stays prevalent pretty much throughout the film. Although her character didn’t have the typical leading lady look, she redeemed the movie through the sweet temperament fans adore about her.
5 Anne Hathaway
Anne Hathaway has always been a favorite on the red carpet, since she features a timeless look that has earned her a reputation for being “America’s sweetheart.” While she took some time off to step away from the spotlight for awhile, she is still considered one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. While many of her character portrayals have highlighted her beauty on screen, it was her role as Fantine in Les Miserables that was the most defining for her career. With a shaved head, pulled teeth, and a dirt-smudged face, Hathaway managed to get audiences to forget about how beautiful she was in order to delve into the character.
4 Christina Ricci
Christina Ricci has never been an actress that was hesitant to delve into a character. With her Wednesday portrayal in The Addams Family film series being so spot on, fans wondered what she would look like once she grew out of the child actress phase. Although she grew into a stunning Hollywood starlet, she has held onto her willingness to go the extra mile when it comes to her character picks. Receiving critical acclaim for the 2003 film, Monster, Ricci donned an ultra scruffy look with a female mullet hairstyle. She further proved her nonchalant attitude towards her appearance on screen in the 2006 film, Penelope, where she suffers from a “pig-face” disorder and dons a snout in the film.
3 America Ferrera
Based off of a popular telenovela, Ugly Betty made its American debut in 2006. Starring America Ferrera as the lead, quite a lot of work went into transforming this curvaceous beauty into a character that could be considered “ugly.” With large and noticeable blue braces (both top and bottom), scraggly unkempt hair, glasses, and a style that can only be described as matronly, the entire story-line was based on the stereotypes around a female that is considered unattractive. However, fans got to see the real America Ferrera in such films as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, and are pleasantly surprised when they see how glamorous her look is on the red carpet.
2 Angelina Jolie
While her Gone in 60 Seconds character was a definite badass, Angelina wasn’t exactly looking her best in blonde nasty dreadlocks with a grunge look. When she was cast in Maleficent, the public was excited to see her as the fairytale villain from Sleeping Beauty. Although there isn’t really a set rule on what fairies are supposed to look like, Jolie’s character looked more like a witch than any fairy ever depicted on film. The Disney version made it seem like she was just wearing a pointy black hat, but Maleficent showed she actually had big giant horns coming out of her head. Quite the change from her red carpet glamour, but fans appreciate variations from playing super hot roles like Lara Croft.
1 Charlize Theron
While Charlize Theron is known for her red carpet glamour and designer endorsement deals, she proved she was a serious actress during her portrayal as Aileen Wuornos in the 2003 film, Monster. Completely transforming into the real life character, it wasn’t just her acting ability that stunned fans. While actors are known to lose or gain weight for a film role, Theron transformed both her face and body for this role. It earned her an Academy Award, as well as the respect of all those that saw her portrayal in the film. Although she’s played another villain in the Snow White and the Huntsman film series, her evil queen character was a far cry from the serial killer prostitute in Monster.