As the old saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Hollywood, however, has a very odd eye at times. It goes back to the old days; ladies cast in roles meant to look unattractive or even ugly but clearly looking hot. Sabrina focuses on a woman dismissed as “looking like a horse” who gets a makeover to become a beauty. The actress cast? Audrey Hepburn who is easily the most gorgeous woman on the planet at the time. In movies and TV, someone who has the look of a supermodel can somehow be “the loser” on film. Often, it’s used for the “nerd turned into a hot gal” bit (see: She’s All That) when it’s obvious the woman wasn’t that bad off to start. Yes, some actresses are famous for burying themselves under makeup for a part and often pulling it off well. Yet, it’s amazing how many times a truly gorgeous actress is cast as a “plain Jane.”
True, many of these actresses have been cast in roles that show off their great looks and build upon their beauty. But it’s also remarkable how many times casting directors think they’re perfect for the role of the nerd, the outcast, the overlooked gal, or the one who can’t land a man. Some are able to make it work and are relatable, but it’s still hard at times to believe that these stunning women are anything but plain. From movies to TV, they’re pushed as trying to be “regular gals” when they clearly are not in any way. Here are 15 gorgeous actresses who keep getting cast in unattractive roles, showing Hollywood has a long way to go to make women look more “normal.”
15 Emma Watson
To be fair, when she started out, Emma Watson was hardly a looker. She totally fit the role of Hermione Granger in the first Harry Potter movie. She was more than believable as the frizzy-haired girl who was interested in her studies rather than the adventures of her peers around her. But as the series continued over the next decade, Watson astounded everyone by transforming into a truly beautiful, and classy young woman. Her role in The Perks of Being a Wallflower had her in a variety of outfits to showcase her relaxed personality, and her more daring outfits to promote her figure. The Circle cast her as a woman who was more concerned with computers rather than human interaction. When she got cast in Beauty and the Beast it only made sense. After all, watching her grow into the terribly attractive woman she is today has been nothing short of a magical experience.
14 Alison Brie
Something about this woman lends itself to being cast in roles meant to be somewhat overlooked, but she shines anyway. She proved that as Trudy on Mad Men, a simple wife who rose up with backbone and made the 1960s outfits look truly lovely on her. Then on the cult favourite sitcom Community, Brie was Annie, the brainy gal who’d been horribly treated in high school. While she had sexy bits here and there, the series pushed her as a loon who carried on thinking she was hotter than she was. The fact Brie could back that up with sexy spreads undermined that casting. In various movies like How to Be Single or Sleeping With Other People, Brie is cast as a gal unlucky in love and feeling bad about her looks. That leads to her part in the Netflix series GLOW as a struggling actress of little talent, sleeping with her best friend’s husband and dismissed on her chances of being a wrestler. She gets great at the end with her look but it still showcases how this “dorky” lady can be a truly hot presence without trying too hard.
13 Lea Michele
When Glee began, much was made of how Quinn was the head cheerleader and the hottest girl in school. Rachel was dismissed as a nerd, a loser, a pathetic person who got slushies thrown in her face every day. Thus every time someone was interested in her on the show, it was always to their own surprise. The problem was that Lea Michele was easily far more beautiful than most of the cast. As though her voice was not enough, her outfits played up her looks on the stage, showing off just how pretty she actually was. True, Michele got a diva reputation afterward which might not have helped with later castings. She was put in Scream Queens as a woman in a neck brace and made out to be a total freak despite once more being one of the hottest in an already hot cast. Currently, on The Mayor, Michele plays a tough political operative, where she portrays an ice cold business queen. That just seems hard for a lady who proves her looks are as epic as her voice.
12 Emma Stone
Hitting her stride as an Oscar-winning A-list star, Emma Stone is certainly one of the most gorgeous women in Hollywood. However, her parts in the past have seriously tried to downplay that. In The House Bunny, she’s made out to be so ugly she’s practically a leper in college despite the fact that the only thing to downplay her looks are her glasses. The Help is supposed to have Skeeter as a truly non-looker but again, even with glasses and frizzly hair, Stone is easily the most beautiful woman in the cast. Easy A and Crazy Stupid Love played with it, her attractive but seen as not outgoing about it. Her part as Gwen Stacey enhanced her beauty and her intellect, ultimately making her even more attractive. But La La Land pushed the idea of her character ignored in Hollywood when Stone has no trouble turning heads. She managed to make Billie Jean King look sexy as hell and even the horrible Aloha shone with her in a military uniform. She’s a great star yet Stone just can’t pull off a “normal” role despite how she’s tried.
11 Anne Hathaway
It’s the role that made her a star yet The Princess Diaries still has a key flaw: Asking folks to buy Anne Hathaway as unattractive before a makeover. Even with her frizzy hair and glasses, Hathaway was stunningly beautiful, essentially marking her “transformation” as unnecessary. Hathaway has however, had some roles that showcase her brilliant form, such as her casting in The Dark Knight Rises as Catwoman. However, she’s often cast as a woman who seems to be ignored a lot by guys. The Devil Wears Prada paints her as a woman with no style, so everyone looks down on her in her workplace, despite her fantastic beauty. Rachel Getting Married has her as a highly attractive woman for a recovering addict. Les Miserables went so far as to have her shave her head and gave her bad teeth, yet she remained hot on her deathbed. The Intern is a straight-laced businesswoman while Colossal has her as a drunk controlling a monster. Yet Hathaway’s fantastic beauty and sex appeal cannot be stopped in any role and so casting her as a sexpot makes more sense.
10 Alexis Bledel
Only 18 when cast as Rory Gilmore on the long-running Gilmore Girls, Alexis Bledel first showed off her great comic timing and terrific intellectual vibe. But as the show grew, so did Rory. Although she kept her bookworm persona, she transformed physically into a remarkably beautiful young woman. That kind of role continued in Bledel’s other films like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Post Grad, where she is often ignored by men regardless of her fiercely attractive looks. Her part as Becky in Sin City was a bit hotter but still overwhelmed by the other hot ladies in the cast. Bledel can show off a lot, especially in magazine shoots. Most recently she has been in The Handmaid’s Tale which won her a deserved Emmy, where she was buried under robes, but delivered an incredible performance while shooting brutal moments. Bledel has grown into a lovely woman so trying to keep her under wraps in so many ways doesn’t work.
9 Tina Fey
There was always something so unique about her, even in her early work on Saturday Night Live. She was a comedy genius with her sharp wit and funny lines, her glasses a fun addition and a great smile. But Tina Fey has shown herself to be a fantastic sexy woman, often flaunting a killer pair of legs in glamour shots. 30 Rock had her playing off that kind of role, where she downplayed her looks to access the comedic role. Movies are much the same as she’s played a downtrodden principal in Mean Girls and bits in Date Night and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot that make her out to be a lovelorn loser. Anyone who meets her in person knows her humour adds to her beauty, but there is nothing wrong with appreciating her physical appearance as well.
8 Elisabeth Moss
For years, Elisabeth Moss bounced around Hollywood in minor roles, nothing really notable and she turned into forgettable face. Then she landed the role of Peggy on Mad Men, the Emmy-winning sensation. From the start, the character was sold as being dowdy and uncomfortable, bundled up in clothing (explained by hiding a pregnancy) but her beauty was clear. It kept up during the rest of the show’s run and various movies; Moss continually cast as a woman overlooked but shining well through it all. That included her turn as a cop in the New Zealand drama Top of the Lake in which she was stunningly gorgeous. The Handmaid’s Tale has her in robes and pushed down but her talent has helped her win an Emmy. It also shows how Moss can be gorgeous even under these conditions, easily the most attractive in this cast and flashing it nicely. Her glamour shots are more than impressive, making it increasingly difficult for anyone to view her as a plain Jane.
7 Leslie Mann
In so many roles, Leslie Mann is cast as the “other gal,” the one not overly hot or attractive. Her breakout was Jane in George of the Jungle which pushed her beauty but since then, it’s been more “homely” parts. In Big Daddy, she was showcased plainly, whereas in Knocked Up and This is 40, she at least got to combine her humour, bright laugh, and awesome figure to show herself at her best. The Other Woman has her as a wife whose husband cheats on her with Cameron Diaz but Mann actually came off hotter than Diaz in some spots. Yet, it continues as she was made to look a bit sexy in The Change-Up with a raunchy bathroom scene. How to Be Single continued the trend with Mann once more cast as the “overlooked gal” among some sexy ladies despite how past films show a great body and a wonderful aura rising above her casting. Mann rolls with it but it’s remarkable how she’s shown herself as being sexier than many of her co-stars and why she deserves more stardom than “the side friend” roles.
6 Christina Ricci
It’s risky for a kid to break out into stardom but Christina Ricci did it very well. Her role as Wednesday was the best part of The Addams Family, with fans loving her deadpan sociopath personality. Ricci was soon cast in roles like Casper and Now & Then, usually both as tomboy roles. She shifted to a more adult image with The Opposite of Sex which led to a few more glamorous parts. That includes her role in Monster. Although Ricci was meant to play an unglamorous woman, she ended up looking far more beautiful than Charlize Theron. The height of her glamour and beauty would be found in Penelope where Ricci plays a woman cursed with a pig’s nose. The intention is to turn people away due to her pig nose, but oddly it did not quite help to hide her beauty. Most recently, Ricci played Zelda Fitzgerald, who she made shine like a star.
5 Vanessa Hudgens
When High School Musical was made in 2006, no one involved could possibly have imagined it would be not only a hit but a full-fledged phenomenon. Vanessa Hudgens was rocketed to fame as Gabriella, the brainy gal who emerges as a singing star. Her character is a soft spoken young woman, but even in the films, it was hard to downplay her beauty. Further roles followed that tried to make her out to be a tomboy like Journey 2 and Freaks of Nature. She shocked many by getting truly ugly for Gimmie Shelter but managed to shine in the role nonetheless. In Gigi, she plays an overlooked young woman trying to land a man. The short-lived sitcom Powerless had her as an office drone, arguably the best looking of the cast once again. Given her talents as both singer and dancer, Hudgens should constantly be getting cast in fancier, classier, and glamorous roles, but Hollywood seems dedicated to casting her as a “regular” gal.
4 America Ferrera
Even before her fame, America Ferrera was landing roles meant to show her as downtrodden but hot. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants comments more than once on her weight, but it's no question--she's a beauty despite what the character might think about herself. Her breakout role in Ugly Betty was all about an unattractive woman in the world of high fashion. But even with the fake braces and glasses, Ferrera was lovely to look at and showed even on the red carpet. Her regular girl roles continued to come in, but her natural beauty outshone the type casting Hollywood attempted to throw at her. There really is nothing "ugly" about this woman at all, she radiates class at all times in Hollywood, on and off the red carpet.
3 Zooey Deschanel
The woman who helped make “adorkable” part of the lexicon, Zooey Deschanel has been notable for her amazingly beautiful looks and lush dark hair. Yet for some reason, she keeps being cast as someone meant to be ignored by men. That includes breakouts like The Good Girl or The New Guy, where she is made out to be plain, but it doesn’t quite work. The most notable has to be Failure to Launch where she’s actually called so ugly no one wants to be with her (even though she's easily the best person to look at in the film). Much of her hit sitcom New Girl plays on Zooey being seen as unattractive, moaning over not landing the right guy, which is completely wild given how beautiful she is. Someone who is the face of Rimmel should not be seen as a “plain” gal at all. Apart from her beauty, her humour is her real strength, but the combination of the two makes her a powerhouse.
2 Sandra Bullock
Before her fame, one of Sandra Bullock’s first roles was in Love Potion No. 9 as a geeky lab tech with glasses and bad hair. She transforms into a sexpot but the fact is, she was already incredibly beautiful. That’s carried through Bullock’s career as the producers of Speed wanted someone relatable to audiences as “just another gal” and it made her a star. While You Were Sleeping has her as the most attractive toll clerk in the history of Chicago while The Net presented her as a shut-in computer geek. 28 Days played her as an addict but looking more like a supermodel than someone who was in need of rehab. On that, Miss Congeniality had her as a woman who shocks everyone by going from tomboy to beauty pageant contestant but it’s hardly any work at all. Even in roles meant to push her as older or more educational (Gravity), Bullock’s amazing beauty can’t be ignored and showcases how trying to make her a “tomboy” just doesn’t take.
1 Kate Winslet
Trying to cast a woman who’s regularly topped lists of the most beautiful actresses on the planet in dowdy roles once is crazy. Having it happen multiple times is insane. It all started with Winslet’s breakout role in Sense and Sensibility as the “plain” sister but clearly truly gorgeous. Movies like Quills had her as a downtrodden peasant or the quirky gal in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Most notably was her role in Little Children as a woman meant to be a rough housewife looked down on for her appearances but her blistering nude scenes showed how hot she was. The Holiday had her as an office lady who can’t land a man. Even made up in old age work for The Reader (which finally won her the long-overdue Oscar), Winslet still shone wonderfully. She’s even mocked it at times with how she keeps being cast in such “dowdy” parts when she’s so incredibly beautiful and critics note that even her talent can’t make up for that bizarre casting choice. Given the way she stuns us on any red carpet, continually casting Winslet as a “plain gal” is just baffling.