Look, there’s movie makeup, and then there’s this. Movie makeup artists can do a lot more than hiding imperfections and make actors look better than they really do. A talented makeup artist or team can literally transform a person into something otherworldly.
This list is devoted to the most extreme and impressive makeup transformations in film. This list is also dedicated to the makeup artists that did the hard work as well as the stars that had to endure all those hours in the makeup chair!
Enjoy the trip! You’ll hardly recognize some of these actors.
Donald Glover – Atlanta (2016)
The FX series ‘Atlanta’ features an episode called “Teddy Perkins,” which follows the mysterious character played by Donald Glover. Glover played the creepy owner of a creepy mansion with a creepy high-pitched voice, all in whiteface.
He even showed up as Teddy Perkins at the 2018 Emmys and then mysteriously reappeared without any makeup on. Something strange. Derrick Haywood (who plays Teddy’s brother Benny Hope) said that on the set of the show, he had no idea that Perkins was actually Donald Glover in whiteface makeup.
Karen Gillan – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Special effects makeup artist David White told Business Insider that Karen Gillan’s prosthetic makeup was the “most complex and interesting” to apply. Gillan plays the blue villain and assassin Nebula. White said that it took about four hours and 15 minutes to do her make-up and another 30 minutes just to remove it.
“The five-piece prosthetic was a puzzle of butt joins, and blend offs all on the same pieces and the density of the prosthetic changes to accommodate the need to control the amount of prosthetic movement from one piece to another,” White explained.
Kae Alexander – Game of Thrones (2011)
HBO released a visual effects clip that took people behind the scenes and into the make-up chair to see how they create the terrifying White Walkers and the mysterious children of ‘Game of Thrones.’ The actors had to endure a 10-hour hair, make-up, and prosthetic process to make the magic happen.
“If I were to do a full-body prosthetic, I would get picked up at midnight, and then I’ll be on set by 10 a.m,” Alexander explained. “I didn’t realize it was gonna result in nine-and-a-half hours of makeup!”
Neil Patrick Harris – A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017)
The make-up team on the series ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ applied Neil Patrick Harris’ prosthetics during the first season. Caitlin Groves and Bree-Anna Lehto were part of what Harris described as the “dream team.”
Groves said the most challenging part of the job was knowing when and how to adjust Harris’ skin to balance all the changing light and backgrounds. She explained by saying, “Often throughout the day we would have to adjust the color of his forehead to accommodate bounce from a green screen or the darkness of a dirty school kitchen, etcetera.”
Mary Chieffo – Star Trek: Discovery (2017)
For those who follow Mary Chieffo on social media, she’s very responsive to fans, even when they ask nitpicky questions about the Klingon makeup. For 21st century Trekkies, this seems normal, but in the past, Star Trek actors never had to go on social media to explain or defend their makeup.
When ‘The Next Generation’ was on in the ‘90s, Michael Dorn wasn’t getting any Twitter messages from angry fans asking him about his Klingon hair. But Mary Chieffo does, and yes, she replies to all of it.
Tilda Swinton – Suspiria (2018)
Academy Award-winning makeup artist Mark Coulier worked on Swinton’s makeup in the film ‘Suspiria’ for her role as Professor Lutz Ebersdorf. He also did her makeup with her other also impressive transformation in ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (which will appear later down the list.)
Coulier said Swinton’s performance as Ebersdorf was so convincing that members of the cast and crew were even confused as to who he/she was. When a talented makeup artist and a talented actress work together well, the results are incredible.
Bill Skarsgard – IT (2017)
Bill Skarsgård terrified audiences as Pennywise, the demonic clown, in the 2017 remake of the horror classic “IT.” Skarsgard even admitted to terrifying himself when he looked in the mirror wearing that scary clown makeup.
“It was an amazing, terrifying feeling of seeing the makeup go on for the first time,” he told US Weekly. He also said that it was a lot easier to have it done early in the morning. “Then you’re too tired to know it’s going on.”
Naomi Grossman – American Horror Story (2011)
Naomi Grossman is utterly unrecognizable in her on-screen transformation as Pepper in the series ‘American Horror Story.’ The character, who suffers from the neurodevelopmental disorder Microcephaly, has a definitely unique look, to say the least.
In an interview with People, Naomi admitted that she wasn’t even scared about shaving her hair. She said that, in fact, she found it empowering. “I wasn’t anxious to have my head shaved, by any means, but now that I’ve done it, it’s not really a big deal.”
Meryl Streep – Angels in America (2003)
‘Angels in America’ was a six-part HBO mini-series that won Meryl Streep a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award and an Emmy for her many performances. Of the numerous characters Streep played in the film, one was a Rabbi.
“We shot a scene in a cemetery in which the rabbi sat on a bench in a row of rabbis waiting for a bus, looking like blackbirds on a fence. Two of the other rabbis were (“Angels” playwright) Tony Kushner and his friend Maurice Sendak; at the end of the day, when we said, “It’s a wrap!” Maurice Sendak almost fainted when the “old Jewish man” beside him stood up, grew a foot taller, and spoke in the voice of a lovely woman. He had spent all day with an old Jewish man, only to find at the end of the day that the old man was Meryl Streep,” said Mike Nichols of The Hollywood Reporter.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan – Star Trek: Enterprise (2003)
Jeffrey Dean Morgan played the Xindi-Reptilian Damron in ‘Star Trek: Enterprise.’ Apparently, the character’s makeup process that was needed for the role almost convinced him to quit acting altogether. The role required an extreme amount of uncomfortable prostheses and extensive makeup to transform Morgan into a reptilian creature.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2012, Morgan recalled his time on Star Trek: “I had to pay my bills. I knew I’d play some guy saying some stuff. Then I got a call saying I needed to go in for a prosthetic fitting. I remember them dripping goop on my face, and I had straws sticking out of my nose. I couldn’t eat lunch. I was claustrophobic. I’d go home in tears.”
Doug Jones – Falling Skies (2011)
Doug Jones has portrayed many popular and strange characters in movies like ‘Hellboy’ and ‘Pan’s Labyrinth.’ But Jones isn’t very recognizable to audiences due to the fact that he typically appears onscreen in a completely transformed form. Which must be a major bonus in terms of not having any paparazzi follow him.
The 53-year-old has developed a specialty in playing these fantastical characters that are coated with heavy prosthetic makeup. He’s currently on TNT’s ‘Falling Skies’ as the alien Cochise.
Kenneth Mitchell – Star Trek: Discovery (2017)
Mitchell spoke of his roles as Klingons Kol, Kol-Sha, and Tenavik in ‘Star Trek: Discovery,’ saying that the costume and prosthetics are heavy and hot, “but I’ve always been an actor that works from the inside out and the outside in.”
“These costumes and prosthetics, when you put them on, they’re like layers of your character, and the more you put on, the more you start feeling like your character. Then you add in the language, this very visceral and guttural language, and it just lends itself so much to my character, being a kind of aggressive Klingon,” he added.
Jacob Tremblay – Wonder (2006)
Jacob Tremblay is virtually unrecognizable as the character of Auggie Pullman in the 2006 film ‘Wonder.’ Tremblay played a 10-year-old with Treacher Collins Syndrome which required two hours of makeup every day of filming.
“They had a neckpiece, a face piece connected to a mechanism to make my eyes droop, contact lenses, dentures, and a wig,” Tremblay said in an interview with ABC News. He added that “Wearing the prosthetic helped me to become the character.”
Idris Elba – Star Trek: Beyond (2016)
The British actor was totally unrecognizable as the main villain Krall in ‘Star Trek: Beyond.’ Elba reported that the makeup process took around three hours, with his days usually starting at around 4:15 a.m.
Joel Harlow, the Academy Award-winning makeup artist, did Idris’ makeup for the film. He also did impressive work on the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies, ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Marvel,’ and ‘Black Panther.’
Willem Dafoe – Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
“Even in the most naturalistic parts, I’m always searching for a mask, because a mask is liberating,” Dafoe said in Cannes about his role in the 2000 movie ‘Shadow of the Vampire.’ For the role of Schreck, Dafoe needed a minimum of three hours every day to have his makeup applied.
“For an actor, giving over to something that feels outside of yourself is the purest kind of performing,” Dafoe remarked. And if it does anything for an audience, it gives the purest kind of pleasure.
William Forsythe – Dick Tracy (1990)
There was a position with a rather bizarre job description on the set of ‘Dick Tracy.’ The makeup artists were called the MPs – Makeup Police. Their job? To follow Al Pacino (Big Boy Caprice), Dustin Hoffman (Mumbles) and Forsythe (Flattop) among others on the cast.
They had to follow these actors who were existing underneath multiple layers of rubber and prosthetics that the makeup wizards Doug Drexler and John Caglione had created. Warren Beaty and Disney can thank the makeup team for the movie’s success.
Charlize Theron – Monster (2003)
‘Monster’ is a great example of how makeup can make an actor look like someone else completely. Charlize Theron played the role of real-life Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute-turned serial killer. But Theron was a former model, and Aileen was, well, ugly. Theron not only gained weight and shaved her eyebrows, but the makeup artists did wonders.
To achieve her character’s blotchy skin, Theron’s skin was layered with washed-off tattoo ink. Her hair was thinned and then fried, and she wore dentures that looked like rotting teeth. The performance won her the Oscar that year for Best Actress.
Gary Oldman – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Gary Oldman played the classic character of Count Dracula in the film, which required him to shave his hairline. It was one way in which Oldman was devoted to the role, and was mostly done to make the makeup application easier.
You can see that Oldman’s forehead looks simply huge. It looks unnatural, but that hairstyle fits the character of Count Dracula. As strange as his hairline was, people were more focused on his beehive hairdo at the beginning of the movie.
Brad Pitt – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
There’s makeup for the purpose of aging a character, and there’s ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,’ which took aging makeup to the extreme. All of the stages of age are portrayed by different actors, but the challenge was to make them all recognizable as the same person.
So the filmmakers would impose one actor’s face on top of another’s body. For some scenes, Pitt played the character directly with lots of makeup and hairstyling, but for others, his facial features were replicated on another actor’s body. For some sequences, Pitt had prosthetics and makeup applied to make him look older.
Benicio Del Toro – The Wolfman (2010)
The film itself got mixed reviews, but nobody denied the brilliance of the werewolf makeup which earned the makeup artists an Academy Award. In 2010’s ‘The Wolfman,’ Benicio Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot. Makeup artist Rick Baker had lots of experience creating werewolves, and he figured it wouldn’t be too difficult as del Toro is a hairy man.
The process took three hours and involved foam rubber and latex instead of a mask. He also put loose yak hair on Del Toro’s face and body by hand. The result is a real terrifying beast, and Del Toro plays a pretty impressive werewolf.
Jennifer Lawrence – X-Men: First Class (2011)
Jennifer Lawrence starred as Mystique in the recent ‘X-Men’ movies. And while she has a blast making the movies, the makeup process is daunting. “I love these movies — it’s just the paint,” she told Entertainment Weekly at a set visit in 2015.
On ‘The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,’ Lawrence said that during the production of ‘X-Men: First Class,’ her makeup process took up to eight hours. Then, for ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past,’ the process was reduced to three hours.
Mickey Rourke – Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)
The 66-year-old actor first starred as Marv in ‘Sin City’ (2005). Rourke brought the character back in the sequel ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,’ and co-directors Miller and Rodriguez praised the actor, saying, “He is part of the heart and soul of what Sin City is.”
Rourke went through an hours-long makeup process every day to transform into Marv for the first Sin City movie, but Rodriguez said that they managed to reduce the time to 45 minutes to convince the actor to return for the sequel.
Ralph Fiennes – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
Ralph Fiennes brought the villain Voldemort to life in the Harry Potter film franchise. The look was a masterful combination of white makeup, eyebrow blockers, and fake teeth, which took around two hours to apply. There was also a digital removal of his nose to complete his snakelike appearance.
It doesn’t look like Fiennes is going to be doing many more roles like these. Fiennes hated the makeup process so much that in 2014, he told Vanity Fair that he’d consider skipping a movie if it required too much time in the makeup chair.
Helena Bonham Carter – Planet of the Apes (2001)
Helena Bonham Carter took on a new challenge in 2000 when she played a chimpanzee by the name of Ari in Tim Burton’s ‘Planet of the Apes’ remake. The makeup process was intense, as Helena told Cinema.
She explained how it was a four- to five-hour process that involved everything from makeup to fake teeth to fake ears. She described it as “cumbersome and crippling,” but those physical limitations taught her to use her voice to the “greatest extent possible” to express emotion.
Ron Perlman – Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Ron Perlman happily tackled the opportunity to play a part in ‘Hellboy.’ For four hours a day, he would sit in the makeup chair as foam prosthetic pieces were added to his face and chest by makeup artist Jake Garber.
Over the course of the film, the process of remove, rinse, and repeat occurred 85 times. Perlman and Garber had to show up 4 hours early for shoots in order to finish the look. And their hard work sure paid off.
Michael Keaton – Beetlejuice (1988)
Yes, this movie is from the 80s, but that doesn’t say anything about the talent of the makeup artist and the hard work that went into making Michael Keaton a strange as can be a character. And that character was in the hands of legendary makeup artist Ve Neill. Neill won 3 Oscars for his makeup work on films; ‘Beetlejuice’ was her first.
Neill co-created the look for creepy role Keaton played, which was meant to look like he consistently “crawled out from underneath a rock,” Neill said in an interview. The look was created with white face paint, heavy black shadow, a filthy set of teeth, and a green wig.
Robert De Niro – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994)
Daniel Parker, a British makeup artist, along with his team at Shepperton Studios’ Animated Extras, brought together the best of both the makeup and prosthetics worlds to create the Creature from ‘Frankenstein.’
De Niro’s makeup was elaborate with a series of full-body prosthetics that totally alter the actor’s look. Parker said, “I’m a painter before a prosthetic makeup artist. When it comes to prosthetics, I prefer to put very little on and do it with paint.”
Nicole Kidman – Destroyer (2018)
Nicole Kidman is quite unrecognizable in her recent film ‘Destroyer,’ a dark detective film that represents her most ambitious transformation yet. To play the character of Erin Bell, a troubled L.A. cop, Kidman pretty much changed everything about her appearance.
Costume designer Audrey Fisher was one of the people tasked with making over Kidman. And in her words, turning “the equivalent of Helen of Troy” into a broken-down detective was a challenge straight out of Greek mythology.
Eddie Murphy – The Nutty Professor (1996)
The fat suit and practical effects that Eddie Murphy wore in the movie were created by the Academy Award-winning effects designer Rick Baker. Baker made a body cast of Murphy to create the lightweight, hand-carved euro thane foam and spandex; a fat suit that would make the actor look as though he is 450 lbs.
Some parts of the suit were filled with cellulose and water to make it move in a believable way. It took three hours to do makeup each day for the whole 70-day film shoot. Baker and his team won the Academy Award for Best Makeup.
Johnny Depp – Black Mass (2015)
Makeup designer Joel Harlow worked with Johnny Depp on at least 10 movies, creating characters like Jack Sparrow in the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ Tonto in ‘The Lone Ranger,’ and Mad Hatter in ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ But Depp’s transformation into mobster Whitey Bulger in ‘Black Mass’ shows Harlow’s talent.
Depp and Harlow (and the team) created a Boston mafia boss whose psychopathy radiates from his piercing blue eyes, stained teeth and creepy smile with a light complexion that gives very little hint of the actor.
Rory Kinnear – Penny Dreadful (2014)
Kinnear portrayed Dr. Frankenstein’s creature in the first part of the saga, which took place in 19th century London and went on for three seasons from 2014 to 2016. John Logan, the creator, writer, and executive producer of both shows was impressed by Kinnear.
“It’s no secret that Rory is one of my favorite actors on the planet, and working with him in the original series was inspiring,” Logan said. “So much so that I wrote this part for him.”
Hugo Weaving – Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Hugo Weaving sat for many hours in the makeup chair to be transformed into Red Skull. Prosthetic sculptor Shaune Harrison said: “The one thing we didn’t want to try and do was the Frank Langella “Skeletor” look from ‘Masters of the Universe.'”
“After sculpting numerous concept heads and makeup tests, we locked down the final sculpt of Red Skull. One of the hardest parts of trying to break down the prosthetic make up into smaller pieces was trying to find ways to hide the edges of the overlapping pieces, there was no room for error and if the top of the head wasn’t in exactly the right position it would send every other piece slightly off,” Harrison explained.
Danny Devito – Batman Returns (1992)
John Rosengrant and Shane Mahan created the final makeup of Penguin, which included a T-shaped nose-lip-and-brow appliance, rotten and crooked teeth, white skin and dark-circled eyes. “I remember the night that Shane, Ve Neill and I first tested the makeup on Danny DeVito,” Rosengrant said.
He continued to say that “It was such a blast to watch Danny transform into the Penguin. We could just see it happening, right before our eyes.” And if you remember that movie, that character was by far the scariest!
Virginia Hey – Farscape (1999)
Virginia Hey’s most notable role on TV was that of the blue priestess Zhaan in ‘Farscape,’ which won her an Emmy nomination for best supporting actress. But she left the show after three seasons because she wanted to finally grow out her hair and eyebrows (which she had to shave for the show).
Apparently, health reasons were also a contributing factor. Hey claimed that the blue makeup worn over her head and chest to get Zhaan’s appearance caused her kidneys to bleed, which resulted in a decline in her health.
Al Pacino – Dick Tracy (1990)
Here’s another actor from the ‘Dick Tracy’ film that deserves a nod for a major transformation on screen. Al Pacino played the role of crime boss Alphonse “Big Boy” Caprice, which won him an Oscar nomination.
His portrayal of Big Boy Caprice was a rather fun performance as a villain, and it was helped by a prosthetic nose, chin, and very heavy makeup. ‘Dick Tracy’ was a makeup artist’s dream project, and their work on Pacino was the most impressive.
Stellan Skarsgard – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
Skarsgard played Bootstrap Bill in the film, and he stated how it was “weird” because he would be the only one in make-up; “everyone else was working with a crew in grey pajamas and dots on their faces. I spent 4 and a half hours in make-up, and then I worked with Bill Nighy, and he has those dots on his face that I’ve never seen on an actor before.”
He said how he would stand there, trying to be subtle, which made it very funny. “I had the advantage of using my own face, but the disadvantage of spending four and a half hours in make-up,” he explained.
Mike Meyers – The Cat in the Hat (2003)
SNL alum Mike Myers said he was worried about how to bring the legendary children’s character to life underneath all that makeup and heavy hat. His biggest concern was keeping the frisky nature of a cat while wearing a bulky, heavy costume that required five hours to put on.
The makeup took about 2 1/2 hours for makeup and special effects artist Steve Johnson and his company Edge FX to apply. The catsuit was made of human hair, and angora and the nose consisted of foam latex and was literally glued to Myers’ face. The inside of the catsuit had a vest with circulating cold water and a portable air conditioner for shoots when temperatures went past 90 degrees.
Jim Carrey – How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
To keep with the Dr. Seuss theme, let’s take a look at Jim Carrey’s Grinch. It was an amazing transformation into a hairy green character, involving a makeup process that took between three and eight hours each day!
The facial prosthetics were uncomfortable and even caused Carrey some pain; so much so that he asked a Navy SEAL for tips on how to defer pain. He also had trouble seeing due to the thick yellow contact lense, and breathing was uncomfortable. But it all proved worthwhile in the end because the brilliant work earned them an Academy Award and nominations for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.
Ray Park – Solo: A Star Wars Solo (2018)
Ray Park played the part of Darth Maul in the movie, in which he trained three to four hours a day to keep the look of the Sith villain. Park put on a small, silver earring before getting into the Darth Maul makeup, and only noticed it later.
But George Lucas liked it, so the earring stayed. Park said that he sees the earring as an aspect of himself rather than the character. Park also had a hand in creating Maul’s fighting style, asking for the hilt of Maul’s double lightsaber to be lengthened so he could use it more efficiently.
Tilda Swinton – The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Yet again, Tilda Swinton blows us away with her incredible on-screen transformation. This time it’s her role as 84-year-old Madame D. Mark Coulier, who did the prosthetic makeup on all of the Harry Potter films, joined the ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ team to focus on aging Tilda Swinton.
Coulier shared the makeup and hairstyling Oscar nomination with Frances Hannon, who handled pretty everything that didn’t involve prosthetics. According to the makeup team, Swinton was very involved in the look of her makeup.